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Scary Monsters (and Super-Creeps)

What is horror?

I can't give you an absolute definition of the term because, like all abstractions, the term 'horror' is experienced differently by different people. What I can say is that in general it is a strong emotion, usually accompanied by disgust, distress, and aversion: that it frequently evokes the fight/flight adrenal reaction, and that involuntary exposure to actual (as opposed to simulated) and unavoidable horrific phenomena may result in long-term post-traumatic stress symptoms.

And then there's horror in fiction, which is something else.

My take on horror is that it's a tone; you can add a tint of horror to any other genre. Horror goes well with SF ("Alien"), with fantasy, with crime, with thriller, with romance, with literary realism, with just about every flavour. It's the monosodium glutamate of fiction. We add it because it's a contrast-enhancer.

Fiction may be about the study of the human condition, but the human condition under the mundane constraints of ordinary life lacks jeopardy and the attraction of drama. We attend to the dramatic because it evokes high emotions and (if you go by Aristotle) a sense of catharis, of release of tension, with the climactic resolution of the source of these emotions. Horror is a pretty extreme emotion, so evoking it gets us out of that everyday anomie pretty easily.

Furthermore, if applied correctly horror is an emotional cattle-prod that can drive all of us to empathize with the victim. Other stimuli are more ambiguous, and therefore more liable to fail. Love at first sight can easily trip up the reader if they look at the object of desire and wonder what the besotted viewpoint can possibly see in them; middle-aged restlessness seldom holds much interest for young adult readers. On the other hand, nobody looks forward to being pursued and eaten by zombies, slaughtered by serial killers, or being abducted and forced to write one more sequel to their best-selling series (unless there's a seven digit advance attached to the contract).

I will confess to using horror freely. I've got an entire series out there which, arguably, consists of horror (the Laundry books and associated stories) — horror layered on top of humorous pastiches of various British authors of spy thrillers (at least in the novel-length iterations). If you're going to use humour, it can very rapidly spin off into irrelevance unless you ground it somehow: a bit of horror goes a very long way towards keeping a humorous work from feeling light to the point of irrelevance. It makes a most effective contrast agent. Perhaps more usefully, a small dab of carefully-applied horror can force us to reconsider some dramatic conceit that we may have been tempted to take too lightly. (That's the role of the Toymaker's "sample" in "Rule 34": to jerk the reader out of any empathy for him that may have been sneakily installed in their heads by following the narrative from his viewpoint.)

There are, however, a couple of serious drawbacks to the use of horror. For starters, if over-used the readers can become habituated to it, to the detriment of the overall plot. If you've kept your characters wading through gore for five hundred pages, it's very hard to lend sufficient weight to a sensitive interpersonal denouement; similarly, if you've done the tight-and-narrow focus horror trick of magnifying a small-scale and very ordinary tragedy into something that fills the silver screen of the reader's imagination — waiting for the results of a hospital lab test, say — then you risk bathos when you snap the focus back to wide-angle. More subtly, certain types of reader respond to horror as if to an excessively strong chilli pepper; you risk losing a chunk of your audience if you push the revulsion button too hard. And finally, certain types of story just don't work with horror (although I confess I'm having difficulty thinking of a canonical example).

Do you read horror? If so, why?

225 Comments

1:

I haven't for quite some time. When I was younger, I read a lot of Stephen King's books, which were hit and miss. But when he hit, hoo boy... I had many sleepless nights from Skeleton Crew and It. That delicious feeling of checking under the bed because of something you've read is always entertaining.

I also listened to a few Dean Koontz books on long drives. Some were quite scary, especially in the middle of a lonely desert at night.

I think I don't read much of it anymore because it seems inherently repetitive. To set the groundwork for a slow build up to the heights of terror--which is absolutely essential to good horror--they tend to use a similar set of phrases over and over again. After awhile, even if it's a good horror story, it has too much in common with all of the others. Anymore, they seem to go for shock and disgust more than creepiness.


I still read Lovecraft stories. They strike me as more weird than scary.

2:

Horror -- except as an ironic literary joke -- seems to me be sadism porn. Folks have a right to their porn -- but don't ask me to take it seriously as anything but an easy way to separate unfiltered reward mechanisms from money.

The Laundry reads to me as a literary joke. Stories like Year 0 Man, on the other hand, tilted highly towards "horror", where the human relations and ideas are reduced towards simply overwhelming filtering mechanisms with cheap shots.

Giving me Auschwitz without giving me the real human story about how Auschwitz functioned as a monstrous human society -- well, as I said, sadism porn.

3:

I disagree rather strongly.

When I think about "horror" as a genre, I think about Alien and Glasshouse. What makes those horror, to me, is the known-but-hidden dread, the knowledge (to both us and the characters) that they can be taken by something they don't understand, and changed in ways they disapprove of and have no control over. And, to win, it'll take huge, personal sacrifices.

King's 'Salem's Lot had that; I'm less horrified by most of his later works. F. Paul Wilson's Midnight Mass is another one that matches. (There's a reasons vampires are used so often for horror. Zombies, too.)

But reading (or watching) them isn't sadism. You keep going out of hope -- hope that the solution won't be so impossible, or less costly.

(For non-supernatural horror, there's On the Beach.)

4:

Typo: "&mash;" should be "—", twice.

5:

I've never really read horror fiction with the exceptions of Joe Donnolly (Dumbarton-based journalist/author who set his books locally with changed names), Cthulhu stories, and your Laundry series (my take there being that it strikes me as a mash-up of British espionage styles and Cthulhu monsters).

Even with horror films, I tend to go for more psychological stuff (Alien does qualify there) than the modern "splatter-teen" and "torture-p0rn" films.

6:

Great explanation, and good insight for me to the Toymaker's sample. Some horror is fun and gives a thrill, but that one came close to my limit and made me stop and re-evaluate the whole story in a darker light for a moment.

7:

I read horror by a rather select group of authors -- you, Barbara Hambly, maybe a couple of others. In almost every case, they're authors I already trust and enjoy, and and I read their horror for the same reasons I read their other work -- for the scenery, the language, and the characters. The horror per se doesn't do much for me, perhaps because I don't have supernatural evil as part of my worldview.

8:

Personally, I love horror per se when it's about the "things that go bump in the night", and am bored by horror as in "splat in your face" (the internet left me really jaded in that regard). However, for ages now I couldn't find a book that really and properly scared me, so I stopped looking and decided to stick to other genres, leaving horror elements as the occasional spice on different kinds of dishes.

Perhaps I'm just generally jaded, or simply too old for the feeling, but I doubt it - some films still manage to awaken that feeling of spine-tingling creeping dread, yet books consistently fail to do so.

9:

I can't think of one of your books that doesn't have a soupçon of horror in it, although I didn't twig to it in the Singularity Sky series until about halfway through the second book. So yes, I read horror, in that sense.

Furthermore, I've quite enjoyed several recent zombie books. But the last Stephen King I read was Firestarter, and I rarely buy books that have the word "Horror" emblazoned on the spine. So I guess it depends what you mean by "horror."

10:

Oh, BTW, obviously I agree with Sean about what "horror" means. The idea of watching something like "Saw" is repulsive to me.

11:

Define horror, that seems as difficult as 'important' in your previous reading posts.

I have read some Caitlin Kiernan, which is probably on an edge of horror genre. But I picked those books more because she has a good reputation as a writer than for their horror content. House of leaves is another borderline horror case I've read.

I seem to read 'horror' more because it is part of books I'd like to read for other reason than for the label itself.

12:

I read somewhere that the appeal of horror is that it shows the reality we fear may be lurking beneath the surface of the reality we perceive.

Over the weekend I read M. John Harrison's Light - and I'm still not sure what to make of it. But one thing I do think Harrison was trying to do is to find horror in the very warp and woof of the universe itself, down where the quanta do their merry dance. Opening oneself up to that reality, he may be implying, threatens the very existence of one's self... or at least I think that's what he meant.

Not sure if this is germane to your OP Charlie. Like everyone else I ploughed through Stephen King in my youth and dabbled in some Lovecraft.

13:

I got desensitized to horror a long time ago.
Those teenagers who split up at night to search for the psycho serial killer deserve to die for the crime of stupidity.

There are very few books or stories where I have felt the cold hand of fear while reading. Back when I was in my early teens Lovecraft managed it. "A Colder War" managed a reprise and has been the only story in years to give me an echo of that feeling.

14:

"Oh, BTW, obviously I agree with Sean about what "horror" means. The idea of watching something like "Saw" is repulsive to me."

I made the mistake of watching "Human Centipede" because of the controversy surrounding it. A seriously negative investment of my time. No redeeming features. Just glad I pirated it rather than paid any cash to support stuff like that.

15:

Oh, sorry, didn't answer the last part of your question. I read The Forest of Hands and Teeth a while back, and the horror aspect of it (it's a zombie book) was intense. I think it resulted in me identifying so strongly with the main character, that at one point in the book toward the end, I was weeping in sympathy with what the character was feeling. This doesn't happen to me very often when reading fiction.

In Iron Sunrise, the horror was not particularly cathartic. It was perhaps a bit too close to the bone—living in the U.S., the fear of my society turning into a panopticon society with emotionless jack-booted enforcers is not as much of a stretch as I'd like. So it was really frustrating that you left it on a cliff hanger—I think one of the reasons you get hassled about doing a sequel to that book is that your readers want catharsis.

The horror in your Laundry series is more fun—we're not taking it quite so seriously, because it's a bit more hypothetical than the jackbooted panopticon variety. So there I don't think it's really so much a question of catharsis or character identification, but more just that it lends texture to the story. It's more of an Evil Hogwarts effect. The lurking horror in the back office is also a really amusing representation of a feeling I think we've all had at one time or another about the management in some place we've worked.

As for other people's horror (OPH), which I presume is what you really care about, I think my comment on FoHaT is the best I'm going to do. The kind of horror that brooks no hope that any of the characters could survive isn't really my thing. I found The Road completely intolerable. I don't know how I Am Legend ended in the book form. The movie was intensely gripping, because of the protagonist's incredible isolation, but the ending wasn't all that satisfying, because it just seemed too convenient, kind of like the end of the Dune movie, or the end of Damnation Alley.

16:

I don't read much horror, but when I do:
I read horror because it is far less boring than my life. I read horror because I read fiction as an escapist diversion, and horror's unreality helps a book never stray too far in the direction of real-world plausibility. (More glibly, if I wanted to read books about average people making bad life choices, I'd reread my diary; the things that happen in horror books could never happen to me so I can escape into them.)'
I read horror because, mostly, they turn out OK in the end.

17:

I love your line in The Fuller Memorandum about the cultists not understanding "the difference between a Sam Raimi movie and standing by your dad’s hospital bed trying to work up the nerve to switch off the ventilator." Most of what passes for horror is just cliched stage dressing, the same old creaking door that hasn't been oiled since it was lifted from Castle Udolpho. Fresher horror stories are often just about evoking disgust.

Here are two instances of fictional horror that have stayed fresh for me. I didn't love Kathe Koja's Bad Brains, but it had one lightning flash moment. The protagonist slips as he walks into a convenience store to buy some beer. A sentence later he's in a hospital bed with a nurse standing over him. He recognizes that the nurse is speaking to him, and speaking English. He does not understand a word she's saying. Neurological horror beats supernatural horror. (Horror started with the supernatural and then became psychological. The world needs more neurological horror -- like Krantzberg syndrome!)

Maybe the best horror story I've ever read is Tim O'Brien's In The Lake of the Woods. It's not "horror" by genre -- it's a historical novel, a political novel, a metafictional war story, etc. However, midway through my second reading, I realized that I was sweating and the hair on my arms was standing up. This had nothing to do with what I was currently reading, but subconsciously I was remembering the scene that was going to happen in the next 20 pages -- a scene involving the death of some houseplants.

That book does a great job of working the different scales of horror. The My Lai massacre is a central event, but the moment that worked its way under my skin is a hypothetical reconstruction of what happened to those houseplants. The horror of a massacre is too big -- the emotions shut down. Intimate stories are lockpicks; the horrors of history are a battering ram.

