“Cthylla” (2015) by Lucy A. Snyder

They already have your money. And when the Goddess rises, everybody dies and none of this mattered. That’s just how it goes.
—Lucy A. Snyder, “Cthylla” in When the Black Stars Burn 81

But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money!
—George Carlin, You Are All Diseased (1999)

There is a popular conception that Lovecraft ignored economics in his Mythos stories. While he doesn’t deal with dollars and cents, and economic woes aren’t a major theme, this isn’t quite true. Money was largely a distraction in Lovecraft’s stories. When it was present at all, it was often in the form of gold, such as the ancient gold pieces spent by the Terrible Old Man, or the strange pale gold that came out of the refinery at Innsmouth, or that gold which was mixed with starborn Tulu metal in the caverns of K’n-yan in “The Mound.” The United States was still on the gold standard throughout Lovecraft’s lifetime; for a man that paid for his daily meals in dimes and quarters, gold was how he thought of wealth.

The cult of Cthulhu never needed gold. Why would they? Why would Cthulhu want your money?

Money and wealth weren’t major themes in Lovecraft’s work largely because the human emotions and narratives that wrapped around them—greed, desperation, economic stress—weren’t what he wanted to write about. His inheritances and legacies focus on different kinds of wealth: the ancient books of Wizard Whateley, preserved for his grandson’s use; the Innsmouth Look that can’t be bought or sold; the jade amulet pried from the corpse of a warlock, dug out of the grave. In that same sense, Lovecraft’s cults were not designed with the realities of religion in mind. We never hear of collection plates during the rites of the Esoteric Order of Dagon, or a building fun for a proper temple for the Cult of Cthulhu, or a bake sale or potluck for the Starry Wisdom.

Writers after Lovecraft have played with cults in any manner of ways, from Hollywood cultists with robes and wavy daggers in “ALL THIS for the GREATER GLORY of the 7th and 329th CHILDREN of the BLACK GOAT of the WOODS” (2012) by Molly Tanzer or “Dreams of a Thousand Young” (2014) by Jennifer Brozek; to comedic farse in “Shub-Niggurath’s Witnesses” (2015) by Valerie Valdes; to quasi-realistic cults of personality as in Agents of Dreamland (2017) by Caitlín R. Kiernan; to real-life cults in Ring Shout (2020) by P. Djèlí Clark. There’s room in the Mythos for a multiplicity of takes on cults, because cults have become tropes and stereotypes…everything from a coven to a new religious movement to a criminal syndicate to a multi-level marketing scheme could be described as a “cult.” The particulars depend on the tone the author wants to strike, the use they have for them, the narrative they want to tell.

Lucy A. Snyder’s “Cthylla” is essentially a cyberpunk narrative, even though it’s set in a contemporary period and there isn’t any real science fiction or overt fantasy elements. Maybe some other label would be more fitting, but “cyberpunk” fits in terms of the themes more than the thematic trappings. Cyber because it is ultimately about computers and human connections, punk because it is a narrative of personal alienation, transformation, and ultimately rebellion against the status quo.

Real-life has shifted the technological and socio-political bases that cyberpunk of the 1980s was built on, but the themes remain relevant. Human augmentation and space travel were tropes of an older style of science fiction, adapted and explored with aplomb and style, but they didn’t really foresee the internet or smartphones, nor did they try to; the break-up of global superpowers and the rise of megacorporations never quite happened as they predicted, the environmental disasters and plagues foreseen have rolled out generally slower…but the point of science fiction is not to accurately predict the future. The point was to present a certain setting of high tech and low life, a background dystopia against which to tell stories where technology and society had reached a point of individual alienation and transformation. You can set a cyberpunk story in today’s world, without cyberware. We’ve arrived at the future, just not quite the one we imagined.

Yet the stars are not yet quite right.

The Temple of the Deep Mother needs your money because it is the megacorp of the setting. Technologically and legally savvy, its tentacles are everywhere, and it exists to squash individual interests and identities to conform to its self-serving goal. The megacorp doesn’t care about its employees; they are literally to be sacrificed, products made to be consumed, costs already factored into a cosmic balance sheet, and to fuel their continued growth and achieve their final goal they need to make movies, build and operate spiritual retreats, pay employees…everything costs money. Probably there’s a big spreadsheet with a bottom line pinpointing the exact cost to raise the Goddess from the deep.

There’s a certain banality to it all; that is to be expected when you pull the curtain back and think about how a cult would actually work in a world with smartphones and an internet. The Temple of the Deep Mother might be a bit more sinister than Raëlism or the Brotherhood of the Seven Rays, but if it popped up today it would likely be hard to distinguish outwardly from other new religious movements. In the context of the story, Snyder makes that work. The ultimate result they aim for is mystical and nihilistic… “everybody died and none of this mattered.”

