The main focus of Lovecraft's works are indeed... aliens. Lots and lots of aliens. Some visited Earth and lived on it. Some battled between themselves. Some built cities. Some destroyed cities. Some created civilizations (some of which collapsed and left ruins behind them). Some left, some are sleeping, some are well awake. Some are good, some are evil, some are neutral. Some are physical beings, some... well, not exactly.

Lovecraft was indeed one of the first writers to write about alien beings. He wrote about them so early, in fact, that "proper" sci-fi didn't even exist yet... so he was considered a horror writer; but... wouldn't you actually feel horrified if reading about hostile alien beings lurking everywhere, when nobody had yet bothered considering them a pseudo-scientific issue?

Stories like The Whisperer in the Darkness or At the Mountains of Madness don't have anything even remotely magical in them, "only" aliens; and, by the way, it is well known that "any sufficiently advanced technology can't be distinguished from magic"

So, can Lovecraft be considered a science fiction writer? Did later SF writers recognize him as a father of the genre?

  • 4
    You're mentioning stories from H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulu Mythos (which are his most famous works). He also wrote some non-Mythos stories which could be considered even more solidly science fiction - "In the Walls of Eryx" takes place on a jungle-planet Venus (ala Edger Rice Burroughs); "From Beyond" and "Cool Air" involve scientific inventions.
    – Nate
    Nov 1 '11 at 14:54
  • Yes, I've read them, and you are absolutely right.
    – Massimo
    Nov 1 '11 at 15:16
  • 6
    The premise of your question is a little hard to understand. It seems you doubt HP Lovecraft's credentials as an SF writer based on the notion that SF didn't exist when he was writing... but Jules Verne and HG Wells were writing SF well before Lovecraft. War of the Worlds, which is not only SF but has aliens, came out when Lovecraft was 8 years old. We may be retroactively applying the specific term "Science Fiction", but if it applies to War of the Worlds, then why not Lovecraft?
    – Questioner
    Jan 5 '12 at 7:28
  • VTC, due to the actual question in the end. "So can Lovecraft be considered a science fiction writer? Did later SF writers recognize him as a father of the genre?" is off-topic as asking for genre classification in the first half, and not providing clear critera of what would be considered "recognize as father of the genre" in the second half. Jun 22 '12 at 16:56

I think that writers like Lovecraft are the genre's forefathers, but that his works have a different perspective than most sci-fi works. Different elements get into the mix that result in a story primarily of the horror kind. His work was, in my opinion, instrumental in exploring the ways in which aliens and arcane rituals can be used to evoke different emotional responses, but what makes him a Horror writer primarily is that he strives for that in his more mature works.

  • 3
    This is certainly true, but f.e. "At the Mountains of Madness" is exactly one of his most mature works... and it has a very scientific approach to the discovery of a long-forgotten alien civilization on Earth. There are no arcane rituals there, also. I think that one is by all definitions a sci-fi story.
    – Massimo
    Jan 12 '11 at 10:34
  • 1
    You are right in this instance. However, most of his stories involve some kind of esoteric ritual or mystery in which science has a very limited place. Jan 12 '11 at 10:43
  • 2
    A lot of them have no esoteric rituals. "The Call of Cthulhu", to name one, is about the effects of a powerful telepathic alien on humanity. Any rituals were made by humans affected by his influence, and had no other significance. Jan 15 '11 at 16:15
  • My point is that the author does not emphasize at all on the technology used, or talk about the extent of that effect. He uses it to evoke horror and mystery. Also, at the time of writing, the telepathic influence might not be quite that obvious, making the distinction between scientific effect and magic spell inconsequential. Jan 19 '11 at 13:36
  • 4
    @David I disagree, or rather, I think the tone of "The Call of Cthulhu" is horror/mystery, not SF. Cthulhu is an "alien" primarily of the unknown-to-mankind/monstruous kind, not so much an extraterrestrial. He is also an E.T., of course, but I don't think that's the focus of the story. Of course, this is highly subjective and just my opinion.
    – Andres F.
    Jun 21 '12 at 17:20

At the Mountains of Madness is every bit as much sci-fi as Ridley Scott's Alien is. Both stories involve travel to a remote location by means of the most advanced technology of the day. Both make some attempt at quantifying a terrible horror. Both ultimately dive deep into the horror genre.