18:

I don't want to define what 'horror' is, but I can say that "A Colder War" was the most horrifying story I've ever read. Pure soul-raping dread.

As you note, too much of this might overwhelm a full-length novel. Therefore, I deeply wish you'd write some other short-stories in the Laundry-universe (not necessarily canonical) without the humor and with all the horror.

19:

"certain types of story just don't work with horror"

The NecroNomNomNomIcon, the most evil cookbook of all time?

20:

If you want horror, try this, and bear in mind that we have come *extremely* close to this reality:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VG2aJyIFrA

21:

I just find Zombies a joke

22:

I like (nay, prefer) horror in certain cases. I like it in your Laundry series, for example. I don't think I'll ever forget that shock of revulsion I felt when Bob's careless coworker breached the containment circle and his eyes filled with glowing worms (paraphrase, obviously. It's been a while). Harry Connolly's Twenty Palaces series also does a great job--I'm pretty desensitized to guns and knives, but when one character rips another's arm off and beats him over the head with it with it? It's messy and horrific and shocks me out of my desensitized stupor. Obviously, writing style plays a big part and, as always, YMMV.

So there's an "oh shit, that's really bad" element to it, but also it has to make me twinge on a deeper, emotional level. The entire story can't be like that, or else I won't get attached to anyone in it (if everyone is getting beaten with their own liberated arms, chances are good that the character I like will get bludgeoned by the time it's over, and so emotional distance is applied). But a well-placed moment of soul-squirming horror is not something I will forget any time soon, and it lends weight to the narrative.

(P.S. By "horror" I'm using my own interpretation; something is "horror" if it feels horrific to me, not just because it's gross.)

23:

I think a large part of the effect is the feeling "this could happen to me". Which is why I don't find slasher films and zombies remotely terrifying. Something like nuclear war, OTOH...

24:

A friend of mine (author and horror buff) says that the difference between horror and science fiction is that the victims in a horror story are not given (and don't try to get) any explanation for the monster chasing them. They either try to run away or attack the monster. Nobody ever turns around and addresses the monster: "why are you doing this?"

By this definition, I don't think that the Laundry books are horror. Bob Howard relentlessly deconstructs the monsters he fights (see the end of the Fuller Memorandum). He pulls apart the zombies (for example), finds out what makes them tick, and reprograms them. Zombies turn from horror into science fiction, which I think is a lot more satisfying.


25:

I just started in on the complete works of Lovecraft the other night. In Lovecraft's case I'd say I'm reading it because I enjoy stories that mess with my sense of scale and scope (stories that make hard swings between a human perspective and a cosmic one that makes us seem and feel hopelessly small and alone). Ian Banks is also good at this, though his goal is different.

26:

I think the horror in the Laundry books is that the world is lurching towards the nigh-inevitable death of the human race, and there is nothing that can be done. All they can do is try to slow it down, or mitigate the damage.

The horror part in tFM wasn't the zombies; it was what was done to Bob.

27:

I haven't consciously sought out horror titles since I was a teenager - around the time that the first wave of Stephen King novels was hitting the racks. After the more subtle horror of so much juvenile or YA fiction (eg Nicholas Fisk's "Grinny") etc, my first exposure to horror in adult contexts was really sated by King and a rash of restricted-audience horror films like Suspiria and Phantasm. Perhaps I had too many nightmares. Since then I've only really found it embedded in fantastic or humorous genres ( memorably Laundry series, China Mieville, Clive Barker's 'Imajica', Graham Joyce's 'Tooth Fairy' ). In many of those contexts, the horror elements act in respect of a fantasy book the way that sfnal elements may in a nonfantastic setting. There's a "what-if?" with moral peril that hits you in the gut like Goblin's sountrack to Suspiria.

28:

the victims in a horror story are not given (and don't try to get) any explanation for the monster chasing them

That does not sound right. Victims in horror regularly try to work out what is happening and why, if for nothing else then to obtain some way of fighting the monster. The explanation and internal logic of the "other" is often a mishmash of superstition, fantasy or just plain nuttiness, but it is there, or the horror story becomes boring, if there is no effective way of fighting the menace.

Bob's reprogramming of the zombies to do what he wants is not much different from van Helsing's "reprogramming" of Lucy using a cross and host to stake her at leisure, except the technobabble sounds vaguely more probable in Bob's case.

29:

I think of horror is a dimensional attribute of genre, not a genre in and of itself

What we call "horror" is generally "supernatural fiction with a heavy horror element" or "urban fiction with a heavy horror element" or something along those lines...

30:

I got into your writing through A Colder War - I've re-read it many times, and it never fails to chill me, mostly for the 'there but for the grace of K'thulu' goes our world. Making the war not completely wipe everyone out was a brilliant touch, and I still keep finding out details that you put in, such as the atomic ramjet which they REALLY tried out, great to read.

I was a big James Herbert reader as a teenager, King occasionally hits home with the short stories (The Raft and the Mist always terrify me). Now that I have a child, any horror based on harm to kids I simply can't bear, whilst as a teenager I would have cheerfully watched. The horror porn is simply bland and boring.

Threads is also utterly horrifying and compelling, it knocks The Day After into a cocked hat.

31:

Horror as a genre, always felt like the weak sister of Proper Science Fiction or Good Fantasy. I will watch "Horror" movies for the cathartic release.
'Cause in the end of a frustrating mind-numbing day, all too many of us want to see someone ELSE get their faces bitten off. It's nothing else then good ol' schadenfreude.

1. Funny Games (German version - Unbearable to watch)
2. Ichi the Killer
3. Andromeda Strain (They got too many things right)
4. Aliens (the intimacy of those facehuggers)
5. Original "Dawn of the Dead" (If you've ever walked through hurricane wreckage you'll understand, it captured that "things are sooo F__ed" vibe)

32:

Jeff Long "The Descent" gets honorable mention (best hollow-earth story EVER!)

33:

No, I don't.

Each time I was exposed to it, at first by innocence (Ray Bradbury's horror-filled SF short stories) , and later on by accident, I found no catharsis in it.

Sure, there is a lot of true Art in a 5 minute CGI horror film like "Alma" (by Rodrigo Blaas), but I would not have watched it if I had known ahead that it was a horror thing.

I get enough horror in the news. And then there is the little matter of having studied WWII and other wars, over several decades. I didn't study them for the horror involved but it always seeped through, wether it was the brutality of the German soldiers towards the Poles (which managed to shock and horrify Leni Riefensthal, who was along for the ride) during the invasion of Poland or the "logical" inhumanity of so many German scientists (Lise Meitner included but Otto Hahn excluded) who accepted the "need" for gas warfare in order to shorten the Great War through the use of horrible weapons.

34:

There's this long-running joke that I don't do horror. The list of exceptions to this rule, however, is getting rather long.

Probably my first forays into horror were with Neil Gaiman's work - there are strong horror elements in bits of Sandman as well as American Gods (and of course Coraline, a copy of which was returned to us by my boyfriend's mother because it was too scary).

What I find is that I don't mind - and often quite enjoy - horror when it's used to enhance a story or give more insight into a character. I don't do horror for horror's sake, splatter and gore-fests, etc.

35:

That's why Lovecraft doesn't scare me. The Real World is heading towards an inevitable end of the human race, and there is nothing we can do about it. We will all die in the end. It's a fact of life, kinda stupid to be afraid of it. You know, just get over it, Cthulhu will only eat you tomorrow, you still have the whole day...

36:

I dislike horror. That's putting things too strongly, as I really liked Iron Sunrise. The "moppet" thing isn't what I think of as literary horror. It's a logical consequence of the kind of society described. And not obviously any more difficult to uproot than any other kind of subversion. (More difficult in some ways, but easier in others.)

The "Laundry" series, though, is something I gave up on half way through the second book. And I considered "Rule 34" to be a lot less likable than "Halting State". I did finish it, but I'm undecided about how I'll eventually feel about it. I may give it away to a stranger. Or I may keep it and re-read it occasionally.

"Lobsters" was nearly perfect. I didn't like the touch of boxes of cat brains left on his doorstep. The only weak point was the characters of the main characters. I didn't react to them as strongly as my wife did, but she couldn't get past the characters when reading the story. I don't think the problem was with Manfred, though when he was interacting with "what's her name, the IRS agent" I didn't want to identify with him. "Accelerado" didn't work quite as well. The characters of the people became more important, and the feeling of strange+repulsive personal characteristics became less tolerable over time. I don't like to identify with people I wouldn't like to know.

OTOH, I've always had a stronger dislike of horror fiction than most people. I saw "Creature from the Black Lagoon" exactly once. I may have walked out part way through. But I didn't consider "It came from 2000 Fathoms" to be the same kind of thing at all, and I enjoyed that. Ditto for "War of the Worlds" and "When Worlds Collide". So perhaps the question is "What is horror?" And that changes as one changes. But whatever it is for me at any one time, I don't like it.

37:

Richard Preston's "The Hot Zone" scared the hell out of me. Stephen King with his tedious American trivia padding, not so much.

38:

I haven't really found the Laundry series scary at all. Rule 34, on the other hand...

(Charlie, I will never forgive you for using the term "penile degloving accident". My life would have been complete without encountering these words.)

39:

"The Day After" was really rather crappy. If you want real nuclear horror, go hunt on YouTube for "The War Game" or "Threads".

40:

Enjoy!

Here, have two more words, from a light fluffy "Jeeves and Wooster meet the Singularity" story: Martian hyper-scabies.

41:

The horror in The Day After came with the disclaimer at the end: "the catastrophic events you have just witnessed are, in all likelihood, less severe than the destruction that would actually occur in the event of a full nuclear strike against the United States."

42:

True. However, I chose that specific clip of the initial horror of people watching the Minutemen being launched and realizing what it meant. Also the very realistic portrayal of the tones of those in the AWACS.

43:

"Bob's reprogramming of the zombies to do what he wants is not much different from van Helsing's "reprogramming" of Lucy ..."
Precisely. And remember Van Helsing's character is all about applying the modern ideals of rationality and the Scientific Method to supernatural phenomenon. By the definition I gave, the first part of the book was horror, but once they bring Van Helsing in, the book becomes an adventure story.

Compare this to Stephen King's vampires in Salem's Lot. In his essays (was it in On Writing?) King specifically talks about Helsing's rational approach to vampire slaying, and says he wanted nothing to do with it. His take was that rationality would blind people to the reality of encounters with monsters.

And as to the horror element being not zombies but cultists...the cultists get deconstructed too.

44:

If you're referring to the Stand, for some reason subsequent versions added more and more fluff to what was originally a long but lean book. Obviously at some point King got too big for his editor and reversed a lot of editorial cuts and added some unnecessary popular culture updates.

Horror... fairly desensitized to it, but when I was a kid I'd crawl under the table at the mere advertisement for the Thing movie.

A few video games deserve a mention for the medium unique ability to put you in the boots of the characters, notably the survivor horror genre with Silent Hill and Resident Evil. RE's z-movie hokey plots notwithstanding some of the gameplay with it's focus on ammo conservation and escaping from hordes of zombies and special monsters that followed you around was good. Their occasional trick of switching you in control of a defenseless character was also effective. Silent Hill's strength was in the ambiance, the feeling you might be wandering about in a confused daze beating up normal people is a pretty neat trick to pull for a video game.

I've not played the more recent Amnesia: The dark descent but I believe it to be quite good in the horror stakes. Dead space too, though I can't help thinking the protagonist looks scarier than the zombies with his faceless spacesuit mask.

45:

Games - Doom 2, esp for the music

46:

The Day After was as horrible as you could get on American network television in the 80s. Since the horror that made the cut convinced Ronald Reagan to change American nuclear policy, it probably counts as "good enough".

47:

I dislike horror. Post-traumatic stress seems to be from the flight or fight response. I don't think books would do it, but movies tap in to the mind more. Maybe the thinking and acts of some (many?) people are affected by post-traumatic stress reinforced by ever more realistic horror movies? I stopped going to them, but maybe its just me. I know what fear is.
There is a fan fict. were Wooster's Aunt answered the CALL OF YOU KNOW WHO..

48:

I still think "The Day After" is one of the scariest things I've ever seen.

