Contact by Carl Sagan

SaganI have two heresies to make with this review.

Though things were presented mildly and in a manner that could be considered cheerful in comparison, I found Sagan‘s cosmic existentialism similar to what I get to feel in Lovecraft‘s works. I admit it’s not Event Horizon, but Contact doesn’t reveal anything in specifics too. It builds up the unknown, suggests even a debatable unreliability in protagonist’s narrative and leaves the conclusion to readers. Sure, it suggests too much in the definitive line of science, but the Machine and the unexplainable experience of cosmonauts all had the same fear of unknown. To me, it translated well, and left this sense of being a nobody or nothing in the vast world we know very little about. To Lovecraft it was frightening, and to Sagan it was fascinating.

tumblr_ndoyjdEMVh1qgx323o1_r1_500I noticed few more similarities of the sort in the book, regarding the societal response to someone who has embraced this vastness of universe. People were eager to brand her delusional for providing explanations for experiences they couldn’t fathom. The Machine and her first contact further felt like an optimistic take on some sorta portal to the other that exists with us. Book even ended with the suggestion of some intelligence that predates humanity, Elder ones style.

“Standing over humans, Gods and Demons, subsuming caretakers and tunnel builders, there is an intelligence that antedates the universe.”

The second heresy is movie being better than the book, or more like an enhancing experience against the usual corollary. I loved the span of dialogue the book entertained. And the kind of balance it maintained in its science vs religion debate by placing skepticism against latter’s received truth and former’s hypothesis against revelation. Book was also very honest and realistic in its depiction of scientific community and academia that’s stuck in the anxiety of publications. Translation of radio astronomy into geopolitics with the discovery, and variegated responses within and outside the system were also really interesting to read through. But, from a dramatic or entertainment point of view, movie had many embellishing aspects.

giphy
And the cinematography! Sorry about the dickbutt.

I loved how fleshed Palmer was in movie and how unfleshed Ellie was. Her emotional baggages, though highly complementary for book’s first contact, made me feel like tuning through static for some signal. Also I found movie’s selection of single occupant more narratively appropriate than book’s multipartite crew. It went well with the collinearity of novel’s point of view as opposed to the 11th hour gate-crashing by characters I wasn’t emotionally attached with. The sole source also enhanced drama in my opinion, by adding skepticism to the already suggested unreliability. Further, the limited time made the Voyage more believable and thrilling in its few seconds than the comparable generosity in book. I loved the novel, but it also made me love the movie more; and I don’t mean it as a negative here.

In my severe reduction, Contact can be considered as humanity’s delayed introduction to The Culture; it can also be viewed as the most expensive and elaborate psychedelic experience as well. The scientific slant towards latter is what makes the book different from my overkill of a comparison with cosmic horror. Nevertheless it was a very delightful experience even with spoilers from the movie.


If you are looking for a distilled run on the novel, there is an abridged audiobook read by Jodie Foster herself.

 

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The Hound by HP Lovecraft

​This ghastly tale of two tomb raiders marks the very first appearance of Lovecraft’s infamous forbidden book, Necronomicon.

Two seemingly low life robbers, St. John and the narrator, who shares this vile interest in defiling centuried graves for logical pelfs, goes to Netherlands (literally!) to excavate/rob an ancient ghoul. Though their nocturnal expedition is repeatedly disturbed by bayings of a hound in background, they unearth an old jaded amulet(semi canine faced) with sinister inscriptions that can be traced to those of old Arab daemonologist, Abdul Alhazred. Pulling it from the eerily fresh and torn carcass of ghoul, they flee home with the souvenir. With it came strange sounds and happenings.

‘the expression on its features was repellent in the extreme, savouring at once of death, bestiality and malevolence’

Narrative took a turn from there, atleast for me. The classic horror storyline that my mind had framed from this halfway reading wasn’t able to reduce the engaging experience. Initial reluctant first person account suggestedthe grave excavations not being a profession of choice, but lack of options. I was wrong to judge that. As story progressed the complex and perverse nature of narrator and St. John’s relationship brought a new outlook to the happenings. For once, the narrator felt somewhat reliable to me. Though their deeper obsession towards occult and their own reculse cult of necrophilia suggested otherwise, I was inclined to read them with Lovecraft’s life and company(thanks to Paul La Farge’s Night Ocean); and to focus more on ‘material constants’ of the story than perceptions of narrator. Also it would be safe to admit that much of my thoughts changed after finishing the story.

apologies for this unholy comparison

The ending, now that I think back, shared a strong resemblance with my first lovecraftian tale ‘The Dagon‘ and I couldn’t help but read it along with his opening line from The Call of Cthulhu, “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents“. The more I thought about the hound, the more it started to appear like the bed rock for modern cursed artifact adventures(ignoring the crude morale) from Indiana Jones to Nathan Drake, mostly due to my limited reading. After expedition experience and narrator’s paranoia held strong resemblances with that of Truant and even Zampano from House of Leaves, with the foreign languages and sense of haunting. My mind went a step further and somehow made a vampirish connection with Lovecraft‘s ‘The Alchemist‘, thanks to the baroque descriptions, and that grisly second grave encounter. 

