If you've never heard of cosmic horror and you want to dip your toes in the water, we have everything you'll need to know right there. Long-time cosmic horror enjoyers, you may be able to find your new favorite book, too.
For those of you just starting out, you may wonder exactly what this niche genre is all about. Cosmic horror, often called Lovecraftian horror, is all about getting weird while still having those trademark horror qualities we've all come to love. Its alternative name comes from the author who truly made it what it is today — H.P. Lovecraft.
Ready to begin? Here are the books we think you need to try out.
'At the Mountains of Madness' by H.P. Lovecraft
Getting acquainted with the genre means, perhaps, starting at the beginning. As the grandfather of the genre, H.P. Lovecraft serves as a great introduction to what to expect. At the Mountains of Madness is a classic novella. Written in 1931, the book is all about a journey to Antarctica which might not seem too strange ... at first.
The goal of the narrator is to make sure no one else ever goes to Antarctica because, he explains, there's a whole civilization already there, but they aren't human. As the horrific events unfold, you'll get a sense of just how weird and fictionalized this world can get. However, what makes Lovecraft's story so great is that it is rooted in a sense of realism by using Antarctica as a backdrop.
'John Dies at the End' by Jason Pargin
John Dies at the End is the beginning of a series by Jason Pargin. If you're looking to enter a longer read that immerses you into the storyline completely, this should be a good read for you. Obviously, you already know how the story ends, but the journey to get there is all that matters.
The main characters are paranormal investigators, so right away, you can expect some weird stuff to happen. However, the super strange part is they're taking a drug called "soy sauce" and it's causing out-of-body experiences ending in being forever changed as a person. The book was turned into a movie and the movie's description asks, "Can two college drop-outs save humanity from this silent, otherworldly invasion?"
'The Croning' by Laird Barron
"Strange things exist on the periphery of our existence, haunting us from the darkness looming beyond our firelight," reads The Croning's book description, setting the backdrop for what is sure to be a chilling book. Main character Donald Miller has attempted to live in ignorant bliss, but he'll need to address the elephant in the room.
Something's not quite right and he's starting to uncover glaring and haunting about the Children of Old Leech. Trusting only his wife and his own children, he must dodge strange black magic as his world comes crumbling down.
'It' by Stephen King
This one may sound totally familiar. Many readers know about or have read It, classifying it as just another horror story. What they may not realize is that it truly is a cosmic horror story, too. After all, the whole killer clown thing certainly feels a bit odd when you really think about it.
After a chilling horror as teens, men and women are drawn back to their home where the horror first happened. They'll eventually need to face what they avoided for so long, no matter how scary they know it will be.
'The Ballad of Black Tom' by Victor LaValle
New Yorkers may not see their home the same way after reading this one. Magic, apparently, crawls through the city's streets in this fantastic book from Victor LaValle.
In The Ballad of Black Tom, our protagonist is a typical New Yorker, caught up in the hustle and bustle. His experience, though, certainly differs as Charles Thomas Tester is totally cursed. After dealing with a delivery gone wrong, he ends up deeper than he wanted to be in some occult issues.
'Lovecraft Country' by Matt Ruff
In an ode to H.P. Lovecraft and the genre's name itself, Matt Ruff entitled his novel Lovecraft Country. While it's certainly a cosmic horror, it also incorporates historical fiction, pulp noir, and fantasy. Set in Chicago 1954, Army veteran Atticus Turner goes looking for his missing father.
What he finds is that he's been lured to a ritual and he's the key element. "A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of one black family, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today," concludes the description.
The cosmic horror world is full of stories that embrace the twists and turns and push the limits of human imagination. Stealing elements of classic horror, they leave readers with new perspectives and ideas. If you're looking for a fresh read, this genre is probably for you.