49:

True, but applying this criterion would make a lot (most?) obviously horror works of art not horror, i.e. whenever there is a set of rules that apply to the monster that the protagonist can utilize to defeat it.

I'd say that the rational approach does not disqualify a story from being horror, as long as the general feeling of fear is present. For me that fear mostly stems from what one rationally could do to stop/avoid a "monster" (in the general sense) and what one could in actuality do as a social animal. King discusses the phenomenon, IIRC, in "Dance Macabre" in regards films such as the Amityville Horror, where the rational solution is simple - pack up and leave, but weirdness becomes horror if you have nowhere to go.

50:

You may be thinking of Scream for Jeeves by Peter H. Cannon. Long out of print, but worth clicking through just for the cover pic. (Yes, I own a copy.) Pip pip!

51:

If you want some real horror go to one of those traveling fairgrounds and have a ride on some machinery poorly maintained by semi-illiterate penny pinchers. Think "metal fatigue".

52:

One old TV series that used to be particularly scary was "One Step Beyond". It had a strange formula: creepy music, weird shit happens, no explanation - The End.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lWg1a5ybyE&feature=related

53:

And to really horrify someone else, bring a rusty old rivet with you, and just as they are strapped into the ride ready to go, "find" it and ask "Is this supposed to come off?"

54:

I generally don't read horror, but for a few small exceptions. Firstly, A Colder War and some of the stories in Wireless by OGH really got to me, especially the sense of futility.

Secondly, I got into the SF of Michael Marshall Smith and read his short story collection What You Make It, which is incredibly scary (he nowadays only writes horror, as Michael Marshall, which I haven't touched despite really loving his SF).

Finally, I've seen Threads. That really is not a documentary-drama you want to watch within, oh, three or four days of going to sleep...

55:

I think I must be a bit of a freak. Oh, I can be shocked by something in a movie, but my reaction seems to be mostly curiosity as to how they got the effect they did.

But yeah, I don't get anything from the seriously overdone horror which relies on shock and surprise. And when a busload of schoolkids gets trapped in reach of a serial killer, I want the name of the school to be St. Trinians

Horror as a spice, as a flavour enhancer, that's what I get the most out of. I don't want the crude repetition of so much of todays work. And I remember the odd feeling I had, walking out of the cinema after watching Alien. That had a control, even a precision, that so much modern filmic horror just doesn't have the precision. There's that quote from The Book of Five Rings about how every stroke should be a cutting stroke.

That's horror, not the ceaseless baseball-bat bludgeoning of some movies.

56:

The analogy with monosodium glutamate is interesting... I wonder if many people react as badly to horror in their literature as I react to MSG in my food?
Personally, I don't think I like horror per se, but unlike the way I (have to) avoid MSG in my food, I don't go out of my may to avoid reading anything with so much as a sprinkling of horror. I do find it works for me in the Laundry novels, for example. But I imagine there might be some people who are particularly susceptible to horror stories who would immediately stop reading as soon as they detect a hint of horror, and hope they ingested little enough of it to avoid becoming a numbed unresponsive wreck of a human being, lost in irrelevant thoughts and fears until the effects wear off. Which is exactly how I react to MSG in my food.

57:

Alien worked because it was basically a rape movie: the alien is a serial rapist. One that also rapes women and men (thereby getting the attention of the other 49% of the audience). And kills them, afterwards. (It pre-dates medical/public awareness of AIDS by about 18 months, otherwise I'd say it was a beautifully nasty metaphor.)

58:

I dunno, I think -- as a metaphor -- it was more cancer-like. (Although, five years later and it'd definitely be AIDS.)

But, as far as I know, it wasn't really intended to be metaphoric... it was inspired by wasps, and wondering what it'd be like to be a tarantula locked in with a tarantula wasp.

(Interesting note: Alien is the only movie to have inspired multiple nightmares in me. Three or four of them over a several year period. Which surprised me, because neither the movie nor the book seemed to have made an impression on me at the time.)

59:

Really? I thought Alien was doing the fun part of demonstrating what a human parasitoid would look like. To me, that's no more about rape than a slaughterhouse is about rape. Both are horrible, but making everything a human metaphor misses some of the innate bloodiness of the world.

Now if someone will take the sex life of bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) and transform it into a story, then we might have a convergence of biology and rape horror. Or not.

That's the problem with being in biology: you get exposed to real horror (as when fungi eat people's faces off), and you simultaneously develop a certain degree of tolerance for things that gross people out. For me, it was fungi and soil, but I still got bothered by the humor of my friends who were running the human anatomy lab. Cleaning the cadavers before class each semester is a chore best dealt with people who see the beauty in muscles and bones. And who don't mind getting splashed when the supports fail.

Anyway, now I read a lot less horror than back in the day. The big thing is that I've gotten tired of having someone pushing my buttons to get a response. I'm more like a cat in that regard--I'd rather be led than jabbed, and I'm very good at not finishing stories if I get annoyed enough.

60:

I have to start by saying that 'horror' as a genre of writing is a completely different beast than the horror genre of film. Horror as it exists on film is almost entirely just a really bad combination of cheap sound and sight gags to induce shock or pure gore. Very few films can even being to go past that to any actual horror for me.

Horror writing for me is a different beast; when done well it combines the odd and unusual with an element of suspense and mystery. You either don't ever get to know what is going on or only at the end do you see part of it.

The 'Pendergast' series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are some that I like along those lines. I've also enjoyed a lot of Dean Koontz.

61:

When I was about 8 yeas old I watched 'Forbidden Planet' all alone… the invisible force creature from the pit! I would say that I've never seen a proper horror movie either a gore-fest or something like 'whistle and I'll come to you', but I'd probably be wrong. I'm just not very good at labelling. I read about half a S King once and resented having my emotions manipulated, never touched another one. (But then I can't watch Father Ted either.)
I wouldn't have classed lots of the stories discussed above as horror (as I love them?). Even though I recognise some pretty unpleasant situations occur in them. Maybe it's about being in control of one's reactions to the story. Conversely it's knowing that the character you identify with will come through more or less intact, or be treated right as a tool to advance the plot. (No red shirts here.) OTOH I love things like Hell Boy. It's great fun, well written and all though you can invest emotionally in the characters they seem to come though okay; even when they don't.
I suppose I don't understand Horror that well then.

p.s. Do read I am Legend, Ted. Ponder on ubiquity and inevitable consequence of drastic reshaping of society.

62:

From the Wikipedia Alien page:
The script for the 1979 film Alien was initially drafted by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett.[3] Dan O'Bannon drafted an opening in which the crew of a mining ship are sent to investigate a mysterious message on an alien planet. He eventually settled on the threat being an alien creature; however, he could not conceive of an interesting way for it to get onto the ship. Inspired after waking from a dream, Shusett said, "I have an idea: the monster screws one of them,"[3] planting its seed in his body, and then bursting out of his chest. Both realized the idea had never been done before, and it subsequently became the core of the film.[3] "This is a movie about alien interspecies rape," O'Bannon said on the documentary Alien Evolution, "That's scary because it hits all of our buttons."[4] O'Bannon felt that the symbolism of "homosexual oral rape" was an effective means of discomforting male viewers."

63:

Horror, as I understood it at 16 years old is different now. At 16 it was something I read, now it's on the news and disturbs me a lot. But to answer OGH, my first big impression was growing up amongst the genius that was Hammer House of Horror on TV. To find something similar, at the time was difficult, so Dennis Wheatley it had to be.

When it came to reading, I was omnivorous, everything my father gave me, cross-referenced with everything I could see in a library. Yeah, HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe. At the time I was also (as a kid) into comics, so Savage Sword of Conan made an impact. Robert E Howard, Lin Carter, other "Strange Tales" authors.

I started reading things by those guys and people related to them literally. This was 1980-ish. No internet, so no "people who bought this also bought....." But my local library (possibly ALL local libraries, they are heroes) produced a catalogue which did exactly this. So I read MR James. Dickens. Balzac......then I got some sci-fi from Dad too. Penguins (the books) short - story collections, classic Wyndham stuff.
I thought it was all in my childhood until a friend (jokingly) sent me a list of penguin sci-fi covers and I realised I'd read 90% of them.

For Horror, it has flavours. It can be the soul-crumbling revelation of Matheson's I am Legend, the guilty glee of Robert McCammon's They Thirst, the psycho-religiosity of Dracula or the pedestrian evil of Hannibal. It can be psychological or descriptive, it can be entertaining.

My recent(ish) favourite is Peter Watts. He scares my intellect. Blindsight did things to me that my old favourites could never do. He scared me with ideas, not blood or gore or tension.

For the record, I agree with OGH that horror can, and is, used in all genres. Yet the "Horror" genre is despised possibly more than SFF in general.

My 2p for the cheap seats.

64:

I defer to actual facts. Unusual, I know, but I'm trying to be different this week.

:)

65:

I like the Rennie-Mackintosh-to-Art Deco stylings. Someone noticed that Bertie Wooster drives a *car*.

66:

Ah nomenclature.

It's nice to see people distinguishing between what is classified as horror, and what is considered to be horror. I'm in agreement with those who criticize the former. Throw in zombies or vampires, etc., and I'm more likely to laugh than feel concern of any sort.
Of course I've read my fair share of Stephen King, who undoubtedly does excel at invoking dread in the reader, but it was never the case that such feelings arose in any story of his where the fiend was so patently obvious. To the contrary, dread arose through the perspective of the very real characters involved. Ultimately, whatever token bogeyman involved, it was really a variable and secondary element.
Which brings me to my point: real horror is not something faced, but something to be grappled with.

The three exemplar authors of horror to me would be: J.G. Ballard, Alfred Bester, Philip K. Dick. Oddly, all SF writers...

67:

I don't read things that are specifically horror because they don't have any affect on me. They're usually not that good unless it scares you.

68:

None of those scare me, which is why I only read books if they're good in other ways. I have read/seen all of those and liked them.

69:

My last post for this, I think. I really like A Colder War, but it didn't scare me. I just don't have that emotion.

70:

For a very good look at horror check our King's 'Danse Macabre'. I'm not a fan of King's fiction, but his discussion of horror fiction is priceless and an excellent read. He manages to get into the reasons horror works without destroying it.

71:

I find an awful lot of "horror" is just fantasy set in the modern world.

Consequently I find very little in the genre which is truely "horrifc". "Horror" either drives the story mechanics (which is cool), or leapfrogs over horror directly into "eeewww", at which point I stop reading. "Eeeewww" for me is just "eeeeewwww" and I can get that for real just by watching a documentry on what is happening in East Africa or any number of news reports on the human condition.

That's far more horrific, since the monsters are real.

Six 'o Clock news has to be scariest program on TV........

72:

Nuclear war (in my mid-forties) is the one thing I still have consistently have nightmares about - one nightmare every year or two - the missiles go up, the bombs go off... Everyone dies.

I don't recall whether my first Charlie Stross was "A Colder War" or Singularity Sky, but "A Colder War" is Charlie's scariest story.

BTW Charlie, I did note one thing when rereading the online version a couple days ago, which may already be corrected on your personal copy:

"Sir, executive order 2047, issued January 1980, directed the armed forces to standardize on nuclear weapons to fill the mass destruction role." If Reagan gave the order, it should be January of 1981, as he would have been elected in November of 1980 but not inaugurated until January of 1981. It's a testament to your ability as a writer that I didn't notice that until I'd read the story a dozen times, because I usually pick stuff like that up on the first reading.

73:

Or possibly Alan Moore's Wodehouse pastiche, 'What Ho, Gods Of The Abyss', from League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier.

74:

I found Missile gap to be far more disturbing than A colder war.

I mean, killing Carl Sagan... that hurt.

75:

I'd say Missile Gap is a fairly horrorish story.

76:

I've always felt that horror is like tomato ketchup - I wouldn't want to sit down and just eat a bottle, but use it right and it can make other things so much tastier.

All my favourite horror novels are something-else-with-horror. I actually really like Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives which is social satire with horror, and Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes which is a coming-of-age story with fantasy and horror.

Also, all of my favourite horror novesl are relatively short, like the above. I don't know why it became commonplace to spin horror novels out into doorstops - I blame Stephen King - but I think that a shorter book or a short story can often sustain the pace better and so have more impact.

