It was a terrible, indescribable thing vaster than any subway train—a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and unforming as pustules of greenish light all over the tunnel-filling front that bore down upon us, crushing the frantic penguins and slithering over the glistening floor that it and its kind had swept so evilly free of all litter.H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness (1931)
That’s the eye-witness description we find in “At the Mountains of Madness” for the terrible shoggoths, horrifying bio-engineered life-forms that H.P. Lovecraft name dropped in his other stories “The Thing on the Doorstep” and “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” However, their creators, the Old Ones (later rechristened Elder Things so as not to confuse them with the Great Old Ones) designed the shoggoths to be a kind of endlessly repurposable biological construction equipment.
“Formless protoplasm able to mock and reflect all forms and organs and processes – viscous agglutinations of bubbling cells – rubbery fifteen-foot spheroids infinitely plastic and ductile – slaves of suggestion, builders of cities – more and more sullen, more and more intelligent, more and more amphibious, more and more imitative!”
The shoggoths were an endlessly adaptable life form that could act as a crane, an earthmover, a bulldozer, steamroller, or even (one supposes) weapons of war when the Elder Things warred with some of the other early inhabitants of the Earth. They were never meant to be able to chose what shapes they took, that was for their masters to decide, but like the quoted passage says, they developed independent intelligence and an agenda all their own, quite reminiscent of the common sci-fi trope about artificially intelligent robots and computers gaining consciousness and turning on their creators.Continue reading