Weird Science

Weird Science
When the Sky Comes out of the Ground

Ray Huling | 18 Mar 2008 14:00
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Marx and Lovecraft had their work corrupted by epigones into Soviet communism and the Cthulhu Mythos, respectively, and it's these latter things, the corruptions, that we find crawling out of that Peruvian crater.

The Red Meteorite
Pravda's genealogy glitters with stars: Trotsky founded it, Lenin revived it, Stalin commandeered it, Krushchev exploited it, Gorbachev de-fanged it and Yeltsin closed it down. "Pravda" means "truth" and there are now actually two "Truths": one print, one online. Journalists from the Soviet publication founded both, but the two versions have no formal ties.

A story like the one on the Peruvian meteorite, though nuttier than a typical Soviet-era piece, doesn't diverge from the bearing Pravda always had. Pravda's article is agitprop - propaganda meant to agitate the masses into action against the enemy. The Soviet Union used Pravda to disseminate agitprop to advance communism during the Cold War. These days, Pravda no longer functions as an organ of the state. It has no intrinsic interest in advancing an ideology, other than for its own profit.

Pravda generates hits through techniques developed by capitalist tabloids. But it has to delight audiences nostalgic for the glories of communism. Instead of Bat Boy, you get a grotesquerie of imperialism. Stalin, not Elvis, rises from his grave.

Back in the day, the Soviets had good reason to vilify the U.S. through any lie necessary: Communism promised utopia. Marx had revealed that the contingencies of history result more from what we do than from what we think. Flesh matters more than spirit. Controlling labor means controlling history. Science taught him that.

The Soviets believed nothing could refute Marx - not even better science. When genetics threatened Marx's ideas about human nature, Stalin ordered up some new genetics. No scientific phenomenon could contradict party doctrine. Today, no phenomenon can escape party doctrine. Marx doesn't care about meteorites, but Pravda does. All things occur because of the struggle against imperialism, even falling stars. Marxism has become mythology.

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The Weird Meteorite
Pravda fans the embers of a utopian revolution; the bloggers who spot Lovecraft in Peru's meteorite stoke the fires of dystopia. These bloggers have a strong case, however, because "The Colour Out of Space" does describe just the sort of thing that happened to Carancas.

Look at the science. Geologists have a hypothesis about the illness. The region where the meteorite fell holds plenty of groundwater and arsenic. The meteorite could have vaporized arsenic-laced water, which the villagers inhaled.

The event would have piqued Lovecraft's interest, as it embodies the ideology behind his writing. Lovecraft wrote to convey his idea of cosmic indifference. The universe doesn't intend to sicken us with meteorites, but the meteorites come; the sickness happens. "Humankind must understand that it lives in the universe on its own," says Donald Burleson, Lovecraft scholar and retired Professor of Mathematics at Eastern New Mexico University, "with no cosmic concern one way or another."

Wild speculation about the Peruvian meteorite makes some sense: We all make up stories about mysterious phenomena. All of us, except Lovecraft. He didn't speculate about the science of his day. He wrote allegories of it; he tried to convey how he experienced scientific discovery. In the blogs, the meteorite became an allegory of Lovecraft. The weird horrors of his fiction became a way to dilute the strangeness of the meteorite, rather than distill it into something potent and dangerous.

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