77:

I think our love of horror is evolutionary. Remember up until very recently in biological terms, we lived in the great scary woods or plains, and there were monsters out there. Almost everywhere humans lived, we shared with mega predators. Not just lions, tigers, and bears, but smilodons, mastodons, giant hyenas and other creatures that our ancestors helped bump into extinction. Our brains and cultures probably have residual wiring and mechanisms for these monsters, and the adrenaline rush of horror is pleasant experience to many if not most people. I think people may be longing for that "primal" experience when pursuing horror.

78:

...Keep me running,
Running scared

that's a favorite album.

For me, modern straight horror doesn't appeal. Horror books and movies are too removed from reality to be actually scary.
 I've read a bit of Victorian/Edwardian horror stories, J. S. LeFanu, and Bram Stoker for the most part. The little Lovecraft I've read didn't impress me, mainly I couldn't get past the writing. "The Dreams in the Witch's House" was decent, it seemed at least partly inspired by Stoker's  "The Judge's House", itself inspired by a LeFanu story, so I was interested in his take. I think part of the appeal of the older stories is that they were written in a more credulous time, which adds something to them, there's less of a wink and nudge. For me, it's hard to take modern supernatural horror stories seriously.

I'm more likely to watch so-called horror films, than books,  but neither scare me. Miike's "Audition" certainly creeped me out, but that's not being scared. Kubrick's version of "The Shining" is probably the only film to keep me from sleep, when I was nine. No nightmares, just couldn't sleep.
Films like the "Phantasm" and "Hellraiser" series are just plain bad, nonsensical plots that are set ups to kill off characters in creative ways.
The films I find 'horrifying' are war films, like "Saving Private Ryan" and "Schindler's List". "A Bridge Too Far" did cause one nightmare after seeing it, at age six.
I could say that I've since met too many old folks with numbers on their arms, who have survived real horror, to be much bothered by 'Horror' now.

About "Alien", think about it, a woman being chased around by a dildo-headed monster. I think I can see where Charlie's coming from.
And why would anyone empathize with the Toymaker?

79:

"Something Wicked This Way Comes" is a all-time favorite of mine, novel and film.

80:

Horror.

I don't normally read horror, but when I do, I go for Harry Conolly (BTW, thanks for introducing him), Peter Watts and Scott Bakker.

Why? Conolly pressed the parent button hard with Child of Fire. Plus, magic is horrible and transgressive.

Watts writes SF tinged with horror. I dare anyone to read the Rifters series without wincing or being horrified by what people do to each other in those books. From Lenie seeking revenge, what was done to her, to Desjardins slipping the leash.

R. Scott Bakker wrote Neuropath, which is a horror novel wearing a thriller's clothing. Imagine a neurosurgeon who works for the NSA remodeling people's brains for easier interrogation, being a better agent and so forth. And then he goes off the reservation. Add in that what he's doing is so classified that no one can admit to it, and then what he does to people. Neurological horror indeed.

Anyway, my 2 cents.

81:

I do read horror, though I generally prefer it be blended with fantasy or SF. My favourite straight-up horror writer might be Ramsey Campbell, whose Nazerith Hill struck me as the best ghost story since Shirley Jackson's The Haunting Of Hill House. Also fond of Graham Joyce's darker stuff, and Dan Simmons' forays into horror - Song of Kali and The Terror being favourites.

When it comes to film, I find everything I enjoy seems to come from Asia or Scandinavia these days. Haven't seen a good horror film from the US in years.

As to why I like horror; it's always a challenge to explain how being uneasy can be enjoyable. It's a bit like eating very hot chilies. Technically, it's uncomfortable, but combined with the right ingredients it can be quite delicious.

82:

I used to read a lot more horror than I do now. Poe, Lovecraft... The first book I read fully in English (it's my 2nd language) was Dracula, and at the time it had a lot of impact.

Why read horror? SF for the ideas, fantasy for the ambience, horror for the raw power. There are many emotions, and literature can arouse them in many complex mixes, but utter scared-shitless fear is rarely surpassed in raw strength.

I must agree Peter Watt's stuff is seriously scary. Blindsight isn't just horror, but it leaves one existentially drained: what an indictment of consciousness!

That said, on Rule 34, and hopefully without giving spoilers, the sample didn't work that way for me. Mind you, it was clear the guy was seriously deranged, but given his childhood I felt mostly sorry for him, and while obviously the people he worked for were pretty nasty, the sample just didn't work for nastiness. As far as I understand it caused no harm to any real children, so to me it didn't register as horrific.

Now, what did register as horrific was the collection policy on the guy whose 3d printer gets hax0red.

83:

I was surprised to find the origins of Alien as they are listed on Wikipedia - I remember reading that one of the screenwriters had a lifetime of knee-dropping stomach pain and oftentimes believed he had an alien in his gut.

I couldn't find that info but ran across the universal rape horror instead...

Go figure.

84:

Hellraiser - this particular scene I found rather disturbing, probably because I was thinking "Unfriendly AI":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2qT7GylRxw

85:

Regarding horror in films and horror film audiences:

A percentage of the horror fans now identify and root for the killer. I don't have any numbers but it's no longer the odd creepy dude in the corner, there is now a sizeable chunk of the audience who view everyone other than the killer as cattle to be cheered to their grizzly demise. It's no longer "horror" per-se, but a feature length party. The gore, pain, and torture is an amping mechanism the audience now crave.


The film all horror cinephiles deem a must see right now is "A Serbian Film".


86:

Wasn't Inseminoid from the same period?

87:

Someone mentioned that true horror is where there is no hope of redemption or safety - like McCormac's The Road - with the horrible banality of the end of the world; cannibalism and casual cruelty, because people have no options. Truly horrible. Also the movie series and book (with one exception) which truly disturbed me, and had me locking the door...The Exorcist. I'm NOT Catholic nor religious, and never had a religious upbringing, but there was something about the sense of dread, the unknown and the sheer terror of normal people (not stupid teenagers etc etc) being put in an unusual horrific situation.

Some of Lovecraft's stuff was scary. Oh, and the dummy (Peking Homonculus) in the Talons of Weng Chiang (Doctor Who). Gave me nightmares (as a kid).

88:

"A Serbian Film" - just read the review.
I think I'll give it a miss.

89:

Have been recently been re-reading Poe (who I first attempted as a 10-year old) and reading Lovecraft for the first time (good fun, but some really clunky prose).

But my real discovery of late has been the work of Robert Aickman - not horror as such, but suffused with an indescribable unease and eroticism. Really worth the effort tracking down his (sadly neglected) work.

90:

I find the best horror comes when the reader's head does all the work - and that's true for textual, verbal or visual horror. Some of the best horror films are the ones where you never see the monster, and certainly the most effective Dr Who BBC special effects "monsters" were the ones where you couldn't get a clear look at them and therefore couldn't see the zip up the back - or where the actor was just so convincing that you could believe that a metre of bubble-wrap and some green paint were actually the signs of a deadly metamorphosis into a completely alien form of life. Less is more, with both horror and humour.

This, for me, was what eventually put me off "horror" genre fiction - too many of the writers were trying for the textual equivalent of bigger buckets of blood, or more expensive and higher-resolution special effects or bigger and badder monsters. When the writer is putting a lot of effort into telling me just how terrible something is, or just how nasty it's being, well, there's nothing for me to do as a reader, and that just gets boring. As Brainz put it in 17, your comment about cultists not recognising the difference between the stage dressing and the true, genuine little horrors of everyday life is very apposite. Genre "horror" tends to get a bit too caught up in the staging and the special effects.

Horror works if it can scare us through its reality. Have to say, Charlie, I find "Iron Sunrise" much more frightening (to the point of "I don't re-read it these days because I prefer not to have the nightmares") than I've ever found the Laundryverse books. I think that's mainly because for me the Laundryverse isn't actually real enough (or rather, it's at that weird intersection between too real on one axis and not real enough on the other), whereas "Iron Sunrise" is frightening because I can conceive of something like that happening, right here, right now, on earth. Maybe not with the same sorts of technological bells and whistles, but the ideological ones are still hanging around.

But then, I'm more a fan of psychological horror - just little things like how the average suburban paranoiac can probably come up with a list of terrible things to do to another person which is longer than that created by the most maniacal Evil Overlord type; or how close triumph can be to catastrophe; or how close insanity and sanity are to one another. My favourite kiddy joke: "What's worse than finding a worm in your apple? Finding half a worm."

That half a worm is the true essence of horror, as far as I'm concerned.

91:

I don't particularly like Horror as a genre, I especially hate the splatter/gore/torture porn that has taken over the movie industry lately.

That being said, what really tends to unnerve me is when otherwise harmless authors unleash their darker thoughts. Alan Dean Foster scared the crap out of my teenage self with Into The Out Of, especially the part with a larger than possible bathroom on an aeroplane.
Neil Gaiman seems to me like a grown up version of Roald Dahl, always prepared to show the darker side of life side by side with the light.

Thriller writer David Morrell did some really creepy short stories, especially when he was going through a very dark point in his life. Black Evening is a great collection of work.

Actually now I think about it, almost all the truly disturbing tales I've encountered have been in short form literature, I can't really think of many full length stories I have read that had dark ideas good enough to carry a whole novel. On the other hand, I can think of a lot of novels that have one or two horrific elements but are generally completely of another genre.

92:

Yep, spot-on.

The reader's imagination is the most powerful tool for generating horror. So you give them hints of something lurking in the darkness, rather than painting an over-the-top portrait of a lurking monster. That way, their own imagination will generate something far more horrible.

93:

If I remember my lit. crit. categories: horror is things being where they shouldn't (in structuralist terms, the blurring of differences between concepts). e.g. blood outside the body, a murderous baby, etc. terror is sublime, the threatened or imagined obliteration of meaning - the works of HPL passim where he simply says "There was an unimaginably horrible thing" and leaves our brains whirring at the nastiness of its own inability to comprehend. Break out the uncanny and you have a genre that thrives on the the threat to our cherished reason and world values and finally re-affirms them.

94:

I can't help but think of Neil Gaiman's distinction between comedy and horror:

"And I'm trying to figure out for myself, suddenly spending several months just figuring out, what are the rules of comedy? What are the rules of horror? What do people get in comedy? Eventually I decided that in comedy, people get what they need. And in horror, people get what they deserve"

(quoted from here.)

95:

Horror literature normally does not scare me at all.
My consciousness try to lift protective shields from the horror its witnessing: while movies can use shock tactics to catch me with my guard down, written text must necessarily arrive to the same point gradually, allowing me time to distance myself.
So, gore and violence does not work very much.
Instead, literature can manage to bypass those defences by flying under the radar, building up carefully placed brick after carefully placed brick untill, without you even realizing it, you're truly deeply upset.
The novel that horrified me most was the old "Greener than you think" by Ward Moore.
Philip K.Dick short stories often managed to really upset me, as well as Stross own "A colder war" and "Missile gap".

96:

@59: That's the problem with being in biology: you get exposed to real horror (as when fungi eat people's faces off), and you simultaneously develop a certain degree of tolerance for things that gross people out.

Ditto (second hand) medicine. At one point in her career my ex-wife worked in a general hospital's pathology lab. Our "how was your day, dear?" conversations over dinner often contained such joys as "Mrs So-and-so isn't going last the week, you can smell the gangrene from the other end of the ward" while we happily kept eating.

However, it was in that period that I read the only story which has caused to to feel physically nauseated for an hour or more - Kafka's In the Penal Colony. I'm not sure what exactly it was that triggered the response, but I've never been able to reread it.

97:

My take on In the Penal Colony is it's about the state of mind of people who are obsessed with the spectacle of capital punishment (in the person of the officer who ends up eaten by his own machine). And, yes, it's a horrifying indictment.

98:

Horror as a genre seldom works for me when reading.

My willing suspension of disbelief usually gets shoved aside by sentiments like, "Well, you live in a world where biologists have been deliberately lying about matters of life and death, and I suspect you were just created in order to suffer."