One thing didn’t fit into the program or prophecy: you can’t buy love, and you can do ever so much with computers these days. What if somebody did matter? What if you could make them matter? It is a very human response to rise up against a system that seeks to devalue humanity…and “Cthylla” is a very human story. The lesbian relationship that is developed, the brief interludes of loving someone that suffers from mental illness and attempts suicide, are poignant. They have to be, because they are the backbone of the story. One lives her corporate life, born to die; the other finds in her lover a reason to live and rise above herself.

There’s a certain symmetry between “Cthylla” and “Take Your Daughters to Work” (2007) by Livia Llewellyn—both of them feature a comparable ugliness in a cult that will literally sacrifice its future, its children, in pursuit of its goals, but they get there through different routes. “Take Your Daughters To Work” is industrially-focused, steampunk, visible machines and progress; “Cthylla” is more postmodern. Both may involve tallying lives and dollars, but there’s no way to judge progress for the millenarian project in “Cthylla.” There is a very punk aesthetic to the idea of being raised in a system where you very expressly have no future, except instead of nuclear war the promised apocalypse is some cosmic horror raised from the depths, and if Llewellyn’s story is about the horror of acceptance, Snyder’s story is about what happens if, just maybe, someone fights back.

“Cthylla” by Lucy A. Snyder was first published in The Library of the Dead (2015), and is also included in her collection While the Black Stars Burn (2015).


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

“The Nyarlathotep Experience™” (2019) by Miguel Fliguer

Nyarlathotep . . . the crawling chaos . . . I am the last . . . I will tell the audient void. . . .
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Nyarlathotep”

There is no one alive to read it. And there won’t ever be. Encased within the silicon chip, the text speaks forever into the void.
—Miguel Fliguer, “The Nyarlathotep Experience™” in Ancestors & Descendants 314

Rhetoric is not a lost art, but one which people often understand only intuitively. A horror novel, a corporate memo, and a brochure for a theme park are all written differently, even though their intended audience may end up being the exact same person. How those pieces of writing address that individual, their aims and what they do (and don’t) say help define them. You don’t normally expect corpspeak in a horror story; for example.

Yet all are forms of persuasive writing. The brochure wants you to buy a ticket, the memo wants you to buy into the idea, the horror novel wants you to buy into the mood. In “The Nyarlathotep Experience™,” Miguel Fliguer wants you to buy into all three.

As with  “Collector the Third: Charles Wilson Hodap (1842-1944)” (1995) by Kenneth W. Faig, Jr., there’s a strong metatexual element to Fliguer’s story. The assumption is that the audience is familiar with not just Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, but with Lovecraft’s original story “Nyarlathotep”—that this is a piece of fiction that exists in the world, subject now to the utterly surreal process of being transformed into an amusement park ride 20 minutes into the future. The very mundane rhetorical approach to the subject matter is reminiscent of “Commencement” (2001) by Joyce Carol Oates. The utterly self-absorbed, amoral bitching about what “Legal” would allow and the ultimate escape offered as the ride ends and the customers are released through the gift-shop with the various Nyarlathotep dolls and merch on sale works. Isn’t that what some soulless corporate hack sound like?

There are bookends to the piece, however. The first is context. It comes at the end of the collection Ancestors & Descendants (2019), the pieces of which progress chronologically. So the reader of the book, if going through it from the beginning, knows before they even get there that they’re coming up on the end, as in, the penultimate chapter of the book. They’ve already passed through all the past decades. This is the future.

So when Fliguer opens up on the blasted, frozen remnants of Florida drifting quietly through the eternity of space, to this document that no-one is left to read, there’s a definite sense of anticipation. It can’t be just a ride, can it? There has to be more to it. Yet the farther it goes on, the more Fliguer keeps to the straight schtick—not without the occasional joke about how Legal won’t let them use psychedelic drugs or insists on there being an emergency exit—but the whole thing, the journey of the ride, is to relive the experience of reading “Nyaralathotep,” and a reader can easily get lost in that little mental game, remembering the old story, wondering how they would possibly turn it into a lived experience, with special effects and actors.

Then you get to the very end, the last page.

I’m reminded of Robert Bloch.

Lovecraft and Bloch famously created a triptych: “The Shambler from the Stars” (1935, Bloch), “The Haunter of the Dark” (1935, Lovecraft), and “The Shadow from the Steeple” (1950, Bloch). There is an image in that final story, drawn from Lovecraft’s “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnets, number XXI – Nyarlathotep. Fliguer uses the same image, in homage to Lovecraft or Bloch or both…and there is a promise there, because it is taken from the end of the first stanza of the sonnet, readers who remember that may remember the rest:

Soon from the sea a noxious birth began;
Forgotten lands with weedy spires of gold;
The ground was cleft, and mad auroras rolled
Down on the quaking citadels of man.
Then, crushing what he chanced to mould in play,
The idiot Chaos blew Earth’s dust away.

