A Colder War

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"A Colder War"
Author Charles Stross
Genre(s) Alternate history
Cthulhu Mythos
Published in Spectrum SF No. 3
Publication date July 2000

"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, "It's 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]

Publication history[edit]

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' 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[edit]

The main viewpoint character, Roger Jourgensen, is a CIA analyst who writes up a report on the state of both the US and Soviet governments' occult research for incoming president 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 US and the Islamic Republic of Iran to counter Iran's rival Saddam Hussein, frustrate the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, as well as arrange the freeing of hostages in Lebanon.

In the Cold War, NATO and the United States lags the Soviet Union in mastery of the dark arts, and relies on nuclear missiles as their main countermeasure. The Soviets stole the bulk of useful material from Nazi Germany; the Nazis moved a sleeping entity from an underwater city in the Baltic Sea to East Germany, and the Soviets have since contained it at Chernobyl. Research and weapons from it are referred to as Project Koschei.[9] The Soviets have also deployed smaller weapons called servitors, unstoppable robot-like beings found from the original Antarctic Pabodie expedition and in the Kitab Al-Azif. Satellite reconnaissance shows that the servitors may have been deployed in Afghanistan, which would violate the Dresden Agreement - a secret multinational treaty signed in 1931 after the Pabodie expedition to a strange Antarctic plateau that appears on no maps. Even Adolf Hitler adhered to the treaty, which prohibits the use of these alien entities in war. The United States' countermeasures for Koschei 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 the gates to other planets as roundabout ways to transport arms to the Afghani mujahadeen, and drugs back.

Stephen Jay Gould briefs the CIA on the evolutionary implications of the alien life forms discovered on other planets and at Antarctica, 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. A 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 Hussein stabilises the gate of Yog-Sothoth, destroying opposing tribes in Iraq, which the Iranians respond by nuking Iraq. 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 United States and Soviet Union. More worryingly, the entity behind Project Koschei, Cthulhu, has somehow been loosed, whether intentionally or not; the US 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 Yog-Sothoth 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. 
  9. ^ Koschei, called the Deathless, is the name of an evil immortal in Slavic mythology.

External links[edit]