Books give me too much time to pause and think. On the other hand, visual horror .... For instance, I was reminded of this blog entry by a photo on the NYTimes front page that gives me the heebie jeebies. It's part of their "fashion week" coverage and looks like a small troop of zombie Barbie(tm) dolls.

99:

Horror can affect one in odd ways. When I was a teenager I read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It did not scare me at all as I was reading it. Not a single frisson, gasp, wince or feeling of unheimlich dread. Then I had terrible nightmares all night. So something in my unconscious was affected very badly, even if my everyday mind was unperterbed. Compare this to eating, where we often happily consume something which we have difficulty digesting. But for reading, this is a very unusual experience, at least for me. Even if a book continues to pop up in my thinking over time, sometimes with loaded emotional overtones, I still usually have an inkling that I am being influenced at the moment of reading.

100:

@OGH: The Penal Colony? Better yet, look for the clip of Texas Governor Rick Perry getting cheered for his comments on capital punishment during a debate among Republican hopefuls for 2012, a few nights ago. (Oddly enough, Dutch TV showed "Idiocracy" last night. If someone like Perry gets in, Monday Night Rehabilitation--live on Fox--here we come.)

"A Colder War" reminded me that, with the Ollie North-grade eyes-wide-shut lunacy then given full rein, it's a wonder we survived the 1980s at all.

There was a showing of "The War Game" at my university in 1981. 46 years later I remember its very local feel, like it's just down your street. If someone like Perry gets in, Watkins' "Punishment Park" could become reality. Fun fact: the VJ at my favorite dance club, Numbers, had a great mix of the attack scenes from The Day After to accompany OMD's "Enola Gay."

Back to fiction, I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Thomas Ligotti yet. In his stories, he distilled the essence of Lovecraftian cosmic knowledge which, when gained, leaves the seeker worse off than before. His characters, all spiritual masochists, succumb to despair, occasionally torturing each other along the way. And all the horrors they discover cover up for one that is much, much worse.

Funnily enough, Ligotti hosts a forum that seems to attract said spiritual masochists.

On a somewhat quainter note, there's M.R. James, a writer of the 1930s, whose ghost stories tend to feature antiquarians and men out for country walks.

Ted Cogswell had a great (meaning really nasty) story with a name like The Birds and The Bees, about a girl learning where babies come from.

And in the 1980s Dennis Etchison did a few stories around the concept of mobile automated surgeries.

101:

I don't read a lot of horror specifically but elements or facets that seem to be necesary to get that real animal terror vibe going. Allbeit it has a different flavour dependant on whether it's a logical sensation or insane sweaty toothed fear.

Examples of the logical kind. Feeling powerlessness or being shocked into inaction by the sheer scale of evil confronting you; Being trapped in a system with a total loss of personal agency. Seeing the system do it to others; Being chased by a disgruntled axe weilding lunatic.

The harder to define side. An imorphus terror. An echo of something so deep routed in our collective mamalion prehistory, language is to imprecise to convey it. So you need just artfully hint at it and the reader, viewer, subject invokes their own response.

And as a for instance, in the Atrocity Archives, you get a mix of both.

On the other hand end of world, post apocaliptic type stories that have a route in real fears of such, just leave me depresses. Terror has to get the blood flowing.

102:

On a somewhat quainter note, there's M.R. James, a writer of the 1930s, whose ghost stories tend to feature antiquarians and men out for country walks.

M. R. James is very much a British institution - the BBC recently revived their custom of doing one of his ghost stories at Christmas. (For those unfamiliar with his work, telling ghost stories at Christmas is how James started writing his stories.) He's very much of the "less is more" school of horror - he hints and lets your imagination fill in the details, which I find far more effective than the current "chuck another bucket of blood over it" approach.

103:

Being trapped in a system with a total loss of personal agency.

Ah yes, I Have No Mouth and and I Must Scream.

104:

My partner is a horror writer with shades of science fiction. I am a science fiction writer with shades of horror. This means we spend a lot of our time discussing this issue. For me, horror is despair. It's having a perfect understanding of how terrifying the situation is, and how little can be done about it. The first moments of real horror I remember experiencing on the written page came from Nineteen Eighty-four and House of Stairs. Both involve situations of knowing one is about to suffer horribly, and also knowing there is nothing to be done about it -- except betraying the people closest to you. To me, that's the difference between being horrified and being scared. One is existential, and the other is adrenal. The latter can be shaken off, but the former can never be forgotten.

105:

I dont read horror at all.
Um, wait a minute.....
I used to define horror as ghosts, vampires (esp Dracula which is all about SEX , religious claptrap saving (or not saving) the protagonists, even Lovecraft, 'cause a someone says, his prose is very clunky.

And yet:
A Colder War is one of the scariest things I've ever read.
But, if you want true horror, try true stories, sometimes called "history".
Nasty, very nasty.
Eas omnes. Deus seuos agnoscet.
- that sort of thing.

106:

If I'd read "Missile Gap" early in my Stross-reading career, I think I'd probably have found it much scarier. As things went, I just read it last night, and sort of went, "Meh, lots of typical Strossian themes, plus Alien Space Bats."

Then I started thinking about it this morning, and it's a much better story after letting my brain work on it all night. For example, why did the humans keep coming back? Does that mean that despite all the Termite's hard work and local superiority, that they've missed the boat and humans are the Alien Space Bats? Given the obvious presence of ASBs, isn't the Termite feeling of superiority a little misplaced? What happens to a race that consistently wipes out it's neighbors? I'd bet the ASBs have an app for that... What about the humans who keep dying over and over again? What happened to the initial human/termite cooperation that Gargarin found? Who were the true recipients of the horror... humans or the termites, who are obviously really, truly fucked but don't know it yet?

Missile Gap was a much better story a day later, but I still preferred "A Colder War," which scared me again a couple days ago on my nth read.

107:

It's probably useful to distinguish between the various types of horror as categorized by timing. I stayed away from horror for ages because cheap scares work far too well on me (gore, not so much, but jump scares have me running half way down the street). However, I exposed myself to Lovecraft just around the time that everyone of my age group started talking about Cthulu, and his is a fundamentally different kind, with no jump-scares or even Twilight Zone endings to speak of (excepting Cold Air and such).

So, you have 'horror' consisting of big burly men with chainsaws chasing kids through the forest for not adhering to the protestant work ethic. This is almost indistinguishable from an action movie.

You have horror consisting of a slow buildup of discomfort for the first hour followed by jump-scares. This is almost the kind I like -- and I've been known to occasionally indulge in this type.

The third is more interesting to me, and into it falls Lovecraft's work for the most part. It's 'the uncanny' (and Freud wrote quite a lot of dross about it). The key is that it's creepy for no clear reason. An extra eye sprouting out of the shoulder of a character on the screen (or for that matter, a betamax player sprouting from his abdomen) is frightening in an indirect but continually unnerving way that does not involve direct simulated threats (as far-fetched as it is for a guy with a chainsaw to begin chasing you, it is even more far-fetched for your body to spontaneously generate obsolete magentic tape readers). While Freud claimed that the uncanny had everything to do with deep-seated fear of castration, I imagine that the source of fear in the context of the uncanny is that it brings to the surface your own uncertainties about the reliability of your perceptions.

108:

I fear that I have become to jaded, as I have not encountered a horrific commercial horror story or film in years. Some small scenes of casual cruelty for insignificant reason got to me; in particular one, where the crew of a ship discovered a stowaway and just threw him over board, as by company policy the costs of deporting him to his home country would be deducted from their paychecks... I guess it worked, because you can easily see people doing this in real life.

For dedicated horror stories, the manga works of Junji Ito are among the most nightmarish thing ever to scorch my eyes.

109:

Spot on. Read some tales of the European settlement of the Americas. Fascinating but brutal stuff.

110:

I had not felt horror in a very long time until yesterday.

I'm reading Peter Hamilton's "Pandora's Star", there is a lovely chapter, fittingly around page 666, where the aliens get their 'hands' on some humans. The subsequent dissection is all from the aliens perspective. This I could handle but the horror I 'suffered' was the wondering if Peter was going to throw the perspective to the human point of view on the next page?! Worse yet was he going to make me relive it *all* again but from the human perspective?!

It felt like a masterful application of a cold shower 2/3s of the way through the book.

p.s. Rule 34 was my first reading of Charlie's. I am sure to read more.

FD

111:

Timing, yes: timing is very important.

A journalist in the 1940s or 1950s once asked Alfred Hitchcock, "Mr Hitchcock, how long may a couple hold a kiss for, on screen?" (This was in a rather more uptight age than our own, when cinema censors timed such things with a stop-watch, and a long screen kiss was considered excessively racy.)

Hitchcock thought for a moment. Then he said, "half an hour. But first, I would put a bomb under their car ..."

112:

RE: "A Serbian Film" - just read the review.
I think I'll give it a miss.

You and me both.
You could almost say it's a filmic branch of Rule 34...
The fest reviewers online are in disagreement about its merits but many clamor to see it. I feel I can sit that one out.

Regardless, that does appear to be the bleeding edge of cinema horror.

113:

I can only think of two horror films that actually bothered me - Dead of Night, which I saw when I was very young, and The Shining, because it was similar to my childhood, sans supernatural and axes - angry dad, check (he's a grat bloke now). Nuclear family with insufficient moderation. Big Wheel tricicle, empty corridors, check (I was a campus brat housed in a large country house repurposed as a hall of residence - in the holidays it was very similar to the empty Overlook).

Lots of "horror" has the ewww, nasty reflex, but that's not the same.

Oh, and the book Mythago Wood bothered me as a young adult. Not really sure why.

@heteromeles There was a British horror/SF novel about a virulent outbreak of all-consuming fungi that was quite icky, almost pulled it off. (Frank Herbert? Someone like that.)

114:

"grat" = great.

There's a tyspo in every single one of my posts. Subject them to cryptoanalysis and discover the location of a buried gold hare. Maybe.

115:

Just read the review. Not only will I be giving "A Serbian Film" a miss, I suspect it's probably seriously illegal to own a copy in Scotland.

116:

It would seem to me that completely different things are lumped under the same category in this discussion. There is little similarity between the single-dimensional splatterfest of "A Serbian Film" (and yay for that title from all of us from Serbia) and the nigh-incomprehensible bone-marrow-dread of something like Ringu.

Some categorization schemes lump splattery films such as ASF or Saw and its ilk into "thriller", reserving the "horror" genre label for films that actually work on more than just the gag reflex. Though this tends to overstretch the "thriller" label quite a bit.

Even if we keep it all under the "horror" umbrella, there is such a myriad of wildly different subgenres (body horror, cosmic dread, haunting, psycho killer, monster romp, zombie invasion...) that it defies the type of lumping that might be applied to, e.g. western as a genre.

117:

I think Lovecraft aged badly.

To evoke horror, Lovecraft relied on breaking two notions which nowadays are so thoroughly "broken", a reader may not even realize the intent. One is "humans are the pinnacle of creation (or evolution)". Lovecraft hits you over the head with "Humans are NOT the greatest/smartest creatures ever; there were immensely more powerful beings before, and there will be again". Modern reader -- "Duh!"

The other is "purity of blood". To white Anglo-Saxons of Lovecraft's social circle, purity of blood was important to a degree which is scarcely comprehensible today. Read "The Terror at Red Hook" to see how Lovecraft felt about "aliens" (most of them Europeans, no less!) invading his world. Then imagine what the idea of miscegenation with them was like. Then extrapolate this to miscegenation with cold-blooded fishy things. THAT is the frame of mind of Lovecraft's intended audience when the nameless protagonist of "The Shadow over Innsmouth" discovers he is a descendant of Deep Ones. Whereas modern reader -- "Cool! I'd like to live under the ocean forever!"

118:

I do seem to spend a lot of time pimping Erik Lund's blog, but he is absolutely fascinating on the settlement of North America, especially pre-Revolutionary War, and exactly what happened to the Iroquois aristocracy (shorter Lund: having set up its very own special relationship with the British under the Covenant Chain, it married well, and turned into the New England WASPocracy's Big Dark Secret, leaving the ordinary folk of their society to be removed and replaced by immigrants after the elite made its own separate deal with the Founding Fathers.)

