A Colder War

"A Colder War" is an alternate history novelette by Charles Stross written c. 1997 and originally published in 2000.[1] The story fuses the Cold War and the Cthulhu Mythos.

The story is set in the early 1980s and explores the consequences of the Pabodie expedition in H. P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness.[2][3] Although the story has similarity to the later Stross novel The Atrocity Archives, they are set in different universes.[4] Teresa Nielsen Hayden describes the story on Making Light as, "the Oliver North/Guns for Hostages scandal, seen from the viewpoint of a CIA bureaucrat, in a universe in which the entire Cthulhu Mythos is real."[5]

It was one of Locus Online's 2000 'Recommended Reading' novelettes.[6]

"A Colder War"
AuthorCharles Stross
Genre(s)Alternate history
Cthulhu Mythos
Published inSpectrum SF No. 3
Publication dateJuly 2000

Publication history

The story originally appeared in Spectrum SF No. 3 in 2000, being later reprinted in Gardner Dozois's The Year's Best Science Fiction #18 and in Stross's collections Toast: And Other Rusted Futures (in 2002) and Wireless (2009). In late 2011 it appeared in two Cthulhu-themed anthologies: The Book of Cthulhu by Night Shade Books (ISBN 1597802328)[7] and New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird by Prime Books (ISBN 1607012898).[8]

Plot synopsis

The main viewpoint character, Roger Jourgensen, is a CIA analyst who writes up a report on the state of both the U.S. and Soviet governments' occult research for incoming President Ronald Reagan. This report attracts the attention of "the Colonel" (Oliver North), who arranges for Jourgensen's transfer and for him to work on a variant of the Iran–Contra affair: secret dealings between the U.S. and Iran to counter Saddam Hussein, frustrate the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, as well as arrange the freeing of hostages in Lebanon.

In the Cold War, the U.S. and NATO lag behind the Soviets in mastery of the dark arts, and rely on nuclear missiles as their main countermeasure. The Soviets gained their knowledge from Nazi Germany, which had moved a sleeping entity from an underwater city in the Baltic Sea; the entity is now contained at Chernobyl. They have also deployed "servitors", unstoppable robot-like beings found from the original Pabodie expedition. Satellite reconnaissance shows that the servitors may have been deployed in Afghanistan, which would violate a secret multinational treaty prohibiting the use of these alien entities in war to which even Adolf Hitler adhered. U.S. countermeasures include 300 megatons of nuclear weapons and a continuity of government base hundreds of light years from Earth, connected via a gate in Washington. The CIA also uses these gates to other planets as roundabout ways to transport drugs and arms to the Afghan mujahideen.

Stephen Jay Gould briefs the CIA on the evolutionary implications of the alien lifeforms, confirming they come from no Earthly source. Other nations emulate the superpowers; Iran and Israel plan a nuclear defence against Iraq's attempts to open a gate to the stars. Eventually, the Colonel's dealings are leaked, and Jourgensen has to testify before a congressional committee. One congressman, horrified by the accounts of the Colonel's dabbling, inquires about the Great Filter: why no aliens have openly stopped by to visit humanity, and only relics and servants remain. He points out that meddling with relics of the Elder Ones would be a good explanation for why other intelligent life has been exterminated before it could visit.

Saddam stabilises the gate of Yog-Sothoth, destroying opposing tribes in Iraq, causing Iran to retaliate with a nuclear attack. The timing unfortunately lines up with a joke by President Reagan; the Soviets and their leader Yegor Ligachev retaliate, with a nuclear war destroying the Middle East and much of the U.S. and Soviet Union. More worryingly, the entity behind the Soviet program, Cthulhu, has somehow been loosed; the U.S. nuclear strike does not appear to slow it down as it heads west across the Atlantic Ocean. Jourgensen and other U.S. personnel retreat to a hidden constructed colony on a distant dying planet, codenamed XK Masada. There, riven by phantom voices, Jourgensen contemplates suicide. He decides against it, as death would be no escape if – as he suspects – he has been devoured by Cthulhu already.


  1. ^ "Interview – Charlie's Diary". Antipope.org. 27 August 2010. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
  2. ^ "Stross has admitted 'A Colder War' is directly inspired by Lovecraft's novel 'At The Mountains of Madness'." --"Review of A Colder War by Charles Stross", SFFaudio
  3. ^ "Back in 1997 when I began to explore this area, I started with a novelette titled "A Colder War", which made it pretty explicit. ACW was set in the future of Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" – a future in which Nazi Germany, the USSR, and the USA had all found their uses for the ancient alien technologies found by the Pabodie expedition to Antarctica. It all ends in tears (and a fate worse than global thermonuclear annihilation – the point of that story was to inject some horror back into Lovecraftiana by linking it implicitly to something truly horrifying, to anyone who grew up during the Cold War), but not before a Senator in a congressional hearing gets to utter the words, “Mister President, we cannot allow a Shoggoth Gap to emerge.”" "Ian Tregillis in conversation with Charlie Stross on The Laundry Files"
  4. ^ "The online story "A Colder War" is *not* part of the Bob Howard/Laundry series, but is an earlier short story along a similar vein, but far more serious (and deadly); there is no humor at all in this shorter story." From Marty Halper Archived 26 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Stross' editor on the relevant stories
  5. ^ Teresa at * 34 comments (25 September 2004). "Making Light: More on the Lovecraftian far right". Nielsenhayden.com. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
  6. ^ "Locus Online: 2000 Recommended Reading List". Locusmag.com. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
  7. ^ "Lockhart, Ross E. – The Book of Cthulhu". Night Shade Books.
  8. ^ "New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird edited by Paula Guran". Prime Books.

External links

The Laundry Files
The Merchant Princes
Halting State
Saturn's Children
Other fiction
Sequel works

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