Within Outsiders Within

One of my favourite parts of compiling an anthology is discovering how various authors approach the prompt or theme. Outsiders Within was a double joy because the theme was also Lovecraftian. However, as anyone reviewing submissions will admit the the inability of the human mind to correlate matters is not always a mercy. Finally, I discovered a unifying truth behind disparate accounts; in the hope that future generations will heed my insight, I set forth here the introduction to the anthology:


A black and white drawing of an ornate mirror

Introduction

I first encountered H.P. Lovecraft’s work as a young teenager. Someone in my class brought a collection to school and claimed it was great. My small local library didn’t have any Lovecraft so I forgot about him and moved on; however, months later while seeking something to read on a trip to visit my father, I saw Granada Publishing’s At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels of Terror omnibus and was tempted. I loved it so much that I not only finished it within a couple of days but scoured the bookshops near my father’s house for the next omnibus in the series.

Unsurprisingly for someone who started with At the Mountains of Madness (rather than one of Lovecraft’s shorter or more accessible works) and wasn’t put off, I’ve been reading and rereading Lovecraft every since, along with a steadily expanding collection of authors who crafted their own perspectives on cosmicism.

But all those books also reminded me that each author’s viewpoint on what is cosmic horror is a tiny island in a vast black sea of possibilities; so I’d need a theme to prevent the anthology being disassociated stories each straining in their own direction.

I found inspiration in the one thing all cosmic horror shares: the discovery that an incomprehensible otherness lurks beneath the thin veneer of humanity’s beliefs in order and purpose, that there are secrets which will tear apart our comfortable lives. Instead of limiting the focus to particular regions, times, or genre-tropes, I’d seek stories where the protagonists had their own secret.

Something embarrassing, shameful, even criminal. Something they hid beneath a veneer of being an ordinary member of their society.

Appropriately, reading the submissions eroded my belief in the tidiness of my theme: as well as protagonists with mundane secrets discovering new horrors, I found people who had already encountered the irrational and had their reaction to it shaped by their own secrets; and situations where the protagonist perceived an underlying reality but the reader was left in the position of someone only hearing the story, having to decide whether the protagonist’s view was real or delusion.

My own contribution sprang from a joke about needing to put my stamp on the anthology.

Some of these stories show their Lovecraftian roots openly, others resonate with the concepts but not the names. Some are bleaker than others. But each of them shows someone who is both outside and within a world that isn’t the firm foundation they thought.

— Dave Higgins, November 2020

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