Title: The Oldest Solution
Author: Priya Sridhar
Genre: Lovecraftian Sci Fi
LGBTQ+ Category: Lesbian
Publisher: Strange Horizons (short story)
One hundred and one years have passed since the reclusive and eccentric Howard Phillips Lovecraft published the short stories “Dagon” and “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”, and arguably introduced the Cthulhu Mythos to the reading public. While Lovecraft’s racist leanings have been condemned in recent years, his vision of a cosmos filled with tentacled monsters continues to inspire, with Elizabeth Bear’s “Shoggoths in Bloom” and Mat Johnson’s Pym being two recent works which have brought new perspectives and POC characters to the horrors of Lovecraft as well as Edgar Allen Poe. In “The Oldest Solution”, writer Priya Sridhar, who has now been writing for fifteen years and has quite a few short pieces out, joins Bear and Johnson as part of a new generation of Mythos-adjacent authors.
The story, a short one, follows a young South Asian-American lesbian, Nisha, as she goes to see Dr Olk, a busy physician who refers to themselves in the plural, to get help with relationship issues. Olk offers her the standard treatment: to be possessed by a Lovecraftian being, which, they claim, will fix her. Olk knows this, because they are a human possessed by an ‘old one’ (thus using the plural). They show Nisha the depths of space behind a door in their office, and while not wanting demonic possession as a cure for her girlfriend problems, Nisha agrees to conventional psychoanalysis instead, in an office with hellish “slugs” crawling and screeching in a sort of alien aquarium.
The plot is workable, and the characters are not too hard to get: a doctor, his alien mind parasite, and a troubled woman who lives with her biased parents. Sridhar’s heinleining of details into the story fabric is well done: Nisha had “an infestation of corners” and dating sites store souls instead of photos; an office deals in “bodily possession extraction”. Like Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald”, this story tells us, little by little, that we’re living in a world where the tentacled blasphemies have won, and Sridhar shows us how, one person after another, they have taken over.
Problems are mostly minor details of language and description: “octopi” decorate a couch and a sentence about the dating site has a typo. Venus “looks like a picture in an encyclopedia” and stars flame “orange and green”. It’s not clear why, if the monsters win, life is going on so ‘normally’ that there’s a recession (much AH fails to deal with this issue). On the other hand, if being possessed by aliens fixes mental problems (and makes you lose weight?) America might break down Cthulhu’s door and trample his office staff to boot.
So, eighty-six years hence, what will people think? This story (and others; her Beowulf homage “Frightened Children” is worth a look), along with her nonfiction, shows promise along with an awareness of limitations: “There was a future, with or without the cosmos,” thinks Nisha as she agrees to see Dr Olk a second time. I would certainly look forward to another appointment with Priya Sridhar. Recommended to fans of Nisi Shawl, Ursula K. LeGuin and Theodore Sturgeon.
Priya Sridhar’s website is at http://www.priyajsridhar.com/
Her Medium site is https://medium.com/@priyasridhar_9044
J. Comer is a writer and teacher who lives in Texas.