The horror of vast/infinite things
April 25, 2016 11:19 AM   Subscribe

I have discovered a specific taste for creepy stories where the creepy-factor comes not from things that are straightforwardly evil or horrible, but from things that are just... incomprehensibly vast or infinite. Help me find more of these! Examples below the cut.


* /r/thalassophobia
* Borges' The Library of Babel
* this vignette
* Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour bookstore
* a number of stories I remember but can't find on Google, involving infinite descending spiral staircases, labyrinths, etc.
* people accidentally traveling zillions of years forward in time and, whoops, everyone's dead, the earth has become barren due to the sun going red giant, whatever
posted by Alioth to Media & Arts (39 answers total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
You might try Rendezvous with Ranma by Arthur C. Clarke. It is the first in a series(although the other books in the series would not match your criteria at all) and deals primarily with a small group of astronauts exploring a giant empty spacecraft.
posted by deadwater at 11:23 AM on April 25, 2016

the word you are looking for is Lovecraftian.
posted by cakelite at 11:28 AM on April 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

If you have not yet read The Library at Mount Char, it will tick every single one of those boxes for you. (FYI, there is also quite a lot of violence, including a not-graphic rape scene, but it is not at all typical gore or slasher fest. I'm pretty much a baby when it comes to horror and I could handle it no problem.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:33 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh and of course the classic in this genre, House of Leaves.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:35 AM on April 25, 2016 [17 favorites]

I came in to suggest "The Jaunt." One of King's best short stories, bar none.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:35 AM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

Re Borges, "The Immortal" is quite applicable. Also check out of a lot of J.G. Ballard, but specifically "The Concentration City" and "Report On An Unidentified Space Station".

Are you looking specifically for spatial vastness/eternity? Lovecraftian (or more generally Cosmic Horror, see e.g. William Sloane) is a broader topic but certainly in the same vein. Check out Eugene Thacker's book "In The Dust of this Planet" for a more general discussion of the topic with a good bibliography.
posted by j.edwards at 11:41 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase has some elements of this, especially in the Borgesian vein.
posted by EmilyFlew at 12:17 PM on April 25, 2016

and borges's aleph.
posted by andrewcooke at 12:25 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think the lovecraftian suggestion is right on. Here are a few more things that come to mind, many of them also lovecraftian, in no particular order:
  • Peter Clines - 14, The Fold
  • Jeff VanderMeer - Southern Reach Trilogy
  • Charles Stross - laundry files series (an old favorite)
  • Jonathan Howard - Carter & Lovecraft
  • Robert Jackson Bennet - The Troupe
  • David Wong - John dies at the end
  • Max Gladstone - Craft novels
  • Ian Tregellis - Milkweed series
  • Karl Schroeder - Lady of Mazes, Ventus (not horror)
  • Alastair Reynolds - House of Suns (not horror)
  • I agree with the library at mount char (it is fairly ultraviolent though)
  • Maybe a bit more tenuous, but could do something for you: Claire North - the first fifteen lives of Harry August

posted by advil at 12:45 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

A Short Stay in Hell, by Steven L. Peck, and Vernor Vinge's Realtime/Bobble series are both about the horror of the infinite--the first in the context of a Zoroastrian purgatory, the second in the context of, essentially, time skipping in the real world.

In non-fiction, I found Wait but Why's discussion of large numbers truly horrifying.
posted by lmindful at 12:56 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

J G Ballard's short story The Enormous Space fits your description very well -- man decides to shut himself away inside his suburban home, which he then perceives to expand vastly around him as his isolation intensifies.
posted by meronym at 1:01 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you read comics at all, Junji Ito has some very chilling stories. uzumaki is related to the fear of the infinite spiral. You can find it free on manga reading sites.
posted by buttonedup at 2:06 PM on April 25, 2016

There's an infinite staircase creepypasta.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:13 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Cipher by Kathe Koja. Link is to a review but there isn't anything I would consider spoilers in it.
posted by primalux at 2:20 PM on April 25, 2016

