The universe is indifferent. Humanity doesn’t matter. The gods, if they are here at all, don’t care about us, and that’s if we’re lucky. If not, we’re playthings and prey. There is no hope, no salvation, and whatever truths our tiny brains are capable of comprehending are more likely than not to destroy them. This is cosmic horror, and it’s the subject of today’s installment of So You Want to Read.
Cosmic horror was birthed at the tip of New England writer H. P. Lovecraft’s pen, but his dark universe of alien gods and monsters expanded quickly in the writings of fellow travelers like Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, and others — a collaborative arrangement that we’d call a “shared universe” today. Through the work of these and future authors, creations like the cephalopod god Cthulhu became household names.
That said, as synonymous as Cthulhu and other Lovecraftian creations may be with cosmic horror, the genre need not include them. Writers like Laird Barron and Thomas Ligotti have done just fine without the Old Gent’s menagerie, and others, like Victor LaValle, have used them in ways that would likely have incensed their creator: a man whose racist bent was arguably extreme even for its time.
The world of cosmic horror literature is as vast as the universe itself, but here’s a few suggestions to start you on your journey.