Reviews for Aliens, Robots & Virtual Reality Idols in the Science Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov and William Gibson:
"Full disclosure: I tried reading some of HP Lovecraft’s fiction when I was in grammar school — a collection of short stories that included “The Call of Cthulhu,” if I remember correctly — but I found it fairly alienating and also kind of depressing. Similarly, I never really got into Isaac Asimov (despite Will Smith’s best efforts), and though I vaguely recall reading and mostly enjoying William Gibson’s Neuromancer as a graduate student in the late 1990s, I failed to finish reading a subsequent Gibson novel, All Tomorrow’s Parties, because I didn’t know what was going on and didn’t especially care to find out.
None of this is to disparage any of the above writers. I’m told by several friends and colleagues — and now by John L. Steadman, author of Aliens, Robots, and Virtual Reality Idols in the Science Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov and William Gibson — that their works are classics not only within their genre but of literature in English more broadly. Likewise, the profusion of Cthulhu-themed bumper stickers and tee shirts among steampunk hipsters alone has, over the past decade or so, made me wonder whether I am, in fact, missing out on something. Fortunately for me and others of my ilk, Steadman’s book does an excellent job of summarizing much if not all of each author’s oeuvre in loving detail. Think of it as the Rough Guide to Lovecraft, Asimov and Gibson Countries.
While much of the volume is given over to valuable summary, Steadman’s larger purpose is to explore, in his words, “the interrelationship between alien and humankind.” This examination reveals the limits and limitations of what Steadman describes as “the belief that humankind is at the center of the cosmos — the most important element in the cosmos, in fact.” This critique of what might broadly be described as Humanism resonates with the Inhumanism or Antihumanism of figures like Robinson Jeffers, whose poetry does much to undermine the notion that humans are the center of existence, and it also calls to mind the Tralfamadorians of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, who look upon humanity with a mix of curiosity and bemusement.
One question that Steadman returns to repeatedly is that of motive: What do the aliens in the authors’ works want? Curiously, the question itself reveals the limits of humanity’s ability to conceive of and understand the fully alien insofar as asking what aliens want assumes that they do, in fact, want as humans do. Perhaps this explains Steadman’s conclusion that “our understanding of the alien is, at best, imperfect and minimal” and that “when the alien withdraws from the stage, as it does in the works of all three writers,” we are left with the disturbing vision of “humankind, short-lived and insignificant, alone in a vast, indifferent cosmos." - Marc Schuster, Small Press Reviews on Word Press, March 14, 2021.
"Nonfiction books of this variety are few and far between. High concept and academic, yet accessible. Specific, yet covering all required bases and sticking a solid landing. This book expanded my thinking on the subjects of aliens, robots, and VR – all quite common sf topics and, if I’m being honest, got me excited again to think of these things as much more than tropes, but as deliberate conversation pieces within our fiction.
My one criticism of the title is that many of the references here are old. While the arguments still stand, folks already familiar with these discussions may want to look elsewhere for more nuanced and updated takes on these older analyses. This title simply isn’t as hooked into the current academic discourse around these subjects one might find in places like the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction or MFA programs who specialize in genre topics." - SirReadsalot, Amazon Book Review-February 28, 2021.
"John L. Steadman (H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition), a scholar of science fiction literature, provides an intriguing look at three giants of the genre in terms of how each treated the concept of the alien. As he acknowledges, his three subjects are known for tackling disparate themes. Lovecraft’s supernatural horror stories featured powerful beings from other dimensions, while Asimov imagined super intelligent robots, and Gibson has conjured virtual reality creations who ascend to a godlike status. Steadman demonstrates surprising parallels between these visions, such as how Asimov’s robots, though ostensibly benign and governed by an in-built code of ethics, end up posing a threat to humankind—as Lovecraft’s “Great Old Ones” do—“by eliminating all of the things that make humans human.” Steadman also connects Gibson’s powerful VRs with Asimov’s robots, noting that both manipulate humanity for their own agendas. There are some minor flaws, as when Steadman stretches to claim that Asimov’s human sleuth, Elijah Baley, was based on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, or oddly muses that “humans in their infant stage evolve into aliens in their adult years.” Nonetheless, he makes a strong case for the connections he sees between authors not previously viewed as having much in common." - Publishers Weekly Book Review-September 15, 2020.
