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So You Want to Read Cosmic Horror: Here’s Where to Start

Cosmic horror was birthed at the tip of New England writer H. P. Lovecraft’s pen, but his dark universe of alien gods and monsters expanded quickly in the writings of fellow travelers like Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, and others — a collaborative arrangement that we’d call a “shared universe” today. Through the work of these and future authors, creations like the cephalopod god Cthulhu became household names. That said, as synonymous as Cthulhu and other Lovecraftian creations may be with cosmic horror, the genre need not include them. Writers like Laird Barron and Thomas Ligotti have done just fine without the Old Gent’s menagerie, and others, like Victor LaValle, have used them in ways that would likely have incensed their creator: a man whose racist bent was arguably extreme even for its time. The world of cosmic horror literature is as vast as the universe itself, but here’s a few suggestions to start you on your journey.

  1. 1
    Shadows of Carcosa Book Cover Picture
    Shadows of Carcosa Book Cover Picture

    Shadows of Carcosa

    by H. P. Lovecraft, R. W. Chambers, Ambrose Bierce, Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Machen

    Shadows of Carcosa is an excellent anthology featuring the masters of cosmic horror and their antecedents. Lovecraft may have invented cosmic horror, but he had his inspirations as well, and many of them are included here. Algernon Blackwood’s “An Inhabitant of Carcosa”, and Robert W. Chamber’s “The Repairer of Reputations” are going to grab the attention of fans of HBO’s “True Detective” — as well as just about anyone else with a taste for the uncanny. Additional authors include Arthur Machen, Edgar Allan Poe, and Lovecraft himself, among others.
    Shadows of Carcosa Book Cover Picture
    Shadows of Carcosa Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $16.95

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  2. 2
    At the Mountains of Madness Book Cover Picture
    At the Mountains of Madness Book Cover Picture

    At the Mountains of Madness

    by H.P. Lovecraft

    H. P. Lovecraft wrote dozens upon dozens of short stories, but only a handful of longer works. At the Mountains of Madness is one of the best of the latter. This story of a doomed arctic expedition features almost everything you want from Lovecraft — lost cities, incomprehensibly weird aliens, oozing, gelatinous monsters, madness and horror — and very little of what you probably want to avoid: virulent racism and occasionally unbearable purple prose, namely. This edition of At the Mountains of Madness includes an introduction by China Miéville, plus Lovecraft’s superb essay, “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”
    At the Mountains of Madness Book Cover Picture
    At the Mountains of Madness Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $16.00

    Also available from:

  3. 3
    Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe Book Cover Picture
    Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe Book Cover Picture

    Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe

    by Thomas Ligotti

    Thomas Ligotti may not be a household name, but it should be. Ligotti’s visions of a hostile universe are subtle and terrifying on a deeply existential level. “True Detective” creator Nic Pizzolatto name-checked Ligotti as an inspiration for season one’s nihilistic police detective Rust Cohle, if that tells you anything. This book collects two volumes of Ligotti’s short stories under one cover and features an introduction by Jeff VanderMeer, one of modern fiction’s great masters of Weird literature.
    Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe Book Cover Picture
    Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe Book Cover Picture

    Paperback
    $18.00

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  4. 4
    The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories Book Cover Picture
    The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories Book Cover Picture

    The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories

    by H. P. Lovecraft

    he Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories brings together a dozen of the master’s tales—from his early short stories “Under the Pyramids” (originally ghostwritten for Harry Houdini) and “The Music of Erich Zann” (which Lovecraft ranked second among his own favorites) through his more fully developed works, “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” and “At the Mountains of Madness.”
    The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories Book Cover Picture
    The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories Book Cover Picture

    Hardcover
    $27.00

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  5. 5
    Cthulhu's Reign Book Cover Picture
    Cthulhu's Reign Book Cover Picture

    Cthulhu’s Reign

    by

    Cthulhu's Reign Book Cover Picture
    Cthulhu's Reign Book Cover Picture

    Mass Market Paperback
    $7.99

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