H.P. Lovecraft's Cosmic Cybperpunk Dreamlands


Dark worlds. Detlev van Ravenswaay/Picture Press/Getty

It's Halloween season, so in addition to trying out a new creepy read ("House of Leaves"), I'm also enjoying an old favorite: H.P Lovecraft's "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath." It's the tale of dreamer Randolph Carter's epic journey across the world of dreams, full of ghouls, gugs, zoogs, night gaunts, unspeakable monster gods and of course house cats.

It's one of my favorite Lovecraft tales, so I've read it a couple of times before -- but like all great works of fiction, it speaks to you a little differently each time. So in 2012, I eased into the text with a head full of Stuff to Blow Your Mind science fodder.

So what was I to make of this little passage?

"They reminded him, too, that not only had no man ever been to unknown Kadath, but no man had ever suspected in what part of space it may lie; whether it be in the dreamlands around our world, or in those surrounding some unguessed companion of Fomalhaut or Aldebaran. If in our dreamland, it might conceivably be reached; but only three fully human souls since time began had ever crossed and recrossed the black impious gulfs to other dreamlands, and of that three two had come back quite mad."

My mind instantly goes to the concept of interplanetary Internet and -- indeed -- differing Internets on differing worlds. It's a topic Julie and I pondered in our episode An Internet that Spans the Stars. We chatted about the speed of light delay and how this conceivably leads to the impossibility of a perfectly synchronized galactic Internet system.

Dream with me on this one. Off-world colonies essentially take Earth's Internet database with them. They may update it with regular data relays from the home world, but over time its easy to imagine the culture deviating somewhat. The world and its reflecting Internet become their own thing.

So what would it be like to skip from one planet's Internet to another?

What, if we dare imagine it, might it be like to skip from a human Internet to the Internet of an extraterrestrial civilization?

I think it might mirror Lovecraft's vision, in which each planet boasts its own outer layer of dream (Internet). To cross the void and explore new dream worlds is harrowing and potentially deadly exercise. Because, seriously, you do not want to see what goes on in the Subreddits of Vhoorl, the Cthulhian home world.

It's a concept Sci-fi author William Gibson touched on at the end of "Neuromancer" back in 1984. Here, the human character Case quizzes an all-powerful computer AI on its communications with a distant "other."

"So what's the score? How are things different? You running the world now? You God?" "Things aren't different. Things are things." "But what do you do? You just there?" Case shrugged, put the vodka and the shuriken down on the cabinet and lit a Yeheyuan. "I talk to my own kind." "But you're the whole thing. Talk to yourself?" "There's others. I found one already. Series of transmissions recorded over a period of eight years, in the nineteen-seventies. 'Til there was me, natch, there was nobody to know, nobody to answer." "From where?" "Centauri system."

Anyway, I always find it fascinating to see how sufficiently advanced technology makes any fantasy a possible real-world future.

So if you haven't read "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath," do check it out. You can read the public domain e-copy, or plug into the audio version over at the Internet Archive.


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.