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Literature / Boojumverse

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The Boojumverse is the setting of a number of sci-fi themed Cthulhu Mythos short stories written by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette. They have been published in a variety of places online and in short story compilations, and are also available as audio plays on Drabblecast.

In the future, humanity has established space stations throughout the solar system using a combination of mechanical and organic technology. Life is a constant struggle: danger comes not only from competition over limited resources and the remorseless vacuum of space, but also inter-dimensional predators, brain-stealing aliens, Space Pirates in Living Ships, feuding between various ideological sects and cults, and the warped creations of their own eldritch science turning against them.

Each story is stand-alone, featuring a different protagonist and containing only passing reference to the others. There are three stories in the Boojumverse so far:

Tropes in this series include:

  • And I Must Scream: Victims of the Mi-Go, who become undying brains in cylinders that inevitably go insane. Potentially the reanimated as well: Cynthia wonders whether the serum will eventually wear off, or whether the reanimated are doomed to continue suffering in their undead state for all eternity.
  • Artificial Zombie: The reanimated. And not just humans: the Charles Dexter Ward is a zombie Living Ship.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: Breeding raths are extremely heavily armored; the only vulnerable point on their body is the ovipositor on their underbelly.
  • Awkwardly-Placed Bathtub: Captain Song of the Lavinia Whateley has a bathtub on the bridge.
  • Bio-Augmentation: A Transhumanist religious sect called the Christian Cultists have modified their bodies to be capable of working in extreme environments. In "Mongoose", Izrael passes one in a corridor who has replaced her arms with four sucker-tipped tentacles.
  • Brain in a Jar: The Mi-Go extract living human brains and store them in canisters, for reasons known only to themselves. In "Boojum", a crew of Space Pirates steal a cargo of brain canisters and decide to try selling them back to the Mi-Go. In "The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward", Cynthia tried tinkering with a Mi-Go cannister, leading to her being fired for practicing "forbidden science".
  • Brown Note: You can't look directly at a rath for more than a couple of seconds without getting a migraine headache.
  • Canon Welding: The series is based on the Cthulhu Mythos, but the Reanimation Serum is mentioned (Reanimator was written because Lovecraft needed to pay his rent that month, and his editor wanted something like Frankenstein.)
  • Christianity is Catholic: Indeed not. Christianity has mutated into a Pro-Human Transhuman "cult" that resembles no contemporary denomination.
  • Cute Monster: Cheshires, little eldritch beasties which are treated a lot like cats. They're useful for hunting extradimensional Cthuloid vermin like Toves, and are intelligent and loyal towards their owners. They are actually young Hounds of Tindalos; and if their growth wasn't stunted to prevent them from maturing, they would become members of the race of unstoppable monsters called Bandersnatches.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Christian Cultists are known for being eager to speak well of everyone. Thus, when the only praise they can give Station Master Lee is to say that she doesn't actively persecute them, Izrael knows that Lee must be a very terrible Station Master indeed.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Captain Edwards of the Henry Ford once tried to double-cross Captain Song of the Lavinia Whateley. Captain Song now keeps Captain Edwards's head in a jar on her bridge as a warning to others.
  • Deadly Lunge: Though the reanimated shuffle around deceptively slowly, they can lunge a surprising distance with frightening speed if someone gets too close. This ends up being the end of Professor Wandrei.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Toves, raths, and bandersnatches are extradimensional beings which enter reality through cracks in space-time. Though their names come from Lewis Carroll, their inspiration is the Cthulhu Mythos. Bandersnatches, for instance, are explicitly equated to The Hounds of Tindalos.
  • Eldritch Starship: Boojums are enslaved minor Eldritch Abominations used as spaceships.
  • Fish People: There is a human subspecies called "gillies", disliked by ordinary humans but valued because they are capable of surviving extreme conditions. They're the Boojumverse equivalent of the Deep Ones from the Cthulhu Mythos, complete with occasional reference to their "cold fishy gods".
  • High-Voltage Death: Boojums can only be killed in two manners: chopping them into tiny pieces, or with a powerful electric shock to the central nervous system. Since the Charles Dexter Ward is still in one piece, Cynthia and Hester conclude it must have been killed in the second fashion. They use the same method to re-kill the zombie ship, as well as the reanimated Dr. Fiorenzo.