A preview for the end of the world.

Miguel Fliguer’s “The Nyarlathotep Experience™” was published in Ancestors & Descendants (2019). His other Lovecraftian fiction includes the collection Cooking with Lovecraft: Supernatural Horror in the Kitchen (2017), also published in Spanish as Cocinando Con Lovecraft: Relatos y Recetas de Humor Sobrenatural (2018), his fiction has also appeared on Círculo de Lovecraft.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Star Bright, Star Byte” (1994) by Marella Sands

Marella Sands warns of new gates through new technologies […]
—Thomas M. K. Stratman, introduction to Cthulhu’s Heirs (1994) 9

Cthulhu is older than digital computers, and neither Lovecraft nor his contemporaries dreamed of the internet. By 1994, the world wide web was three years old, the first full text web search engines online to help navigate the new conglomeration of web sites and networks. Four years before Google, a year before Nintendo released the Virtual Boy. Virtual reality—the immersive experience of a simulation, created and maintained by a computer program, that allowed you to interact with people and programs—was the promise of cyberpunk, had been since William Gibson described the globe-spanning Matrix in his 1984 novel Neuromancer.

Marella Sands’ “Star Bright, Star Byte” might be called Cthulhupunk. The setting is low-key cyberpunk: 20 minutes into the future, virtual reality systems are run like 1990s bulletin boards, hosting hundreds of users that jack in through implants in the back of the head. Immersed in virtual reality, they can ignore the cultists murdering people on hilltops—at least, until someone called Narla hacks the system. To gain control of a virtual world where anything can be programmed to be just right…even the stars.

“Star Bright, Star Byte” is an artifact of its time. Competent, uncomplicated, and fairly straightforward, Sands sets up and resolves this essential conflict with a minimal cast of characters (Kent Taylor, sysop; his friend Joe, and Narla). Even with the near-future setting of immersive virtual reality, the social mechanics are the same as cybersex in the 1990s: Narla presents as a good-looking woman, the better to entice and distract Kent while the system is hacked, but the sysop knows:

Of course, she could be a balding corporate executive in real life. Or another all-American male computer jock like me. Not all people program constructs to match their gender on the Outside.

The juxtaposition of still-unrealized technology and decades old internet culture is exacerbated by the combination of cyberpunk and the Cthulhu Mythos, both in a rather uncomplicated form—we get little sense of who the cultists are or why they’re trying to accomplish what they’re doing, except to hurry the Great Old Ones back. This is not atypical of Mythos fiction of the period; the tropes had already been established. Sands’ chooses not to dwell too deeply on either the logistics or the mechanics of how the world works: it’s the idea that is the thing. That with new technology comes new risks, and old horrors might appear under new masks to take advantage of the possibilities offered.

This is not exactly a new premise; Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1953) is somewhat comparable in basic concept, but not execution: there is a tinge of grittiness to “Star Bright, Star Byte” in the reality of Kent Taylor’s bachelor pad, the terrible smell from the long-neglected cups of coffee by the computer terminal, the way the “all-American male computer jock” feels blistering if he gets any sun, and admits he’d probably find the real Bahamas disappointing compared to his computer simulation—not exactly high tech and low life, but details that define the more personal stakes involved.  Where Clarke could end his story with the suggestion of a terrible finality, Sands prefers in Mythos fashion to leave readers with the terrible potentiality—that while the cultists were vexed this time, they might still try again.

“Star Bright, Star Byte” is not the only work of the period to try and combine the disparate cyberpunk/Mythos aesthetic; which include Lawrence Watt-Evans’ “Pickman’s Modem” (1992), Michael D. Winkle’s “Typo” (1994), Scott David Aniolowski’s “I Dream of Wires” (1995), GURPS CthulhuPunk (1995), and Alan Dean Foster’s “A fatal exception has occurred at…” (2002), to name only a few examples, and showcase the syntax of an era in which people were still exploring the conceptual limits of the shiny new internet. In a more general sense the effort to marry or address the advance of technology with the Mythos continues right up to the current day: Nick Mamatas explored virtual reality and the Mythos in “Inky, Blinky, Pinky, Nyarlathotep” (2011)—the latest participant in a nascent literary tradition.

“Star Bright, Star Byte” was published in Cthulhu’s Heirs: New Cthulhu Mythos Fiction (1994) by Chaosium. It has not been reprinted.


Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)