" It is new, indeed for I made it last night in a dream of strange cities: and dreams are older than brooding Tyre, or the
contemplative Sphinx, or garden-girdled Babylon" The Call of Cthulhu

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Discovery of the Ghooric Zone, Richard A. Lupoff

I had intended to write my first post about Charles Stross’s "Colder War", but I am still working on it. So instead I have chosen Richard A. Lupoff’s "Discovery of the Ghooric Zone - March 15, 2337", from Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, by H.P. Lovecraft & Divers Hands, published by Arkham House, 1990. First a bit of my history with this title. When I decided to collect Lovecraft I began by purchasing the  collections, Dagon, The Dunwich Horror, and At the the Mountains of Madness, which had been revised in the mid 1980’s by S.T. Joshi for Arkham House, I believe I ordered this book at the same time. A further aside, this was when purchasing books required actual correspondence with paper and stamps, and I want to say I found April Derleth very helpful and a real pleasure to deal with, and the Arkham House staff still are. 

I do remember that when I first read this collection I really disliked the Lupoff story and did not finish it. At the time my mental image of a Lovecraft story involved a somewhat naive narrator who inherits or otherwise encounters a forbidden tome (there are so many, with such large print runs), has somewhat bizarre dreams, and finds a family tree with some interesting side shoots. So the stories by Derleth, Long, Block, Kutter etc. were more to my taste. However, my vision of what constitutes a good “Lovecraft” story has expanded over the years, thanks to some really inventive authors.

Re-reading the Lupoff story recently, I was really impressed by his ability to weave Lovecraftian elements into such a modern feeling SF story. Even though it was initially published in the anthology Chrysalis 1, edited by Roy Torgeson, in 1977, the SF elements still felt fairly modern to me. However I still dislike the Jeffrey K. Potter illustrations and cringe every time I see his work on yet another release by one of my favourite writers, James Blaylock. 

Lupoff's work has been described as recursive and relying heavily on pastiche. His novel Lovecraft’s Book, also published by Arkham House is a historical novel involving Lovecraft and fascists, and he has written a novel Circumpolar based on the idea of a hollow earth. Another Countersolar is considered an early example of steampunk.

James Turner the editor of the anthology offered the following assessment of "Discovery of the Ghooric Zone" in his introduction."In this brilliant narrative Lupoff managed to include not only the requisite Mythos terminology but also the essential ambience of cosmic wonder and then additionally has re-created some of the mind-blasting excitement of the original Mythos Stories."

But on to our story, the year is 2337 and the spaceship Khons is travelling from Pluto to a Planet X located at the edge of the solar system. Aboard are three human cyborgs, Gomati of Khmeric Gondwanaland, Njord Freyr of the Laddino Imperium, and the commander Shoten Binayakya whose place of origin is unknown. Planet X, or Yuggoth as Gomati names it, is a large red gas giant with numerous moons including the twin moons Thog and Thok. The decision is made to land on Thog as there are obvious ruins from a past civilization. The story of the trip is interspersed with accounts of the rise of the Laddino Imperium and Khmeric Gondwanalan. Despite the unusual setting and characters, Lupoff has captured the cosmic span of some of Lovecraft’s best passages from stories like "At the Mountains of Madness", "The Shadow out of Time", and the "Whisperer in Darkness" from which we get the original description of Yuggoth. For in the "Whisperer in DarknessYuggoth will be the first destination for the Mi-Go carrying the character Akeley’s disembodied brain housed within a metal cylinder, 

  “ It is a strange dark orb at the very rim of our solar system... There are mighty cities on Yuggoth—great tiers of terraced towers built of black stone like the specimen I tried to send you. That came from Yuggoth. The sun shines there no brighter than a star, but the beings need no light. They have other subtler senses, and put no windows in their great houses and temples. Light even hurts and hampers and confuses them for it does not exist at all in the black cosmos outside time and space where they came from originally. To visit Yuggoth would drive any weak man mad—yet I am going there. The black rivers of pitch that flow under those mysterious cyclopean bridges—things built by some elder race extinct and forgotten before the beings came to Yuggoth from the ultimate voids—ought to be enough to make any man a Dante or Poe if he can keep sane long enough to tell what he has seen.”

from “The Whisperer in Darkness", H.P. Lovecraft p.259

And Lupoff has all the elements, strangely lit cyclopean ruins, the rise and fall of empires, a vast cosmic scale, and enough other references to the mythos to keep any Lovecraft fan happy.

 “Yuggoth itself hung directly overhead, obscenely bloated and oblate, its surface filling the heavens, looking as if it were about to crash shockingly upon Khons and the three explorers,  and all the time pulsing, pulsing, pulsing like an atrocious heart, throbbing, throbbing."

As I mentioned above one of the things I love most about Lovecraft is the great empire building passages in the stories from his later years like "At the Mountains of Madness", "The Shadow out of Time", and "The Whisperer in Darkness" and his attempt to depict fantastic dreamlike alien landscapes. I have always felt that it was unfortunate that Lovecraft had become so discouraged with his lack of success just when he had found his own voice free of the influence of Poe, Dunsany and others, and that he seems to have written little fiction in his last few years.

Lupoff has not only an extensive knowledge of the mythos but also the imagination and ability necessary to weave it into a story that is very much his own. For many years my favourite non-HPL Yuggoth story was "The Mine on Yuggoth" from Ramsey Campbell’s Inhabitants of the Lake, but I think it has been usurped. I do still like the Campbell story and hope to have several posts on his work in the future.


  1. I just read this story for the first time. I'll say this for it: it's wildly ambitious, and I think it succeeds in those ambitions more often than it fails.

    I'll confess to being a little perplexed by it overall, but not entirely in a bad way. It strikes me as a story that requires multiple readings to properly enjoy, and if that's the case, then a little bit of perplexion is okay.

  2. Hi I agree. I did not like it the first time I read it but the next time, many years and many mythos tales later I really enjoyed it. I think you hit on it when you say that Lupoff was very ambitious and I think he succeeds. It is a lot more interesting and complex than the run of the mill mythos tale and some parts require a careful reading but that is fine the effort is rewarded.

    Thanks for you comment.