Delta Green: Alien Intelligence

Back Originally in Elder Gods' Rave #12, August, 1998
Alien.jpg (220681 bytes) Paul Rainey (Hi, Paul!) Commented that it was strange that I didn’t have more Cthulhu stuff in EGR, considering the title (how many of you exactly to what the EGR title and cover pictures are, anyway?). Well, he's right. And the first thing I'm going to tell you all to run out and buy is Pagan Publishing's Alien Intelligence.

A quick background for those of you who are not sure what a Cthulhu is (the rest of you can go straight to the next paragraph and get on with the review). Howard Phillips Lovecraft was a pulp writer in the 1920s and 1930s, and wrote some stories that essentially created their own genre. Instead of utilizing the familiar horror standbys of vampires, ghosts, and psychos with knives, Lovecraft's vision encompassed a harsh, cruel universe in which humankind was a mere speck of dust. Instead of personal horror, Lovecraft developed impersonal horror; the equivalent of Douglas Adams' Total Perspective Vortex. If there are alien intelligences out there, they are likely so far removed from us that we could not possibly understand them. Nor would they demonstrate any sort of human morality or sense of kindness—these are human concepts that are not reflected in physics or General Relativity. Worse than being evil, the other inhabitants of the universe simply don't care about humans, and we would go mad if we ever saw the universe as it really is. Since Lovecraft's time, hundreds of writers have tried to share in his vision, with some success. This body of work has become known as the Cthulhu Mythos, a sprawling shared universe utilized by many. As may be suspected, many of Lovecraft's concepts have become less frightening, and in fact as old and familiar as the werewolf, or the ghost. Read some of Lin Carter's Mythos contributions if you don’t believe me.

Delta Green: Alien Intelligence is not like that. Like the occasional writer who re-animates the old standbys, Alien Intelligence injects fresh, modern, visceral fright into Cthulhu Mythos concepts that had become as trite and overdone as the werewolf.

In Issue 7 of The Unspeakable Oath (Fall, 1992), John Tynes, that master of the twisted and strange, created Delta Green, a conspiracy within the United States government. Obviously, he was following the same Zeitgeist that a more famous master of conspiracy, Chris Carter, was also onto. But where Carter's X-Files hangs on a single individual investigating files in the basement of the J. Edgar Hoover Building, Delta Green is a pan-departmental conspiracy, involving every law enforcement agency in America from the NSA to the Forestry Service to the EPA, and just about any other gun-toting federal alphabet soup you'd care to name. Cases with that infamous 'paranormal bouquet' tend to wind up on certain peoples' desks on purpose, because there are people at very high levels who make sure it happens. That’s how Delta Green works.

Included within the unholy pages of Alien Intelligence are stories by all the Pagan heavy hitters. John Tynes' story "The Dark Above" leads off, and it sets the tone for the rest of the collection. Like everything Tynes writes, "The Dark Above" is frightening, disturbing, and absolutely true to human nature. Where few people understand the toll destroying horrible, supernatural creatures would have on the human mind, Tynes evokes the complex rationales and mental shuffling that someone in the Delta Green organization would go through. Imagine the emotional toll of a person who has to face down inhumanly powerful non-human entities who are steadily infiltrating modern society. Imagine knowing that something worse than a serial killer is waiting for you out in the dark, and you begin to understand what kind of...personality quirks the long-time agents of Delta Green have. Most of them would be like Captain James Forrest from "The Dark Above."

Similarly, other stories reveal that there are still plot twists we have not explored, and horrors that we have not faced. Dennis Detwiller, artist for Pagan, has demonstrated his mastery over the written word with his excellent "Drowning in Sand." According to the Delta Green time line, certain elements of the US Government have been in contact with extraterrestrial entities for some time. Detwiller looks at this juxtaposition and asks a vicious question: which is more damaging to the human soul, Dilbert-style governmental office politics, or the utterly alien terrors of the Cthulhu Mythos?

Ray Winniger’s "Pnomus" is perhaps the most mind-bendingly twisted of the bunch, handing us a fascinating story. "Pnomus" starts off with a strange photograph taken from a peculiar angle, which successfully foreshadows the rest of the story. By the time you're done, you wonder if the human view of all reality is as skewed as that initial photograph...

Bruce Baugh’s quiet, calm poem "Climbing the South Mountain", has a deceptively simple style that in no way prepares you for the kick in the head he calls a finish. The narrator of the poem, Mr. Bai, was a faithful member of the Communist regime in China, and eventually became a spy during the Viet-Nam war. He reminisces on the writings of long-dead poets, specifically Jiang Mao, who said, quite beautifully, that the evil he has done was in order to preserve the goodness of his masters. Mr. Bai has done this in his own way, but far, far differently from the ancient poet. All of this is conveyed in the calm, low-key poetic composition of Mr. Bai, effectively using the old Mythos technique of telling the reader more than the narrator knows.

"Potential Recruit" is possibly one of the few Mythos stories ever to describe, in detail, how the "other half" lives. Usually, we see drooling, gun-toting cultists that are ready to throw themselves into heavy gunfire at the whim of their God when the good guys come calling. But "Potential Recruit" shows us how such organizations gain new members, and the slow sublimation that such recruits undergo. It’s quite obvious that Greg Stolze knows something about the cult phenomenon in America, showing us the slow stages that eventually bring about the submission of the individual's will to that of the cult leader's. But is the organization Henry Woolrich is infiltrating related to extradimentional horrors, or is he being seduced by a garden-variety religious nut?

With Chaz Engan, I've worked on the Chaosium project Beyond the Mountains of Madness, so I have a special interest in Mythos stories that take place in Antarctica. Which is exactly where Adam Scott Glancy’s "An Item of Mutual Interest" takes place. It’s a short story dealing with some documents found at the secret Nazi base on Antarctica. Heh heh heh. I know why they were there. But the reader who has not yet experienced the full narrative of Beyond the Mountains of Madness will also enjoy this story of Nazis, ice, and shoggoths.

If you've read Lovecraft, then you know what ghouls are; feral, meeping critters that dig caves under graveyards to devour corpseflesh. As antagonists go, they are disgusting, but not particularly threatening. But no longer. The ghouls of the '90s are smart, savvy, and have a frightening new magic trick that makes them a terrifying and ruthless enemy. Bob Kruger's "Identity Crisis" shows us the horrific carnage ensuing after an unprepared army unit tries to take on a clever, prepared supernatural enemy. And then things get messy...

Blair Reynolds' "Operation Looking Glass" is, as can be expected, a truly weird piece of work. It begins with the debriefing of one Walter Greyman after a...less than successful Delta Green operation. It’s hard to describe this one, so let’s just say that it’s Blair (Black Sands) Reynolds, and leave it there, OK?

Alien Intelligence has received loud and universal praise from everyone I know who has read it. It’s a well-written group of short stories, something unfortunately lacking in today’s Cthulhu Mythos environment. Although several of the stories, "Identity Crisis" in particular, will be confusing to those who have never read the Lovecraft cannon, most of these stories do not rely on previous knowledge of the Mythos. Alien Intelligence is an excellent book on the ragged, bleeding edge of horror, and destined to become a classic within its own genre.