A couple Borges things have been mentioned, but this is just completely his wheelhouse, along with knife fighting gauchos. Along with those listed above are The Garden of Forking Paths and Funes the Memorious (variously rendered in English, because there is no direct word translation for memorioso.)
posted by LionIndex at 2:27 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

The short story Descending, by Thomas M. Disch, might be one of your "infinite spiral staircases" stories - only they're escalators, not stairs. For the multi-storey car park equivalent, there's "Closed Circuit" by Laurence Staig, collected in Dark Toys and Consumer Goods, featuring a hard-to-leave shopping mall - wait, you can't turn your back on these bargains... And maybe perennial AskMe favourite House of Stairs by William Sleator? Infinite staircases and psychological manipulation.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:55 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone, for all the recommendations so far! I foresee some really fun reading times ahead.
posted by Alioth at 3:00 PM on April 25, 2016

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's short story Quadraturin -- link is to a review; a translation was once online but has since apparently fallen off.
posted by finka at 3:02 PM on April 25, 2016

You might like the Kafka parable, "An Imperial Message".
posted by stinkfoot at 3:43 PM on April 25, 2016

Octavio Paz's Piedra de Sol gives me this feeling.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 4:12 PM on April 25, 2016

I don't have any literary recommendations, but you might enjoy reading up on the difference between the sublime and the beautiful in philosophy.
posted by bricoleur at 4:56 PM on April 25, 2016

The movie Primer.
posted by dilaudid at 6:16 PM on April 25, 2016

The Christmas Special episode of Black Mirror does this nicely.
posted by flod at 6:43 PM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

You could read about the Long Line. It's, um, long. Vi Hart has a decent exploration of mathematical infinities.
posted by BungaDunga at 7:19 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

For a comedic take, there is the story of the Total Perspective Vortex from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:55 PM on April 25, 2016

Algernon Blackwood: The Wendigo, and The Willows, the horror of vast wilderness.
posted by release the hardwoods! at 9:13 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding Jeff VanderMeer -- I bet you will love Annihilation (the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy) especially.
posted by Threeve at 9:36 PM on April 25, 2016

If you can get past the goofy title, The Dechronization of Sam Magruder chillingly evokes the loneliness of being stranded in the Cretaceous. Makes Crusoe look like a guy who got lost at the mall.
posted by drdanger at 10:07 PM on April 25, 2016

JG Ballard's Report on an Unidentified Space Station.
posted by heatvision at 2:50 AM on April 26, 2016

nth'ing the recommendation for HP Lovecraft. A good introductory point, being a short story and hitting your horror of the infinite squarely on the head, is a text that is no longer under copyright anywhere I believe. You may read it immediately: The Music of Erich Zann
posted by cotterpin at 4:10 AM on April 26, 2016

The Clown Puppet from Thomas Ligotti's Teatro Grottesco does it for me... and that's just for starters.
posted by Elmore at 4:15 AM on April 26, 2016

Stanisław Lem's Solaris.
posted by speicus at 10:17 AM on April 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, by the way, I found one of the infinite-staircase stories I'd been unsuccessfully googling for: L'esprit de L'escalier
posted by Alioth at 10:59 AM on April 27, 2016

For a comedic, yet horrifying take, try the cartoon series Rick and Morty. Rick is a mad scientist who travels between dimensions with his dim grandson. There are infinite dimensions, containing multitudes of Ricks and Morties who have met with a variety of fates, and the series has an off-kilter, amped-up nihilism as the characters are forced to confront their own lack of significance in a vast and uncaring multiverse. More than once, confronted with something ghastly and inexplicable, someone cries "Don't think about it!"

There are even videos that explore the philosophy of the series.
posted by itstheclamsname at 5:28 PM on April 27, 2016

Oh dear. You might enjoy Isaac Asimov's The Last Answer.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 8:16 PM on April 28, 2016

Lots of good suggestions, I know I'm a bit late to this, but I have a book not mentioned that you might want to check out - House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson. It also has the benefit of being in the public domain. Lovecraft was a fan of a sort, he said of it "But for a few touches of commonplace sentimentality this book would be a classic of the first water."
posted by Ashwagandha at 11:07 AM on May 3, 2016

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