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Colour out of Space

Brian G Turner

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#1
***** - Spoilers warning!!! - *****



This is my favourite horror story of all time - it really expresses to myself what horror should really be in literature: something that is to be feared but that cannot be conquered, and somehow that skirts along the lines of possibility.

In this way Colour out of Space absolutely succeeded, which I considered brilliant of the story.

Possibly the most disturbing part was how the whole scenario seemed highly related to radioactivity - ie, a highly radioactive meteorite impacting and covering the nearby landscape with a deadly radioactive fallout. When the scientists came and looked at it and saw colours no one had ever seen before, I was yelling in my head "fluorescence!" and when the material shrank overnight and then vanished, burning a hole in the bottom of the bucket, I kept thinking "radioactive decay with a very short half-life!".

Although the story was written around 1932 (if I remember right) - and therefore such issues of radioactivity were almost certainly well known by then - because he sets the story up a few decades earlier, it gives the whole story something of a prophetic feel.

Of course, he takes the story beyond mere radioactive issues - the swaying (fluorescing!) plant-life, and the thing in the well - just sets up such an overwhelming haunting atmosphere that it's absolutely brilliant.

But the absolute coup de gras is the actual living creature behind it all. This is perfect because at no point is it ever understood, or faced. A major part of the haunting atmosphere is the sheer mystery of what is happening, and sucking the life out of the poor farming family. There's no physical being to kill, destroy, or vanquish - and thus the fear cannot be overcome. After all, all it was was a colour out of space.

And the last couple lines - why the surveyer will never drink from the new reservoir - was a masterful last stroke. :)

I hear they did a film supposedly based on this story - a b-movie with flesh-eating zombies chasing around. Darn blaspemy, if you ask me. :(
 
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#2
That is a supremely chilling story, one of my favourites too. The concentrated atmosphere of brooding horror is just superb.


I'd never made the connection to radioactivity, but it seems reasonable. Lovecraft was an amateur astronomer and it's likely he kept track of other branches of scienceas well in the course of his voracious reading.
 

Brian G Turner

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#3
The radioactivity part was something that particularly spooked myself - it gave the whole concept of the story some degree of grounding in reality. And that's what makes horror even more chilling, IMO. :)
 
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#4
has anyone read micheal's shea's a colour out of time it is squel to lovecaft's colour out of space i think it worked quite well
 
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#5
I know that Shea wrote The Quest For Simblis, a sequel to Jack Vance's The Eyes of the Overworld, which seems to have been fairly well-regarded my a lot of Vance fans (not the easiest lot to please, unless you happen to be Vance himself) so this ought to be worth looking into, if I ever locate a copy.
 

GOLLUM

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#6
I said:
I hear they did a film supposedly based on this story - a b-movie with flesh-eating zombies chasing around. Darn blaspemy, if you ask me. :(
Well this is pretty standard isn't it? lots of B-Grade movies based on Lovecraft's work.

EDIT BTW the one you're referring to Brian was called The Curse made back in 1987. I've seen it and it was truly bad, nothing much like the book.....:mad:
 

GOLLUM

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#7
Yes HP was into lots of stuff in his early teens including Chemistry and Biology, he was an unbelivably precocious child from all accounts.

Interestingly, Colour Out Of Space is lovecraft's favourite work too, not hard to see why really.
 
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#8
Aye, 'Colour Out of Space' is one of Lovecraft's most accomplished works. Right up there with 'The Willows' and 'Turn of the Screw' as superb examples of subtle and nameless horror. Too often HPL tried to explain or in other ways strongly hint at the nature of the horror existing within his tales, to put his otherworldly menace into a worldly framework for his readers to associate with. Most often this worked, if only due to Lovecraft's consummate prose and vivid imagination, but other times it would lead to a Scooby Doo effect, when the villain was 'unmasked', his machinations explained away. 'Colour Out of Space' is an excellent example of the subtler Lovecraft at work, where he gives just enough to chill you with the possible horror, without explicitely stating anything that would lead to a definite conclusion. The menace itself is one of the most original and shocking antagonists in horror fiction, and a fascinating glimpse into the darker, more metaphysical mind of an author that considered actual universal phenommena as sentient and cosmic deities.
 