Now, backport that into H.P. Lovecraft, a New Englander and a WASP par excellence who was absolutely obsessed by race dread.

Cthulhu is his unacknowledged Indian great-grandmother whose property (matrilineal!) the Lovecrafts were still living on.

Check out his Gather the Bones series, of which this is the most recent post, and also this. And stick about for the stuff about Kerrison predictors and US Navy intellectual property theft and Bailey bridging!

119:

There are plenty of cultures/time periods where the class you describe corresponds roughly to the entire public sphere and others where they are considered an unseemly or pathological subset.

Notice that the Travelling Obsever refuses to be intolerant by directly speaking against the ancient ways and that the Officer refuses to contradict authority even when it promulgates "kindler, gentler" rules he cannot live with. No matter what the avowed ideology, they simply peform their structural roles. (And Travelling guy and the Officer both "abandon" the Soldier and the Prisoner: the Officer denies them their roles in the machinery of justice and its divine gifts; the Dude won't let them on the boat as he casts off for friendlier climes.)

120:

You want horror? Try "The Truth About Chernobyl" by Dmitri Medvedev, and know every word in it is true.

From p 150:
"Testimony of G. N. Petrov, former head of the equipment section at the Pripyat branch of Yuzhatomenergomontazh:

We woke up at 10 a.m. on 26 April. It was just a day like any other. The warm light of the sun was reflected on the floor, and a blue sky outside. I felt really good. I was back home and intended to take it easy. I went out on the balcony for a smoke. There were lots of children in the street. There were kids playing in the sand, building houses, making pies. The older ones were racing about on their bikes. Young mothers were out pushing their baby carriages. Everything looked normal. And all of a sudden I remembered driving up to the unit the night before. I had been really scared. Now I also remember being puzzled. How could such a thing happen? Everything was normal, but at the same time, everything was terribly radioactive. It took me some time to feel bad about the poisons I couldn't see, because everything was just as normal. You look, and see everything is clean, but really it's filthy. It's hard to grasp such things.
By lunchtime I was feeling cheerful. There was now a sort of sharpness about the air. Not exactly a metallic taste in the air, but something tart, and a funny acid taste around my teeth, as if I had licked a weak battery to check it out.
Around eleven o'clock, our next-door neighbor, Mikhail Vasilyevich Metelev, an electrical assembly man with Gidroelektromontazh, went up on the roof and stretched out on a rubber mattress to work on his tan. At one point he came down for a drink and said how easy it was to get a tan that day, he had never seen anything like it. He said his skin gave off a smell of burning right away. And he was tremendously jolly, as if he just had been boozing. He said, 'Who needs to go to the beach?" And you could see the reactor burning, in the background, quite clearly, against the blue sky."

121:

I think he still has teeth with the No Matter What You Learn or Do, It is Meaningless Compared to How Awfully Big Out There Is. We and Douglas Adams can laugh at that, but we're hiding from the fact that if we actually try to comprehend reality and/or our place in it, we get all gibbery. (Comprehend, not apprehend a compartmentalized fact we can then ignore or manipulate in a comfortably sized conceptual box as an abstraction.)

122:

It actually has a BBFC certificate, with four minutes of cuts.

123:

For more horror, check out Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer. You may not sleep well afterwards, especially after reading the bits about parasites influencing behaviour.

Here's another bit of nastiness, on a parasitical fungus driving ants to die in the best spot for the fungus to propagate:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090811161345.htm

124:

Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber is one of the only books that scares me no matter how often I've read it.

125:

I read "Parasite Rex", and it did not bother me at all. I guess I have a very high "ick" threshold.

126:

Junji Ito is indeed very good, although some of his horror stories can be read as very twisted comedies, such as Gyo and some parts of Uzumaki.

I just remembered the last time I scared myself reading something, it was a discussion on the many worlds theory, I found the notion existentially terrifying.

127:

I only liked horror as a kid. As a young boy I loved horror movies and Stephen King books. I think only because they seem more believable when your younger, but also because it made me feel older, like getting to read or see something you weren't suppose to. Now, I dislike most of Kings work except for the Dark Tower series, which contains elements of most genres. The only book, as an adult, that I found scary was " A Handmaid's Tale'" by Atwood. It seems so plausible, and religious zealotry has always freaked the crap outta me. Turns people into real life zombies, with slow wits, but unfortunately here in the states, often well armed.

128:

I suspect what gets a reaction in horror has something to do with your life experiences. My father grew up with on a farm where they had a small working slaughter house. 8 head of cattle in a day would be a huge day for them. It was still in operation as I grew up and I used to go behind the curtain so to speak. So things like a head sitting on the floor or someone pulling body parts out didn't affect me nearly as much as other folks.

But due to a baby sitter telling us stories about people hiding in dark closets and such before I was 6 I wound up with a terrible fear of the dark. My parents about exploded when they found out about the sitter doing this.

But the things that give me an adrenaline rush these days is hints of bad things where my mind has to make it up as the story moves along.

129:

One thing I missed in my previous comment: the difference between Horror and Suspense.

To me they are separate. I was thinking of Horror too narrowly.
Suspense is all about build-up, the slowburn leading up to...something, and it works in every genre.
Horror is more about the actions of the characters, protagonists running around like headless chickens, while the monster/serial killer/whatnot is chasing them around.

Suspense is often more frightening than Horror, and can be more unnerving. Not knowing what's happening, or what is around the next corner. Horror should have Suspense, but nowadays often lacks it.

Hitchcock knew all that. People were scared by "Psycho", enough to stay out of the shower. You never see anyone stabbed or slashed, but you know that's what is happening.
Or Jimmy Stewart stuck in a wheelchair, watching his neighbor across the courtyard. How long before he spots him? What's he going to do when he does? That's Suspense.

130:

[Missile Gap is] a much better story after letting my brain work on it all night. For example, why did the humans keep coming back? Does that mean that despite all the Termite's hard work and local superiority, that they've missed the boat and humans are the Alien Space Bats? Given the obvious presence of ASBs, isn't the Termite feeling of superiority a little misplaced? What happens to a race that consistently wipes out it's neighbors? I'd bet the ASBs have an app for that... What about the humans who keep dying over and over again? What happened to the initial human/termite cooperation that Gargarin found?

This, etc. While Charlie probably won't come back to it (although, you know, we'd love to read the sequel if it existed), what stuck in my mind was that the termites were rushed at the end - the wreckage of the previous human civilization would be exactly the thing to scare both sides into standing down and NOT blowing each other to kingdom come. While the agents were congratulating each other on having the superior variety of intelligence, it doesn't escape the reader that they had to stomp on the outbreak of humans real hard, as soon as possible.

The human scientists were still at the 'hey, smart termites, cool' stage; we don't know what might have developed next.

Of course, humans being what they are, it would be only a matter of time before someone looked at all that ocean and imagined genetically engineering better dolphins, super-octopuses, or Deep Ones...

131:

To evoke horror, Lovecraft relied on breaking two notions which nowadays are so thoroughly "broken", a reader may not even realize the intent. One is "humans are the pinnacle of creation (or evolution)". Lovecraft hits you over the head with "Humans are NOT the greatest/smartest creatures ever; there were immensely more powerful beings before, and there will be again". Modern reader -- "Duh!"

The other is "purity of blood".

I agree with you wholeheartedly about the racism. I don't know whether Lovecraft was really a racist, or whether he was simply exploiting the racism of others to create a feeling of horror, but it was certainly (and very regrettably) there in his stories.

As to the other, I interpret it a little differently. Lovecraft wrote horror which was designed to be frightening to people who were scientifically literate. He didn't talk about ghosts, werewolves, or vampires. Instead he proposes a series of races which began to evolve well before humanity, and were thus so markedly superior that humans could only conceive of them as gods. He talked about different dimensions. He talked about the vastness of space and time and what was hiding there. He imagined human brains being put on life support and taken to different planets... It's almost like he sat down one day and said, "Let's posit multiple levels of biological and technical evolution, how such races might interact with humans, and what would be frightening about such interactions."

The issue is not that something has out-evolved us (like you said, "Duh.") but what the consequences of out-evolving us might be - that's the scary part. You don't think rationally in terms of "evolution" when faced with something that can change it's shape, psychically control the cat, and drag you through a dimensional portal to someplace that looks and feels like hell (but might just be Cthulhu's screensaver.) You get frightened out of your wits for very good reasons.

Even the "racism" may be part of this attempt to frighten - after all, Eugenics was thought of as a science back when Lovecraft was writing. His "twist" was to attach racism to the idea that non-white blood was polluted by the genes of aliens and hellish cosmic horrors, (and worse, that this affiliation might give others some kind of real advantage over members of the white race.)

132:

And you know what the horror is there? Tyranny and secrecy. That's why no-one's fled and Larry Cableguyovich is tanning.

The Laundryverse is a nasty reminder that Britain planned to collapse into authoritarianism under attack, or rather "something like the we-don't-call-it-socialism of 1940-1945 but if everything had been nuked".

133:

I do read horror, although not nearly as often as I did when I was younger. I think what I like is the process of finding out what is going on, what things are affecting the characters in the story ... maybe a combination of suspense and discovery.

What I eventually discovered is that a lot of the horror that I read had something of an unhappy ending, and I seem to be more interested in neutral or positive endings these days. (I blame Real Life for this. There are more than enough bad endings.)

Short stories seem to work, though. I still remember some of the old Stephen King stuff - like Matt, both The Mist and The Raft are good ones. I think it's because they're quicker, so I'm not spending hours and hours reading about the plight of the characters, or maybe because the short stories I remember are of the half-a-worm variety.

134:

oh! I actually thought The Day After was scary ... but I was 15, and you just didn't get to see anything like that in those days, so I expect it was more the visuals than anything else. Also, I was young enough or naive enough or both not to care about the '40s clips interspersed with the crude special effects. (They can do that stuff a lot better these days, but then CGI sometimes looks equally unrealistic to me, perhaps because I know it's CGI.)

On the other hand, I read On the Beach around the same time, and I really liked it ... maybe I just enjoyed any type of horror at all in those days? (I do remember reading some pulpy "horror" as well.)

135:

Important note; it is instructive to compare the state of cosmology when Lovecraft began writing (circa 1905) with the state of cosmology when he died in 1937.

1905: we live in an island universe, a solitary whirlpool of stars. It appears to have been there, static, forever (but see also Olber's Paradox). Nobody knows how the sun stays hot but according to Lord Kelvin it must be due to gravitational collapse, which puts an upper limit on the age of the solar system of under 20 million years. The dinosaurs probably went extinct less than 2 My ago (carbon dating has not yet been invented so all pre-historical time scales are speculative and somewhat wonky).

1937: we live in a galaxy among countless hundreds of millions of other galaxies. The universe it is part of has been expanding since some terrible initial explosive event around 10-20 billion years ago. Nobody knows how the sun stays hot but some kind of nuclear reaction is specified; the solar system matches a zone in the Main Sequence of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram and it is hypothesised that it may be 2-6 billion years old. Stick 2-3 zeros in front of every pre-historic time estimate from 1905 and you won't be far wrong.

Upshot: the conceptual universe Lovecraft died in was 100-1000 times older and 1,000,000 times larger than the one he was born into. Is it any wonder that cosmology scared him shitless?

136:

Upshot: the conceptual universe Lovecraft died in was 100-1000 times older and 1,000,000 times larger than the one he was born into. Is it any wonder that cosmology scared him shitless?


Hi Charlie,

That's an excellent observation, and there's probably a Ph.D thesis in tracking the changes in cosmology to the changes in his stories... I couldn't even lay out an outline without several hours of work. I had not considered that particular issue at all. I think you've just opened up a new avenue in Lovecraftian scholarship (which is something I haven't paid attention to in 25 years...)

Pending someone actually doing that work, I'll stand by my thesis - that Lovecraft was creating stories designed to scare scientifically literate people - but after reading your post, I could certainly be convinced that I'm wrong.

I'd also be interested to find out whether any of his editors have added a zero or two to his numbers over the years, just to preserve the suspension of disbelief...

I don't normally gush, but wow Charlie. Just wow!

