Saturday, October 24, 2015

Quick Thoughts - Horror for the Holidays

So Halloween is fast approaching and it seems I don't have anything new out this week, so I'm back to my old tricks and old thoughts. And today I want to talk about horror. Because, well, Halloween obviously, but also because I seem to write horror from time to time without really knowing it. Or I guess sometimes I know. But horror is a strange thing to me, because some don't consider horror speculative, occasionally even when it really, really is.

Perhaps surprising no one, but I think the idea of horror as a genre is kind of weird. Because horror isn't exactly a set of tropes. It isn't spaceships or elves or anything like that, but horror can incorporate spaceships and elves. The movie Alien is a horror film, in my opinion, while also being science fiction. Aliens is a bit more action movie but still has a lot of solid horror. There are many movies that combine horror with something else. Because, at its core, horror is nebulous. It doesn't have firm edges, or edges at all. It is mercurial. You can't point at a collection of plot elements and say "Look, there's horror" the way you can with science fiction or fantasy or even "realistic fiction." Horror is defined, instead, by feeling.

I laugh to myself sometimes when people want to talk up horror as so great but put down stories that have "the feels." Because horror is all about the feels. Literally all about. A story that has a serial killer but no feeling of horror, not suspense or discomfort or any of that, is not a horror. A story about a possessed doll that kills people without the care to make the prose feel scary is not horror. I suppose here there's some subjectivity that could be argued, that I'm putting some sort of "It's not horror unless I say it's good enough" limit on the genre, but that's not what I want to be saying either. I mean that it has to be written to evoke a feeling. Revulsion or fear or awe or something. Something. The point of horror is to make the reader feel something, be confronted by something dark and unsettling. The idea of staring into the dark and being confronted there by something.

But as long as that criteria is met there horror can be anything. So horror, while kind of being nothing, is also everything, can be science fiction or fantasy, slipstream or Western. It's something that frees the genre but also makes it a bit fraught. Because apparently being wishy-washy about genre is not taken kindly to in some spheres. People want stories to pick a side. Be one thing. Categorize easily. And what I like about horror is that I can find horror that speaks to me, that I can find horror mixed in with all my other genres. You got sci fi in my horror. You got horror in my sci fi. And thus Peanut Butter Cup Aliens were born (I can't be the only one who likes pushing the middles up and out the top of the cup, thus making a great visual to go with my bad joke).

So here, sort of like with humor (whose point is also to provoke feeling, but a much different kind), horror isn't exactly something that exists free of other descriptors. It might be the largest emphasis, the most important or appropriate descriptor, but horror kind of always has to exist along something else. A crime horror. A sci fi horror. A fantasy horror. So I strongly resist the idea that horror isn't SFF by definition. It doesn't have to be SFF, but it still often is. At least, when I write it I tend toward SFF horror. Many writers do. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

So lift a glass of appropriately Halloween-themed grog to horror, the genre that is not a genre, the genre of feelings, the genre of me hiding under the blanket until the scary part is over. To horror! Thanks for reading!

All the best,

Charles Payseur

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