What could be worse than living in the world where the mythos of Cthulhu is real and the Old Ones are merely a spell book reading away from returning to earth to devour humanity? This is the question asked in this novella, a re-telling of one of Lovecraft’s more infamous and racist stories, “The Horror at Red Hook.”
Before I read this novella, I read that story in preparation. Well, more accurately, I skimmed it. I’ve read some Lovecraft and enjoyed it, when it wasn’t bogged down by more problematic narratives. Red Hook is particularly offensive, taking place in an area of New York city in the 1920s where the class and racial divides are strong. It’s pretty clear from his narration which side Lovecraft sits on, and his fear of “the other” is clear when the Dutch character Sudyam commits a human sacrifice to bring the presence of mythic forces onto earth. There’s a lot of talk of “illegal aliens” and “immigrants” that probably would echo some corners of the internet today. Lovecraft is all about that fear, fear of misunderstanding, fear of the other.
This novella actually brings up the question of what it was like to be a black man living in 1920s New York, and how maybe compared to the day to day life, it might not be as bad of an idea to bring about a cataclysmic opening of the void and letting all the Old Ones out. The main character, Charles Thomas Tester, is a black man making a living in New York by occasionally being a courier and performing on the streets. While Tester is playing his instrument on the streets, he meets Sudyam who convinces him to come play jazz at a party he is having. Tester describes having to smile in the face of oppression, and having to hustle to make enough to support himself and his ailing father, so the money Sudyam offers him is going to make a huge difference in his life. But then Tester is harassed by the cops, his father threatened, his money stolen, well why wouldn’t a black man choose the side of the Elder Gods?
I dutifully read all of the nominated novellas for this year’s Hugo vote and this one was my top pick.