137:

"The Horror at Redhook" was Lovecraft's reaction to living in Brooklyn. He really was racist and anti-Semitic in his personal beliefs.

Also, he married Jewish Russian immigrant.

He was a very strange man.

138:

No secrecy at all; everyone knew the reactor was in trouble - bloody hard to ignore flames shooting from the thing.

No, the unseen nature of radio-poisons is what qualifies this as horror. Petrov couldn't see them or smell them even though he knew the town was contaminated, and yet children were playing in the dirt. There's also a healthy dose of neuro-horror because Petrov isn't afraid, rather the opposite, though he should be, and the quick-tanning Metelev is jolly as if he were drinking. Later the book develops this sense of febrile happiness as an early side effect of radiation poisoning.

It's not a black fog that steals your sense and later sickens you in this case, but instead invisible dying atoms carried by the wind to father, mother, and child indiscriminately. If that isn't horror, then pray tell what is?

139:

That's a bit like my head fuck from Medieval (And 16thC) European cosmology.
The earth is a sphere at the centre of 10 other spheres. The stars are 2 dimensional points of light on the inside of the 9th sphere (i may have miscounted somewhere along the way) and beyond the last sphere is heaven.

Or in other words, tangible reality is slightly further across than the orbit of Saturn. There are no other planets and forget galaxies, although some daring thinkers are suggesting that God could if he wanted create other planets elsewhere.
Now we have millions of galaxies across more than 14,500,000,000 light years.

I also recall reading in a popular-ish astronomy book from the 1890's or so that their telescopes then were barely powerful enough to resolve a cathedral on the moon. Meaning that Well's "The first men in the moon" and other speculations on what might live on the moon were not totally impossible, since any small creatures living there would just be invisible.

140:
I'll stand by my thesis - that Lovecraft was creating stories designed to scare scientifically literate people - but after reading your post, I could certainly be convinced that I'm wrong.

I don't see both observations as contradictory. I too had noticed the dates Lovecraft wrote coincided with the big One/Many Galaxies debate, though I don't know how well the public at large was informed on the subject. Even today I doubt the public at large really groks the scale of the universe.

Hell, I'm into astronomy and sci fi and I don't really get stuff like the Hubble deep field or the millennium simulation on more than a superficial level. Best I've done was seeing the last planetary alignment during the day under a clear sky, suddenly I could SEE the solar system in front of me and my position within.

Despite his racist foibles Lovecraft probably had it right, with the whole terrifying vistas of reality thing, except he underestimated what Terry Pratchett calls the human mind's greatest strength, our capacity to look up into the sky, gaze into the mind bending wonders of the universe, and eventually get bored and go do something else.

141:

Also, he married Jewish Russian immigrant.

I suspect that if you're HP Lovecraft, the ordinary, mundane horror of other races is as nothing to the infinite cosmic gulfs and devouring multidimensional terrors of the human vagina. I suspect that in view of the true gibbering horror, her race was a non-issue.

/snark

142:

There was a time when the only thing I read was everything I could find by Clive Barker. His early stuff was 'horror' but I did not find it scary, I enjoyed it because I was young (in my 20's) and I found it fascinating for a number of reasons.

What he lacked in satisfying plot arcs or character development he made up for with the most intense/graphic/often perverse imagery I had ever read.

I believe his early stuff was pure horror written to entertain/fascinate his friends, never intended to be published - which eventually turned into the 'books of blood' - a 6-volume series of horror shorts that are swimming/drowning/spurting blood, they are aptly named. He also wrote the Hellbound Heart, and later adapted it for cinema (Hellraiser movies), and has worked most of his life on stage/theatre/cinema, as a fiction writer, and also a painter. His first full-length novel, the Damnation Game I also found horrifying and brilliant, he had a way of breaking taboos and writing the unforgivable/unacceptable/unimaginable that I could not stop reading.....

His work moved gradually farther away from pure horror/gore/violence/evil to more horror/fantasy. Lately he's been writing kids books integrated with a series of paintings where he has personally created a painting in his unique style as a tie-in to each chapter of his (now 3-volume) Abarrat series

It both amuses and worries me that any child who falls in love with his youth fiction might get their hands on his definitely-not-for-kids works long before they are ready.

At any rate, I read his stories because you never knew what would happen next (random plot development leaves a story unpredictable, even if the ending is a bit unsatisfying), yet you knew it would be violently, perversely, uniquely horrifying.....

I enjoy the laundry novels for similar reasons, although I definitely appreciate the geekery-saves-the-world and/or geekery-summons-demons aspects as well....

If you enjoy horror, do check out the books of blood - which were repackaged/renamed and/or mixed in with other novels in US release...

143:

Something I found horrifying was a true story from (IIRC) Mexico. Some salvage guys had found a wrongly discarded Co60 gamma source and cut it open. Inside they found the glowing material, which their children sprinkled on their faces as fairy dust. A number of them died.

Alright - I got most of the details wrong, but I'm leaving it as a tribute to my faulty memory. The place was Brazil and the material was radiocesium:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goi%C3%A2nia_accident

"Ivo, Devair's brother, scraped dust out of the source, taking it to his house a short distance away. There he spread some of it on the floor. His 6-year-old daughter, Leide das Neves Ferreira, later ate while sitting on the floor, absorbing some of the radioactive material (1.0 GBq, total dose 6.0 Gy). She was also fascinated by the blue glow of the powder, applied it to her body and showed it off to her mother.
...
Leide das Neves Ferreira, aged 6 (6.0 Gy, 600 REM), was the daughter of Ivo Ferreira. Initially, when an international team arrived to treat her, she was confined to an isolated room in the hospital because the hospital staff were afraid to go near her. She gradually developed swelling in the upper body, hair loss, kidney and lung damage, and internal bleeding. She died on October 23, 1987, of "septicemia and generalized infection" at the Marcilio Dias Navy Hospital, in Rio de Janeiro, as a result of the contamination.[2] She was buried in a common cemetery in Goiania, in a special fiberglass coffin lined with lead to prevent the spread of radiation.[2] There was a riot in the cemetery, where over 2,000 people armed with stones and bricks tried to prevent her burial."

There were 3 other fatalities

144:

Yeah. No, I don't do horror. I've never read a Steven King novel/king. I think the biggest thing wrong with modern fantasy is that the Dark Side has won; and the taint is leaking into science fiction, too, which is even worse (I care more).

You are certainly seasoning with horror cooties, and it's mostly really more than I'd prefer. The Laundry books work relatively well because there's a REAL threat at that level, and it's not used as a surprise.

145:

Picking up on that Brazilian story, nuclear horror -- the eerieness of radiation -- is probably underused by writers. Check out Ken Kalfus' short story "PU-239."

Some people talked above about horror in Iron Sunrise, but they seemed to mean the evil space Nazis. The horror in that book, for me at least, is in the gamma ray burst. For all we know, one could be headed this way ...

Most horror is about the darkness within, the evil capacities of human beings. That kind of thing mostly depresses me. You can't make up stuff worse than what people have actually done.

The darkness of the universe, its indifference to us and our well-being, that is what gives me the heebie-jeebies.

146:

Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains" post-WW3 tale still haunts me, even though it has no human characters.

But I get my horror stories from music, mostly by Neko Case.

Thread tie-in: anyone noticed the similarities between the heroines in female-written SF stories (e.g. Mendoza in the Company novels, Shan in the Wess'har War series, etc.) and the Final Girl in horror movies?
You've got yer clever, butchy-but-hetero, resourceful person who gets thrown into a situation, and has to get out with honor relatively intact by the climax. And, of course, no (male) lovers, as that would make the males in the audience uncomfortable.

147:

Who indeed would sympathise with The Toymaker?

Admittedly I kind of was there with him in terms of being "functionally different" and needing a safe haven (read: criminal organisation) to survive.

Then there was the borderline anal rape. A dose of horror well before the toy came into the picture.

148:

@ 129
Yes.
Under that distinction does "The Wicker Man" count as horror or suspense?

@ 141
Well, yes - the alien-ness of sex &/or the OTHER sex.
Try looking up Gustave Courbet's painting The origin of the world , which even at this late date has the power to shock and arouse.
DEFINITELY NOT safe for work, btw

149:

#51 and 53 - Spoken by people who clearly know nothing about the maintenance of fairground rides. One of my exes was related to some Codonas, and these guys do maintain their kit properly, not least because fatal accident enquiries are "Bad For Busness".

#55 - Para 2. I like the way you think Sir.

#5 - Spot the "deliberate" (for certain values of deliberate) mistake; I left Harry Connolly off the list of "horror I read".

150:

I wrote comment #53 and I object- in good humour - to your assumption that I "know nothing" about fairground rides. My comment's just a joke, mate, re-read it. I don't say that fairground rides do shed parts, just that if you give that impresson to someone as they are about to set off, it might well scare them. There are other situations where the "found" rivet would scare people - cable cars, etc. Basically any mechanical contrivance which can fail in a dangerous way and where people can't get out once it's started.

I don't know much about fairground rides, as it happens, but surely that's irrelevant? One of my mates used to be a carny, and my brother's wife is part of an old steam engine family - no accidents in the last 100 years - (called Fear, so relevant to this thread) if I needed enlightenment, I'd probably ask them. Thanks, anyway.

151:

no accidents in the last 100 years

"Days since last accident: 36525 ..."

"Oi, Jim, where's the accident report book?"

"Dunno, Bob, I'll ask Grandad, maybe he'll know"

(Surely someone would have burnt or scalded themselves in that time. I will presume you're talking about more serious accidents.)

152:

"#51 and 53 - Spoken by people who clearly know nothing about the maintenance of fairground rides. "

Spoken by at least one who knows first hand how bad it can be.

153:

You see why people tend to get an SoH bypass when the apparent butt of the joke is a group of people that they've actually been friends with in the past?

154:

Radiation... here's another scene from a movie that makes me feel a bit sick watching it. I can all too clearly identify with the guy and what he's doing:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Zg69OlFOac

Esp regarding how casually we used to treat radiation sources when I was at university. For example, we used to have a neutron source exposed to the air, and a note above it warning people not to look into the hole. Guess how well that precaution worked out...

155:

I asked, and "If we need to open the 1st aid box or call someone, it gets logged. If it can be fixed with bogroll and gaffa tape, it doesn't. Nothing logged so far".

@paws, the butt that's apparent to me is the person on the ride, not the one running it? ah, it doesn't matter.

156:

'There Will Come Soft Rains'... I read it for the first time when I was just a kid (at least 30 years ago) and it still haunts me too. I remember it as if I had read it yesterday.

157:

People always say this and then just, per Moss of the IT Crowd, walk away...most famously Moorcock.

He did actually marry a Jew and shock, get married at all to a woman and shock, it appears she had no problems with his, ahem, performance and his personal attitude towards her as a woman and a jew, despite having divorced the man.

I say this as a member of a "race" that HPL had "issues" with, the guy had a lot of the background ethnicism/racism of his day/culture. However, this Oh the Irony bit when discussing HPL's personal life is kind of trite. What's the point? Do we think he did not know she was Jewish or that she possessed female bits? And then wham! what a commeuppance! In his fevered imagination, he barely avoided the fate of the husband in "The Thing on the Doorstep" and escaped her mad clutches. Moorcock asked if anyone knew what the ex-Mrs. Lovecraft thought about this and if he had done his research, he would have known that someone actually did and then he could have had some kind of meaningful discussion about the subject. Instead he just spouted off whatever opinion came off the top of his brain that morning and the establishment labelled it serious literary criticism for some reason.

I am not enough of an HPL wonk to have a nuanced discussion about exactly what race and gender mean in his work and life. (I get the vague idea that HPL was too bound to Providence to be happy elsewhere and that his wife could not afford to leave her businesses in NY. And yes, some of the unease with other places was intricately bound up with his racism/phobias.) I am sure there are all kinds of unsavory bugs under that rock from our contemporary viewpoint. But bringing up the contradictions in his life should be the start of the debate, no? Not the lazy zinger it invariably is. (By contrast people locate Virginia Woolf's anti-Semitic tendencies and the affect it had on her marriage to a Jew, but that does not seem to over define her legacy.)

