It all revolves around that star, and a damned thing it is! A star beyond the material universe, beyond space and time and all that is made by God. ‘The star that is not a star.’
—Lucy Brady, “The Star that is Not a Star” in Cthulhu Lies Dreaming 80
Accursed forevermore is Yamil Zacra, star of perdition, who sitteth apart and weaveth the web of his rays like a spider spinning in a garden. Even as far as the light of Yamil Zacra falleth among the worlds, so goeth forth the bane and the bale thereof. And the seed of Yamil Zacra, like a fiery tare, is sown in planets that know him only as the least of the stars ….
—Fragment of a Hyperborean tablet
—Clark Ashton Smith, “The Infernal Star”
Spy fiction is a close cousin to Mythos fiction; they share a common descent from the detective fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, and a common concern with the keeping and discovery of secrets. Betimes these cousin modes of fiction have come together: “The Unthinkable” (1991) by Bruce Sterling; “The Courtyard” (1994) by Alan Moore; Delta Green (1997), a branching-off of the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game where the players are agents for government intelligence organizations, their skills and focus shifted to esoteric matters; David Conyer’s Harrison Peel series, including The Spiraling Worm (2007); the Laundry Series by Charles Stross beginning with The Atrocity Archives in 2004 (or, for an earlier variant, his novella A Colder War in 2000) which in turn spawned its own roleplaying game The Laundry (2010); Caitlín R. Kiernan’s Tinfoil Dossier series beginning with Agents of Dreamland (2017). Expand beyond the strictly Mythos-influenced spy fiction, and you run across gems like Tim Powers’ Declare (2000).
Call it cloak-and-tentacle, if you’d like.
The form of the fiction is often a kind of investigation. Think back to “The Call of Cthulhu,” presented to the reader as a series of nested narratives and documents. It isn’t spy fiction, in that the occult groups and secretive individuals involved are not part of any government service above the level of the local police; there are no politics at play in Lovecraft’s story, not really. The G-men make an appearance in “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and there we can catch a glimpse of the origins of Alan Moore’s “The Courtyard.” Yet for the most part, the Mythos remains unknown to the world and its government powers at large; the mysteries uncovered, no matter how global or cosmic their import, are intensely personal to the initiated investigator in Lovecraft’s fiction.
The trick is to marry the two frames of reference. The investigator is still the main focus or protagonist, but now their actions take place within a broader geopolitical framework—and for the Len Deighton-influenced fiction, a government bureaucracy that’s designed to compartmentalize and contain secrets, to constrain actions. They may be Cold War warriors or those whose small talent in languages brings them in to the orbit of a larger mystery; part of the game is often that the agent or spy can never comprehend the whole of the thing, can never know the whole truth.
Secrets that possess a certain magnitude seem to have their own affinity with one another.
—Lucy Brady, “The Star that is Not a Star” in Cthulhu Lies Dreaming 85
“The Star that is Not a Star” is not explicitly Mythos fiction in any sense; whatever tomes, entities, cults, etc. that Brady employs, they aren’t connections forged with Lovecraft’s corpus or the expanded Cthulhu Mythos. Nor is it a traditional spy-thriller; but that is a large part of the charm. It’s an investigation that spans years and continents with a kind of ennui, and the statement of Natasha Klein—addressed to whom, and why?—is a record of a woman who, after picking up the pieces of the story for a decade, has found her own kind of truth.
Which is a good enough place for an ending as any, in a story like this. It is moody; there is a lot that has to be inferred, and in the end the narrator herself begins to become unreliable, relying on dream-evidence to fill in the gaps. Which all fits. Detectives know not every case has a satisfactory conclusion, and Mythos investigators are often left with scraps of a story told in newspaper clippings and journals, unable to touch the terrible powers at work in the world, burdened by the knowledge of things that they know exist but are impotent to affect.
“The Star that is Not a Star” was published in Cthulhu Lies Dreaming (2016); Lucy Brady’s other Lovecraftian work includes “The Body Electric” in Dreams from the Witch House (2016).
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).