"Steadman’s comprehensive guide wrestles with the concept of the ‘alien’, applying cutting edge theoretical and philosophical ideas to the work of some of the greats of Science Fiction to arrive at a set of exciting new discoveries about what the genre says it means to be ‘human’. Reading Aliens, Robots and Virtual Reality Idols guarantees that you will never look at the writing of Lovecraft, Asimov or Gibson in the same way again." - David Simmons, University of Northampton, Northamptonshire, UK.
"John L. Steadman’s ambitious book offers a welcome commentary on what it means to encounter the Other under the most extreme possibilities. It also provides an insightful—and sometimes even chilling—analysis of several works by H. P. Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov, and William Gibson to suggest how each author imagines the human, the alien, and the universe. The result is an insightful and interesting read that offers a new perspective on each author while also focusing on what it means to be human in an increasingly strange world." - Carl H. Sederholm, Professor of Interdisciplinary Humanities; Chair, Comparative Arts and Letters; Editor, Journal of American Culture, Brigham Young University.
"As Lovecraft divulged, any “hero” in his modern folklore “is never a person but always a phenomenon or condition.” Nowhere is this more evident—Steadman tells his readers— than in Lovecraft’s “development of trans-dimensional aliens.” Steadman finds in Lovecraft’s greatest fiction a metaphor for “the limitations of the human mind and human technology,” and a warning that humanity must “circumvent, solve, or prevent the things that threaten our humanity” to one day “take our place in the greater cosmos. "- John D. Haefele, author of A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos and Lovecraft: The Great Tales.
Reviews for H. P. Lovecraft & the Black Magickal Tradition:
"In H. P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition, John Steadman has written a compelling and unusual study of the Cthulhu Mythos. By locating Lovecraft's work in the narrative of black magic systems and interrogating the various intersections between the Mythos and real magical practices, this fantastic book casts new light onto both. A must read for anybody interested in either Lovecraft or black magic, and fascinating for newcomers and scholars alike." --Tom Fletcher, author of Impossible Dreams (Hugo Award winner, Best Short Story category, 2006)
"At the time of his death in 1937 H. P. Lovecraft was little more than a minor pulp author. He regarded himself as a failure. Three-quarters of a century later he is accepted as a serious figure in American (and World) literature, one whose standing and influence grow almost daily. But was he 'merely' a writer of horror stories, or was there something more to his works? Were his many weird beings and alien gods purely the products of his imagination, or did Lovecraft tap into some greater and more esoteric truth than the average reader of Weird Tales or Astounding Stories realized?
In H. P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition, John L. Steadman addresses this question head-on. Whether Lovecraft was himself a practicing, if covert, occultist, as some devotees believe, or solely a practitioner of the tale-spinner's art, his works fall clearly within the occult traditions of cultural and even supernatural beliefs stretching back to classical Greece, Egypt, and Mesopotamia.
Steadman's scholarship is impressive and the revelations in his book may well be as shocking to skeptics (including me!) as they are reassuring to believers. I recommend this book unreservedly to any admirer of Lovecraft, whichever camp the reader may belong to." --Richard A. Lupoff, author of Marblehead: A Novel of H.P. Lovecraft and Lovecraft's Book
"H.P. Lovecraft's influence on modern horror fiction is indisputable. John L. Steadman explores a more obscure aspect of his legacy, dissecting and analyzing the research into the occult that underpins the Cthulhu mythos, and describing how the rites and metaphysics in Lovecraft's fiction have influenced the practice of contemporary magic. A fascinating and valuable contribution to Lovecraftian scholarship." --Paul McAuley, author of Four Hundred Billion Stars (Philip K. Dick Award Winner, 1988) and Fairyland (Arthur C. Clarke Award Winner, 1996)
"John L. Steadman has opened the door to the study of neomythology in H. P. Lovecraft & the Black Magickal Tradition. Funny and dark, cynical and powerful, Mr. Steadman takes on the many faced monster that is rising out of the R'lyeh of the collective unconsciousness." --Don Webb, Emeritus High Priest of the Temple of Set & author of Do the Weird Crime, Serve the Weird Time and Casting Call.