Do they cross genres? Yes. Do they exhibit clear properties of science fiction? Absolutely.


At the Mountains of Madness, is a particularly horrorful and dark novella, but I think it does have certain elements of science fiction, especially the aspect of the monsters from below concept, where have to be sealed in, in a particular manner, that smacks of classic sf.

Some of his later short stories ended up in Weird Tales, which had a heavier bias towards SF than some of the early horror stories, and a lot of his contemporioe like August Derleth and Fritz Leiber ran with canon and expanded it out into sf, particularly Leiber who wrote some really hard SF back in early, middle 20th century, like the Q series books, and short stories (not listed in Wikipedia) about travelling backwards in time to kill Hitler.

I really do wish that they don't maul the story too much for the upcoming film.


In Lovecraft's universe, the universe is a dark and scary place, with things that human minds can't comprehend; and that humanity will never learn enough to push back all the darkness. Charles Stross wrote an interesting bit in the back of one of his books (probably Atrocity Archives) claiming that the heir to Lovecraft's horror was Len Deighton - that the inability to stop the Cold War was substantially the same as the inability to stop the many angled ones from the darkness.

  • Charles Stross, think tried to move the canon into the human world, when it was always set in fantastic horror subgenre. Jan 18 '11 at 23:31
  • 1
    Robert Anton Wilson clearly laid some of the groundwork for Stross' later work in the Illuminatus! Trilogy. Jun 17 '12 at 22:58

Lovecraft certainly wrote science fiction, some of it clearly influencing later writers. In that context, don't forget to add his "The Colour Out of Space" to the stories already mentioned above. A meteorite crashes onto New England farmland. An unidentified substance from it begins to taint the ground and the water supply and infects plants and animals (and soon, of course, people) with some form of blight, causing mutations and then decay into a grey powder.

The basic story line of blights from space against which we have no ready defense has become the basis for a number of stories, most famously "The Saliva Tree (of which Aldiss himself states that it was pretty much a retelling of "Colour"). Other stories that I see in that vein include Crichton's "The Andromeda Strain" and John Campbell's "Who Goes There" (aka "The Thing" in its movie incarnations).

  • 1
    In the October, 1931, issue of Wonder Stories, five years before "The Colour out of Space", A. Rowley Hilliard wrote of a blight from space in his classic novelette "Death From the Stars".
    – user14111
    Jul 13 '16 at 10:41

It is a fact that two of Lovecraft's greatest works were first published in science fiction magazines.

At the Mountains of Madness was first published in the February, March, and April 1936 issues of Astounding Stories.

"The Shadow Out of Time" was first published in the June 1936 isslue of Astounding Stories.

Considering that Astounding Stories was probably already the most prestigious science fiction pulp magazine Lovecraft clearly did have a short but significant career as a science fiction writer.

And of course he must have had some degree of influence, great or small, upon every science fiction writer who read Astounding Stories during 1936.

I have read many reprinted old science fiction stories from the 1930s, but I doubt that Astounding Stories printed any other stories during the entire year of 1936 which made such a great impression on me as At The Mountains of Madness and "The Shadow out of Time", and I expect that it would have been the same for most readers back in 1936.

  • The Shadow out of Time is a good example - the Great Race of Yith is specifically mentioned as being from another planet, the means by which the Race transfer their minds is explained as at least partially technological in nature, and there is actually a scientific expedition toward the end of the story not unlike At the Mountains of Madness. Feb 18 '20 at 15:12

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