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#9
fungi from Yuggoth said:
The menace itself is one of the most original and shocking antagonists in horror fiction, and a fascinating glimpse into the darker, more metaphysical mind of an author that considered actual universal phenommena as sentient and cosmic deities.

It's interesting that you mention that, Fungi, as the monster in the background of it all, sucking the life from the poor farmers, does to me very much allude to radiation, it in itself a scientific phenonmenon, and perhaps the very one Lovecraft was alluding to when he described the monster that was sucking the life from the farming family throughout the story...the farming family, to me, very much represents humankind's reliance upon the earth for sustenance, and perhaps Lovecraft himself saw the potential dangers inherent in radiation, with it's ways to destroy life as we know it...the way it sucked the life out of the farmers very much mirrored to me the very ways in which they (and humanity as a whole) would be killed off due to the deaths of their crops, even if they themselves were left untouched by it. Also, the ways in which the farmers were harmed by this entity reminds me of the ways that humans themselves can be destroyed by radiation were they to come into contact with it (Chernoble (sp?) and the bombing of Hiroshima come to mind, even though I know both events happened long after Lovecraft's time) and the fact that were radiation to get out of hand, it would in fact suck the life out of people in ways rather similar to the ways inwhich the farmers were being killed in the story....

Makes me wonder if Lovecraft wasn't making some sort of statement here, in his story, about the rise of a newfound knowledge in science about this stuff...but, I'm not particularly up to date with how much science knew about radiation at the time, or how evilly it was viewed. Can anyone perhaps shed some light on this subjet that knows more about it than I do?

Stephanie
 
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#10
This post is quite late (by about 5 months) but, in answer to your query -- if you're still interested -- radiation was still seen with a lot of ambivalence in the scientific community; some saw it as the new miracle (anyone remember radioactive mud baths?) and some saw it as extremely dangerous, possibly apocalyptic. Fantasy and sf writers were equally divided on the subject; those who knew weren't likely to forget Madame Curie's severe radiation burns when she accepted the scientific award. As for Lovecraft's own ideas on radiation -- to the best of my knowledge, he doesn't discuss it much factually, though he had a spinthariscope, which had a small amount of radioactive material in it, I believe, which he was a child. The story was written in March 1926, roughly 19 years before the A-bomb experiments and the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet he did a rather good job of describing the effects of radiation -- something Edmund Wilson grudgingly noted in a very negative review of his stories back in the 1940s. Altogether, though, I'm inclined to think we put a bit too much of our own worldview on what HPL had in mind there, as he certainly didn't live to see any of the destruction, and his main concern seems to have been, according to his letters, to present a truly alien entity, something that was unmistakably from "out there" and that we could never understand and therefore grapple with; it was, in essence, a presentation of his views that mankind has such a laughably limited place in the universe despite our arrogance, that when confronted with just how strange the universe could be, we simply would be helpless and bereft. A bleak view, if you will, but one that informs nearly all his work; and yet he is also concerned with beauty and tradition and a love of place that comes through; very historic-minded, even if it is a haunted history.
 
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#13
Written in March 1927 (during that same spate of heavy writing of late 1926-early 1927, following his "New York exile" which produced "The Call of Cthulhu", "The Strange High House in the Mist", The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and "The Silver Key"), it was published in September of that year (Vol. 2, No. 6, pp. 557-67).
 

BAYLOR

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#14
has anyone read micheal's shea's a colour out of time it is squel to lovecaft's colour out of space i think it worked quite well
I read it it first came out. Excellent stuff. (y)It would make a terrific film.

Off topic, check out Shea's Nift the Lean stories they are great read. He's a great writer of fantasy and horror.(y)
 

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