Smith and Lovecraft’s Use of the Asteroid Belt in their Fiction

Before we move to Jupiter, I did want to make a few notes on the Asteroid Belt, which is the zone between Mars and Jupiter occupied by a large number of rocks of varying size.  There are tens of thousand of asteroids, also known as planetesimals or planetoids, orbiting the sun between 1.52 and 5.2 astronomical units (the Earth is 1.0 astronomical units away from the sun).  For reasons generally unknown, although there are a number of hypothesizes, these planetesimals never coagulated into a planet (Cosmology: The Science of the Universe by Edward R. Harrison; 1981).

First full picture of an asteroid (243 Ida) and its associated moon.  243 Ida is about 35 miles long while its moon is about a mile across (jpl.nasa.gov).

In HPL’s day the general thought was that asteroids were the fragments or pieces of an exploded or destroyed world that existed between Mars and Jupiter (Collected Essays Volume 3: Science, H.P. Lovecraft; edited by S.T. Joshi, 2005).  Currently, the prevailing hypothesis why the asteroids never formed into a planet is that they were prevented from coalescing due to the large gravitational pull of Jupiter (The History of Astronomy by Michael Hoskin; 2003).  In other words, due the immense size and mass of Juipter, the asteroids are a planet that failed to be.

New asteroids were being identified through the late 19th and early 20th century and HPL reported on a number of these new discoveries in his astronomical articles.  The identification of new asteroids continues to this day.

In HPL’s fiction, there is one reference to asteroids and that is in The Shadow Out of Time.  This involves the recovered memories of Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee when his mind occupies one of the Cone-Shaped Beings.  Peaslee recalls that the hieroglyphs and language in one of the books of the Great Race was used by a captive mind living on or in a large asteroid.  HPL eludes to the fact that this mind is a form of ancient life that once lived on a primal planet that existed between Mars and Jupiter but was destroyed sometime in the past.

An illustration from HPL’s The Shadow Out of Time by Howard V. Brown

This reference to an ancient mind surviving in one of the asteroids is very intriguing.  Since the Great Race can travel through time and space, I wonder if they somehow warned the beings on the anicent planet located between Mars and Jupiter of their impending doom.  Maybe this is one the minds that survived the catastrophe thanks to the Great Race; forever trapped in the remains of it’s extinct world slowly orbiting the sun.

This 1988 Arkham House edition of Clark Ashton Smiths A Rendezvous in Averoigne includes the story Master of the Asteroid.

Clark Ashton Smith has a story called Master of the Asteroid, originally published in Wonder Stories; October 1932.  Again, like many of his solar system tales it is dark and forbidding, reminding one of the ALIEN universe.  In the far off distant future year of 1980, three psychologically unbalanced men decide to leave a Mars colony, for one of the moons of Jupiter.  They never make it to their destination and end up on one of the larger asteroids (called Phocea in the story by CAS but probably referring to 25 Phocaea, which was discovered in 1853 by J. Chacornac) populated by a strange race of intelligent walking sticks, similar to the Terran insect family of Phasmidae, as well as another alien presence.  Another excellent, yet dark, story by Clark Ashton Smith.

Wonder-Stories-v04-05

The October 1932 issue of Wonder Stories; the cover features a scene from Clark Ashton Smith’s story Master of the Asteroid

I would like to conclude this article by mentioning that Mars has two moons – some of the smallest moons of any of the planets in our solar system.  These moons were discovered by Asaph Hall in 1877.  A prevailing hypothesis is that these moons, Phobos (meaning panic / fear) and Deimos (meaning terror / dread) are thought to be asteroids that were eventually caught in Mars gravitational field.

Next time we will definitely move onto the first of the outer gas giants in Lovecraft’s solar system.  Thank you – Fred.

 

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