"John Steadman offers an admirably clear, concise, and comprehensive account of the instances of black magic featured in H. P. Lovecraft's works, the sources from which he drew his information and--most usefully and most interestingly--the various uses made of Lovecraft's literary inventions by the numerous modern lifestyle fantasists who have taken inspiration from his fiction." --Brian Stableford, author of The Devil's Party: A Brief History of Satanic Abuse, Werewolves of London, and The Cthulhu Encryption.
"John L. Steadman's fascinating look at the intersection of Lovecraft and the occult is both comprehensive and comprehensible--even to the non-occultist--and provides a wealth of information and inspiration for the aficionado or the practitioner of the weird tale." --Orrin Grey, author of Never Bet the Devil, Painted Monsters, The Mysterious Flame and Black Hill.
"Author John L. Steadman's intriguing book, H. P Lovecraft & the Black Magickal Tradition, is a fascinating and well-researched treatise on the influence of magickal thought with respect to the output of one of the recent giants of Weird Literature. With concision and insight into the historical underpinnings of Black Magick and its adherents, Steadman's volume is indispensable reading for neophyte Lovecraft readers, longtime fans, or simply individuals with a casual interest in the Old Gentleman from Providence, as well as those curious about the history of magick in literature and in popular culture. A stimulating and informative reading experience." --Jason V. Brock, author of Disorders of Magnitude, The AckerMonster Chronicles, and Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities.
"Not just for students of the occult! Lovecraftian horror fans and writers will find this well-researched volume a brisk and fascinating read." --Lon Prater, author of Head Music and Midnight in New Promise.
"I am enthralled by this outstanding study. As one who has practiced as a solitary witch, and one who now practices as a weaver of Lovecraftian fiction, I can appreciate this book on many levels. In its approach to biographical matters, it paints an honest portrait of H. P. Lovecraft. A magnificent work!" --W. H. Pugmire, author of Some Unknown Gulf of Night, The Tangled Muse and Uncommon Places.
"John L. Steadman's treatise H. P. Lovecraft & the Black Magickal Tradition provides a fresh angle of context for the man, the myth, and the legend. A fine addition to the library of any Lovecraft enthusiast, whether or not you believe in magic." --Cherie Priest, author of Boneshaker (Pacific Northwest Bookseller’s Association Award Winner, 2009 & Locus Award Winner, 2010) and Bad Sushi.
"John L. Steadman's book is a welcome contribution to an important and neglected subject. Much nonsense has been written about Lovecraft's involvement with occultism, and Steadman brings a refreshing dose of reason and sanity to the discussion. His thorough understanding of Lovecraft's life, work, and thought, and his impressive grounding in all aspects of the occult tradition, make him the ideal scholar to address this controversial topic." --S. T. Joshi, foremost world Lovecraft scholar and author of the award winning biography, H. P. Lovecraft: A Life and The Modern Weird Tale.
"They say truth is stranger than fiction, but is truth stranger than Lovecraftian fiction? John L. Steadman's in-depth look on Lovecraft and the occult proves that it is! A fascinating mix of literary criticism, subaltern history, and occult minutiae, even for non-occultists like myself." --Nick Mamatas, author of Move Under Ground and Love is the Law.
"John L. Steadman may well have created the most thorough and accessible study of the occasionally perilous, often credulous, but always fascinating realm where the fictional mythos of H.P. Lovecraft dovetails with occult praxis. H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition exhibits a blend of scholarly insight and literary panache that is sure to please and enlighten both the Initiate and the weird fiction connoisseur." --Richard Gavin, author of At Fear's Altar, Omens, The Darkly Splendid Realm & Charnel Wine.
"Steadman has written a perceptive, comprehensive, and admirably balanced study of Lovecraft's connection with occultism. H.P. Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition provides an important and valuable contribution to this highly contentious aspect of his life and work." --Paul Roland, author of The Curious Case of H.P. Lovecraft.
"In 'H P Lovecraft and the Black Magickal Tradition' we are presented with an enigma that could, ultimately determine the fate of humanity. The threads that underpin this mystery are long and the pathways run deep but throughout John L Steadman holds the story together and presents an authoritative, but also entertaining, take on a genuine occult enigma." - SPIRITUALITY TODAY