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Book-tober 11: The Colour Out of Space

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October 13, 2019 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)

joseph-stalinLets skip ahead a few years to graduate school. I am living in Iowa working on my Masters degree and I am taking a class on Soviet science and technology. Its absurdly cold and I am reading about Magnitogorsk and various Soviet drives to boost agricultural and industrial output and the waves of shoddy crap people kludged together to hit some impossible quotas.  There may appear to be growth, but this is a facade over something toxic and rotten.  That is when I had a flash of insight – Stalinism was just like the Colour Out of Space:

The fruit was growing to phenomenal size and unwonted gloss, and in such abundance that extra barrels were ordered to handle the future crop. But with the ripening came sore disappointment; for of all that gorgeous array of specious lusciousness not one single jot was fit to eat

And thus Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37 was born… or at least the first transparent globule was popped, releasing it into the ecosystem of my mind.

There were a lot of steps between linking Stalinism and cosmic horror but the first one was a careful reading of “The Colour Out of Space“.  I am going assume that everyone reading this post is familiar with the story – meteorite crashes outside Arkham causing increasingly strange effects on locals ultimately killing the one family.

I had read the story years earlier during my initial dive into Lovecraft but I wanted to make sure my Colour (or in this case Colours) were as close to Lovecraft’s fiction as possible.Colours have been a part of Call of Cthulhu since William Barton’s “Killer Out of Space” in 1987 (oddly enough one of the first scenarios I ever read) but I knew enough of the game to realize that my interpretation of creatures didn’t always match what authors had done previously; for example William Barton had linked the Tcho-Tcho to the Miri Nigri and Chaugnar Faugn in the scenario “The Curse of Chaugnar Faugn” (which I think is a bad idea as I think the Tcho-Tcho are more horrifying if they are biologically human instead of being some alien race passing as human, but that’s another post.)

ShuttleClip

“The Crash” from “The Killer Out of Space”

The Killer Out of Space avoided the long build-up to the Colour becoming active in Lovecraft’s story by having the Colour arrive on earth in its adult form via a rather unfortunate Space Shuttle.  The scenario had a lot of interesting ideas on what tools a human might bring to bear against a Colour (and generally what limited effects it might have upon them) up to and including high-powered lasers.  This was great stuff, but what I really needed was detailed information on how the Colour developed and what impact it would have on the community during its growth cycle.

thnnttdhpl1997I had read Lovecraft before, but this was the first time I was really trying to reverse engineer on of his alien beings from the text of a story.  One useful help was that I had a copy of The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft in my library.  While the annotations were not comprehensive, they certainly gave me a lot of useful background information (like the possible parallels in the story with the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah).  Using that version of the story, I worked out a timeline of the Colour, from landing to departure back into space.  If I recalled correctly it was about 16 months.  That let me work out when I wanted my Colour (technically Colours) to land as I had already decided where it would happen.

One of the many human-made catastrophes of the Stalinist era was the Holodomor, a famine in Ukraine caused by a combination of factors, including the forced collectivization of farms (and the birth of the eponymous Machine Tractor Stations), all quite likely with the intention of killing as many Ukrainians as possible.  I wanted my Colour victims to have inexplicably produced a bumper crop in the midst of this famine (with the fact that none of it was edible glibly ignored by the authorities in favor of a propaganda tool to use to claim that all was well and everyone would be so productive off it wasn’t for some traitors and saboteurs…)

Generally speaking, the more I gave “The Colour” a close read, the more I appreciated the craft that HPL had employed in creating the story.  You could tell that things had been carefully thought out regarding the biology, such as it was, of the Colour and that Lovecraft wasn’t just making things up as he went (which cannot be the said of many of his imitators).  The Gardners may have been doomed, but you never felt that their doom was a cheat or a gimmick, but rather the tragic, terrible effects of their encounter with the unknowable.

There were a lot of other things that went into the scenario that aren’t germane to a discussion of my careful reading of “The Colour” but there are a few moments in the story (which was already one of my favorites by Lovecraft) that stood out and inspired me to directly reference them in the scenario.

The first was the deformed woodchuck caught near the Gardner farm:

In February the McGregor boys from Meadow Hill were out shooting woodchucks, and not far from the Gardner place bagged a very peculiar specimen. The proportions of its body seemed slightly altered in a queer way impossible to describe, while its face had taken on an expression which no one ever saw in a woodchuck before. The boys were genuinely frightened, and threw the thing away at once,

This, combined with a mention of a rabbit with “leaps… longer than either Ammi or his horse liked” was the inspiration for the deformed rabbit some soldiers shoot the night before the team arrives at the site.  I tried to imagine what exactly would be so repellent that two hunters might simply throw away a carcass (and fit with the notes above about “slightly altered” proportions, though I went with full-on body-horror.  People are really creeped out by that rabbit.

The second was the horrific fate of Nabby (I’m assuming originally Abigail) Gardner:

As it was he thought only of the blasphemous monstrosity which confronted him, and which all too clearly had shared the nameless fate of young Thaddeus and the livestock. But the terrible thing about this horror was that it very slowly and perceptibly moved as it continued to crumble.

Since I didn’t want any human survivors to be found as I wanted the last Colour to need to drain some of the newly arrived humans before blasting off into space, I replaced poor Nabby with an equally crumbly pony.

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