“In the Walls of Eryx” (1936)

Creators

H. P. Lovecraft (writer), Kenneth Sterling (writer).

Categorization

Straight planetary-exploration adventure SF/horror.

Subject

This, without question, was the plateau mapped by Matsugawa from the air fifty years ago, and called on our maps “Eryx” or the “Erycinian Highland.” But what made my heart leap was a smaller detail, whose position could not have been far from the plain’s exact centre. It was a single point of light, blazing through the mist and seeming to draw a piercing, concentrated luminescence from the yellowish, vapour-dulled sunbeams.

Commentary

Dull, flat writing, using crystal MacGuffins and the conceit of a perfectly invisible maze, which reads like a bad videogame Easter egg in 2018. Despite the importance of that environment to the narrative, the way the maze interacts with the gyttja it’s standing on is left unsaid. We do not even see how the “efjeh-weeds” reach a corpse without the protagonist seeing their path. Reptilian bipedal Venusians function like colonial savages in earlier literature and the brave or greedy explorer looks very much like a dieselpunk hero in his leather spacesuit which, we are told, contains no underwear. Only near death does the protagonist muse, presumably in Lovecraft’s voice: “In the scale of cosmic entity who can say which species stands higher, or more nearly approaches a space-wide organic norm—theirs or mine?” His superiors dismiss this stance as madness and proceed with genocide, but the final word is another, trivial irony.

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