I love reading horror novels in the summer; there's nothing like the weird juxtaposition of beach-ready joy and blood-curdling horror. No matter if you've read the entire Cthulhu mythos or don't know Nyarlathotep from Yog-Sothoth, I've got eight cosmic horror novels that will chill you to your core, so you can stay cool — and terrified — this summer.
In a cosmic horror story, the raving lunatic conspiracy theorist isn't crazy at all — or if he is, he has good reason to be. Cosmic horror generally revolves around humanity's contact with an Eldritch Abomination: a being so incomprehensible that merely laying eyes on it is enough to drive a person to the brink of insanity. In many cases, those who have seen the creature are the lucky ones, because they've already cracked. The folks who haven't met it yet must live in constant fear of first contact, which lends cosmic horror stories a delicious ramp of terror that lies in wait.
Lovecraft's fiction relied heavily on xenophobic fears of miscegenation to grip readers. But the novels he inspired — which span not only the cosmic horror subgenre, but also weird fiction and body horror — focus on lurking elder gods and the dangers of rediscovering ancient knowledge that's better left dead.
Regardless of how you feel about the author — and it's perfectly OK to hate him and everything he stands for — you cannot deny the lasting influence of Howard Phillips Lovecraft's body of work. Although Lovecraft died a relative unknown, later writers built upon his stories, fleshing out an invented New England full of forbidden knowledge and creeping horrors. In recent years, Lovecraft's work has fueled a number of acclaimed books (The Ballad of Black Tom, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe), movies (Get Out, The Cabin in the Woods), and video games (Destiny, Bloodborne).
Check out the eight cosmic horror novels I've picked out for you below, and share your favorites with me on Twitter!
1'The Brotherhood of the Wheel' by R.S. Belcher
The first novel in a new series from R.S. Belcher, The Brotherhood of the Wheel centers on the modern-day Knights Templar, a web of truckers and highway patrol officers who protect the rest of the U.S. from human traffickers, serial killers, monsters, and the occult.
2'Agents of Dreamland' by Caitlín R. Kiernan
Caitlín R. Kiernan's novella, Agents of Dreamland, floats across the U.S., bringing dispatches from a government agent haunted by the previous week's events, a cult-inhabited ranch house with deep secrets, the first contact between a space probe and another consciousness, and a woman unstuck in time.
3'The Cipher' by Kathe Koja
Nicholas shows his friend Nakota the mysterious black hole hidden in an apartment building, but he does not anticipate her level of obsession with its depths, and only when Nakota convinces Nicholas to lower a camera into the void does he become enthralled with it as well...
4'The Twenty Days of Turin' by Giorgio De Maria
Published in Italy in 1977, Giorgio De Maria's The Twenty Days of Turin only received an English translation in 2017. The story centers on a would-be investigator who sets out to determine why the city of Turin underwent a collective psychosis for nearly three weeks, resulting in death, destruction, and the shuttering of its unique Library.
5'Beneath' by Kristi DeMeester
Set in the late 1980s, Kristi DeMeester's Beneath follows a journalist on assignment to Western North Carolina, where she searches for a story in a fundamentalist church that allows venomous snakes to bite children. The church's careless atmosphere quickly turns the corner into sinister territory, however, and its unclear whether anyone involved will make it out alive.
6'Blindsight' by Peter Watts
After alien probes establish contact between Earth and a distant planet, humanity sends an A.I.-captained ship with a crack team of emissaries: a vampire, a cyborg, a non-confrontational warrior, a man with half a brain, and a linguist with multiple personalities. They are not prepared for what they'll find, but they might just be the only ones capable of handling it.
7'Dead in the Water' by Nancy Holder
After an accident occurs somewhere between California and Hawaii, the stranded freighter passengers believe themselves lucky when a cruise ship happens upon them. But their rescue is anything but, and the nightmare has only just begun...
8'The Croning' by Laird Barron
For years, geologist Don has followed his anthropologist wife Michelle all around the world as she investigates "the little people," tracking them closer all the time. Michelle has protected Don from the real horror of her mission, however, and he's about to find out just what they've been pursuing all this time.