  • Intangibility: Cheshires and Bandersnatches are capable of shifting out of phase with this dimension, becoming invisible and intangible to physical beings.
  • Kill It with Fire: Toves are capable of surviving in vacuum, so Izrael Irizarry advises killing them with fire.
  • Living Ship: Boojums are fish-like living ships that bend space-time, before for fast travel and as protection against gibbering horrors from beyond the veil that might otherwise try to eat them.
  • Lovecraft Lite: Human starships and space stations are in constant danger from Eldritch Abominations — but human ingenuity has produced technology capable of fighting them, and the stories tend to end with the protagonist prevailing.
  • Mad Science: Practised by Akhamists.
  • Mirror Monster: Doppelkinder are monsters which hunt in mirrors and eat their victims' eyes. They are incapable of harming Cheshires or Boojums, which don't recognize two-dimensional images like reflections in mirrors because they think three-dimensionally.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Cynthia witnesses ghostly apparitions which the Arkhamers call "pseudoghosts". They are visions of people from the past or future, visible through time due to the spacial warping caused by Boojums.
  • Pet Monstrosity: The protagonist of "Mongoose" has a pet 'cheshire', a small, friendly Eldritch Abomination with More Teeth than the Osmond Family used for hunting inter-dimensional horrors. At the end of the story, someone speculates that a cheshire is a tamed and artificially-stunted Bandersnatch, the unstoppable Eldritch Abomination that's at the top of the food chain.
  • Pirate Girl: In "Boojum", Captain Song is the female leader of a crew of Space Pirates. The story's protagonist, Black Alice Bradley, is a member of her crew.
  • The Political Officer: In "Mongoose", Colonel Sadhi Sanderson is a political officer on Kadath Station. Part of the conflict is Station Master Lee wanting Izrael to fix the tove infestation without letting Colonel Sanderson know the station had problems to begin with. Izrael has an Oh, Crap! moment when the political officer turns up and starts asking awkward questions, but Sanderson turns out to be a Reasonable Authority Figure who is more interested in helping Izrael do his job.
  • Professor Guinea Pig: Dr. Julia Fiorenzo from "The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward" injects herself with her own reanimation serum.
  • Ray Gun: Battery-powered ray guns are common sidearms, used by Colonel Sanderson in "Mongoose" and Black Alice in "Boojum".
  • Restraining Bolt: The living ship Lavinia Whateley has a control node that prevents it from leaving the solar system like it wants, forcing it to instead continue to serve its crew.
  • Sacrificed Basic Skill for Awesome Training: The previous doctor on the Jarmulowicz Astronomica was a genius in pioneering cutting-edge research, but not so good on the fundamentals; while pushing the boundaries of knowledge, she overlooked that most of the crew were suffering from basic malnutrition.
  • Sapient Ship: The living ships called Boojums are allegedly only about as smart as monkeys, capable of being trained but not truly intelligent. In "Boojum", however, Black Alice's interaction with the Lavinia Wheatley suggests that they are actually sentient; just so alien that humans have difficulty understanding them.
  • Shoot Out the Lock: Black Alice uses a ray gun to shoot out the lock of sealed cargo hold. It's actually the only time in the story she uses her gun, since she admittedly has absolutely terrible aim.
  • Shout-Out: A number, mostly to Lovecraft or Lewis Carrol.
  • Space People: Christian cultists, Arkhamers and gillies are mentioned, though not explained in detail. They're the subject of prejudice and distrust, and they're implied to have been driven off Earth as a result of religious or government persecution, taking on roles that enable them to be useful and therefore tolerated. Christians have modified their bodies to be capable of working in space — in "Mongoose", Izrael passes one in a corridor who has replaced her arms with four sucker-tipped tentacles. Arkhamers are practitioners of Mad Science — the Cheshires they breed are used to hunt extra-dimensional predators. 'Gillies' are Fish People; good for extreme environments but subject to Fantastic Racism.
  • Space Pirates: The main character of Boojum is Black Alice Bradley, a crew member of the pirate ship Lavinia Whateley.
  • Spaceship Girl: In "Boojum", Black Alice ends up merging with the Lavinia Whateley to become a spaceship girl.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: Cynthia dabbled in forbidden science in the past, but encountering the reanimated convinces her that there are indeed certain areas of knowledge that man was never meant to meddle in.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: In "Boojum", Captain Song used this as punishment for a former crew member named James Brady. In "The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward", this is the fate that Cynthia faces if she is unable to pay her oxygen tax.
  • Zombie Gait: The reanimated are described as moving in this fashion, seemingly slow but capable of lunging from a surprising distance.