Nevertheless, terror inscribed in the writing made the story all the more atmospheric if not a bit Poe-esque. Or like Howard might say, ‘it’s a charnel premise of abhorrence and cosmicism‘ . 

The Colour Out of Space by HP Lovecraft

‘The Blasted heath’ is a vacant, almost shunned deep wood valley by the West Hills of rural New England, a place no good for imagination with its withered vegetation and evasively muttered local legends. This novella, like atavistic Arkham mysteries, takes reader through the narrative of an unnamed outsider, in his quest to understand the queer happenings of Gardner Estate, following a meteorite fall.

The monster or alien or other dimensional entity in this book, is a colour, or takes the form of a colour, a colour unknown to us, and not of our cosmos.

In Lovecraftian horror, the little details that are left out for reader’s imagination usually embellish the ones that form the premise. Considering the time of publication(1927), I was amazed at the metallurgical details author put on that other worldly meteorite – a soft, ductile non homogeneous shrinking mass completely in contradiction with every definition. Miskatonic University analysis of the specimen, is said to have concluded traces of ‘Widmanstatten ferrite’ in its texture along with strong ‘silicon’ affinity and other unfathomable properties. Interestingly enough, the iron ore content goes well with frequent lightening at crate and Silicon, the semiconductor material, could, though arguably, give some scientific side to the strange colours. And the effect of ‘colour’ and meteorite to the surroundings and inhabitants, though archaically, draws close parallelism with modern day nuclear holocaust. Seemingly prophesying HPL was keen to leave the ‘unknown factor’ in a rather clever manner with protagonist’s outsider pov. Never are the readers credited with the authenticity of ‘strange days’, and Ammi Pierce, the sole inhabitant and spectator of the incident, for all we know is an unreliable narrator. Nevertheless, in all its openness and reticent narrative, The Colour out of Space had my preponderant attention buoyed up.

Though it should have been the other way around, ‘the blasted heath’ and Gardner Estate constantly reminded me of Mirkwood from Stranger Things and Keyhouse from Locke and Key. And the strangest part was, as usual, me being more immersed in Howard’s word flow and writing, than the creeping alien horror this story is famous for.

The Shadow Out of Time, when hard sci fi meets lovecraftian horror

shadow out of time.PNG“Lovecraft” meets “Time travel”. Woo, I love bringing people together.
At the start of this master class world building, word building, eldritch, mind bending novella, I was seeing a twisted Luthor, way too eager for a grand conflict. Having said that, this might be my favorite Lovecraft work so far, at least till my next one.

There is no best way to describe this book other than in author’s very own words
– a person of keen thoughtfulness seized a strange secondary life and leading for a greater and lesser period an utterly alien existance typified at first by vocal and bodily awkwardness, and later by a wholescale acquisition of scientific, historic, artistic and anthropologic knowledge; an acquisition carried on with feverish zest and with a wholly abnormal absorptive power. Then a sudden return of rightful consciousness, intermittently plagued ever after with vague unplacable dreams suggesting fragments of some hideous memory elaborately blotted out.

Now, back to my puny writing. So this guy, Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee is a professor with a very usual normal calm life, married with kids. The strange secondary febrile life episode happens amidst a lecture, and it renders him unusual to the ways of men, with detritus amnesia. Here is the clever part, he gains back his self in due time and resumes a very normal life. And betwixt that, our smart protagonist research thoroughly on his strange visions n memories of a higher, vivid alien civilization with the help of his son. He even publish papers on the same and all during his letter he urges us readers not to take anything as absolute, but to judge on his mind conditions and our logic coz of dearth logic. I believe, I have hooked you up enough to read the book on your own now. Plus this character is somewhat autobiographic, since the timeline of professors amnesia goes along with the breakdown H P Lovecraft had during his teenage years. And dnt be disappointed If you dont get the chance to chant ‘“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn‘. For the Yithians are far more rewarding.

For once you get the taste of hard sci fi off Lovecraft’s pen than usual chilling accords that looks so like some vertiginous furtive past. This one is more like a weird TARDIS ride to an era of Yithians, consider them as weird conical Oods, and now you are wiped off that memory n remnants are hunting your consciousness, leaving you strangled between hallucinations and reality. Book goes a tad, At the Mountain of Madness, and am pretty sure Alien Covenant is going to borrow bits and pieces off this novella. Hope it wont go all Prometheus.

Its really difficult to give a honest review without discussing the plot and in doing so I would be ruining the whole experience. Usual short stories and novellas are about the incessant fear of unknown, here in addition a thoughts of cosmic sojourn is addressed. And in doing so none of the elements are compensated, but the scale and ideas are higher, he even mentions Einstien at some point saying the reduction of time into a coordinate. Also dont expect anything conventional when it comes to Time travel, its more an Animus experience. I would pay to watch Yithians fight Elder things aboard humankind preceding Beetles. And like usual, those vivid vistas left me wondering, what if Lovecraft was a medium and those cosmic entities did exist. And we need to start a kickstart campaign to find Necronomicon by that mad Arab.

Btw, here is something to feast on. Cant beat the read though.