158:

That is a story that sticks with you. I still think about it myself 30 years on from the first read. Is it the Life After People desolation or is it that a dog dies alone and unloved? (The antidote, I suppose, is to read City by Simak.)

Song of Kali is one of the few books I could not bear to even have in the house anymore once I read it. The creepy griminess of the cynicism and despair on top of the outwardly erudite and placid existence of the protoganist. It made you feel the hatred of the Evil Other and still feel a little guilty for having the hate.

I think "Horror" has several notes to play. Disgust, helplessness/futility, adrenaline reaction, isolation, alienation from parts of oneself or from an aspect of the external world. I don't think I agree with Gaiman about Horror as getting what one deserves; a lot of horror is about the futility of trying to protect the innocent or one's integrity, bodily or otherwise. (Integrity as measured by the self and not by outsiders: integrity can mean racial purity of the homeland or integrity can mean freedom from rape. With respect to last, I recommend Peter Watts' take on the Thing, even though I think he botched the last line in some ways.)

159:

It's quite possible to be racist in general but to make exceptions for specific people. No doubt that's what HPL did.

160:

I'm very sorry but I like(d) Graham Masterton horror, though I think he only did one that takes into account the Lovecraft Mythos. But I stopped reading them in the mid 1990s when I left the country (but I came back again...).

Masterton's books were always entirely predictable (once you'd read a few) but none the worse for all that. At least you knew exactly what you were getting! Heh. In 1995 my dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I replied "the complete Masterton paperbacks". I ended up with a load of romatic fiction, because spelling kistakes cost more than you think.

Blish was good with "Black Easter" & "The Day After Judgment", which might be classed as horror... maybe. Not so sure about "A Case of Conscience".

And I have to agree with a fair few posts here that "A Colder War" is probably one of the scariest stories around. And deeply original. And innovative. If the Laundry survives the next book[/1], maybe Bob can meet Oliver North & Roger Jorgenson (not Manfred) on an off-world expedition, or would that be too Stargate?


The reason I found "A Colder War" so scary was because you wove the, ah, real history of the period into the story so well. NB-39, the informal US contacts with Iran, Oliver North, &c. Like you did with the Fuller Memorandum - Major General J F C Fuller, friend and pupil of Crowley (who wasn't too bad at maths by all accounts).

--

[1]/. Can you keep putting Case Nightmare Green off? How long can an author put off the main threat and of it happens and humanity looses no more books but if we win, where does the series go from there?

161:

Can you keep putting Case Nightmare Green off?

Nope.

And the next book, "The Apocalypse Codex" (scheduled for publication in the US next July -- I'm waiting to hear that it's green-lit for the UK as well) doesn't try to. But it's set only eight months after "The Fuller Memorandum", so the world hasn't gone to hell in a handbasket ... yet. (By the end of the book, you should be able to see it coming.)

162:

@154: Esp regarding how casually we used to treat radiation sources when I was at university.

About 35 years ago, when I was working as a physicist for the MoD, we had a sandwich year student working with our research group. He said his cohort at university had had a cavalier attitude to radiation, especially the film badges they had to wear in the lab and hand in for processing every week. After weeks of handing in the badges and hearing no more, they decided to test the system, by putting one unwitting student's badge over the Co60 source while he was at lunch. That lot of badges were handed in Friday afternoon, and Monday morning they went into the lab wondering if anything was going to happen. It did - a huge midden hit an industrial sized air mover - emergency medical crew in NBC suits waiting for the victim (who'd been away for the weekend and incommunicado - this was long before mobile phones), a team sweeping the labs for radiation, and when it was confessed to be a joke, a major bollocking for all concerned with threats of being sent down if they so much as farted at the wrong time in the future.

163:

Radiation film badges... luxury. When I were at university the first serious sign of radiation overdose was vomiting blood. And they made us clean it up first before allowing us to sit down and recover...

164:

I am surprised that "Black Easter" & "The Day After Judgment" were never made into a movie.

165:

Under that distinction does "The Wicker Man" count as horror or suspense?

No idea. I haven't seen either version, if I do it'll be the original.


This discussion has brought up a memory I could have done without. In my pre-teen years (ca.1983-84) in secondary school, I knew a kid obsessed with no-budget gross-out horror films, and Lovecraft. I went to his birthday party where he showed his tape collection. Fortunately, we only made it through a couple, including his favorite, "Gates of Hell" (aka "City of the Living Dead") and "Alien Contamination". Just disgusting. Probably why I don't care for Zombie films in general, and graphic horror in particular. He's definitely why I avoided Lovecraft for years.

166:

Ah yes - Wicker Man.
That's where that nosey Christian policeman gets what's coming and the good guys win! As a bonus, Britt Eckland strips off and has a dance. All good clean pagan fun.

167:

Which reminds me.
The policeman was sacrificed so that Summerisle could continue to have unusually warm summers. Now we know the root cause of Global Warming.

168:

As I mentioned in the previous thread, my mother was a US Army Health Physics Officer. She once told me about how during her training, in 1979, they used a Co60 source to calibrate dosimeters. You were absolutely not supposed to do this at eye level, but it was much easier to do it that way. She now has various eye problems, we don't know if it is Retinitis Pigmentosa, or Radiation Retinopathy, though the former is more likely.

In the mid-late 80s she was the Radiation Protection Ofiicer for a then new Army hospital. She had a constant struggle getting the X-Ray and Nuke Med techs to wear their film badges.

169:

The new Wicker Man is nothing but soul sucking existentialist horror, but not in the good way. Avoid in case it leaves you begging for Case Nightmare Green.

The old one is a great mood piece and fine old entertaining flick. But I don't think the sacrifice was appropriate on its own terms and that would be way too pedantic a discussion; so that's all I am going to say.

170:

The use of fear and suspense - and the occasional sudden shock - works very well in short stories, but I can't see it working all the way through a short-ish full-length novel.

Of course, in any novel it's great writing to build up a scene with suspense, fear, and mounting dread terminated with a shock... When the author pulls it off. But that's to say: "A novel with some horror elements work well" and this is not the same as saying horror can carry along a full-length narrative.

171:

you must of courseremember that Freud was mad as a horse,, ( read up on the case of little Hans )

172:

This kind of casual cruelty is very common and seems to point to the root of all horror.

I remember talking to a woman who had been in the Merchant Marine. She told about how the previous woman on her boat had been raped and thrown overboard. She found out once they'd already left port.

What is the horror? It seems to be the powerlessness and the inevitability of a bad thing. What's scary is when you know the psycho rests in the attic and you know that the kid is going to go up the attic stairs or when you know that the crew hates and resents you but you know you can't leave the ship. When you see that doom coming, but nothing can be done to stop it - that is worse than the splatter of blood that gore porn shows.

I haven't seen many good examples recently until I stumbled on the "L.A. Noire" short stories. I downloaded them because they were free from B&N and they had a short story from Lawrence Block*. The first story, The Girl by Megan Abbott, is about a debauchery thrown in hollywood from the perspective of a girl who's been through the system. She sees an innocent, and see the inevitability of what is going to happen to her. First horror story I've read in a long time. First that really made my heart pound.

For what it's worth, I saw "Rule 34" as not much of a horror at all. All of that is coming, and soonish.

* Block, Donald Westlake, and Robert Parker seem to be the best mystery writers around. If you know someone better than them, I'd love to know.

173:

I end up looking at the slasher / gore / horror films as a rpg scenario..
you end up fumning at the red shiorts on the screen making bad mistakes and getting deathed..
too many RPGs played, too much gaming maybe

wondering however, - the people going to pieces in the face of weird shit happening i.e. SAN checks
would this happen to modern characters with their exposure to horror films/ books / games

a thought on CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN
could we intentionally make the walls of the world thin in a convienient place for us? i.e. the cloud belts of jupiter ( scorpion stare fired from a space probe )

174:

I assume she knows that if it is pigmentosa that high doses of Vit A might help?

175:

Department of needless nitpicking:

1905: A scientifically literate person would probably be aware that many geologists and paleontologists disagreed with Kelvin, arguing that the earth was hundreds of millions -- or even a billion years or so -- old.

(Carbon dating was developed post-WW2 and is largely irrelevant to this issue, since it only works back to a few tens of thousands of years. But radioactive dating of rocks using, e.g., uranium, does seem to have developed starting shortly after 1905, and that certainly helped pin down geological ages.)


1937: the best estimate for the age of the universe was about 2 billion years; the 10-20 billion years figure doesn't arrive for a couple of decades or so (Hubble got the distances to galaxies wrong by about a factor of 10, putting them closer together, which meant that the expansion hadn't been going on as long as we now realize).

The main difference between 1905 and 1937 in terms of timescales was, I suspect, the sense of agreement and certainty that the universe was definitely at least a billion years old, instead of unsettled disputes about whether it was merely a few tens of millions of years old or possibly as much as a billion.


(Of course, Lovecraft was clearly also fascinated and disturbed by the changes in physics as well -- the intuitive 3D Euclidean geometry we're born understanding giving way to the mutable spacetime of special and general relativity, the classical physics of billiard balls giving way to the spooky, counterintuitive and poorly understood uncertainties of quantum physics -- but that's in addition to cosmology.)

176:

-Try going into one of those fairground rides that involve walking through the haunted house with actors wearing movie quality makeup jumping out at you. That and some particularly nasty Japanese prank shows tend to indicate exposure to fiction makes us even more vulnerable. And the rational part that knows it's some dude in a mask doesn't really hold sway when he looms over you (Group dynamics also help, such as a girl you don't know hanging onto your t-shirt like a cat about to be dropped into a bath).

-Honestly the Laundryverse seems a little less scary to me because Bob and his people do seem to have a pretty good handle on things. The end times seems more of a background cold war nuclear war scenario than an inevitable end game. I mean, from the point of view of the 80s it did seem like the eventual outcome we were headed for, but we all just got on with stuff regardless.

-Re safety: The story goes Rosalind Franklin had a cavalier attitude to X-rays which contributed to her death by cancer at a young age, but I believe that one's in dispute.

177:

Not sure, I'll ask. Thanks for pointing it out, I hadn't heard that.
She was diagnosed just over 20 years ago, the Wikipedia article on RP (just looked at it)
says that's a more recent finding, so she may not have heard. She was at first told that she'd be blind in 5-10 years, but it turned out there are different types, hers having a later onset not necessarily leading to complete blindness. It's been stable for a while, she's got a narrow field of vision, but is legal to drive.

178:

#140 - "Despite his racist foibles Lovecraft probably had it right, with the whole terrifying vistas of reality thing, except he underestimated what Terry Pratchett calls the human mind's greatest strength, our capacity to look up into the sky, gaze into the mind bending wonders of the universe, and eventually get bored and go do something else."

Right. If Great Cthulhu walked by your house every day at 7 on His way to work,eventually you'd learn to ignore Him and continue making breakfast - heck, probably put some coins in his tread-path to see if that works like it does with train tracks.

Bruce

179:

Just experienced a moment of horror - saw a picture of a cute animal (a Slow Loris), and a quick google later discovered how appallingly they are treated. I feel sick now.

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/youtube-sensation-fuelling-trade-in-an-endangered-species-2248930.html

180:

Vast numbers of animals are treated horribly by us.
If we ever get AGI we will be *very* lucky if we are treated any better.

181:

Becoming domesticated by a superior species isn't that bad a deal, I envisage a post singularity humanity like dogs in our world as compared to neolithic wolves - vastly more populous, well fed, entertained, with healthcare impossible for them to even comprehend, and sometimes they get to stick their heads out the car window.

Hell, some of them even think they're in charge because we don't give a shit about their rank cues.

182:

I do read things that are marketed as horror, quite extensively. It's interesting to me, though, that "horror" is usually used as a genre word, and frequently a ghetto one at that, but that there are so many classics that easily fill that niche: "House of the Seven Gables"; portions of "Hamlet"; "A Christmas Carol".

"Literary" authors write horror quite successfully: Henry James, who wrote a whole volume of scary stories and whose "Turn of the Screw" is one of the most frightening things that I've ever read; Margaret Atwood, who won the Booker Prize for "The Handmaid's Tale" (and anyone who argues that that doesn't have a healthy dose of the horrific is probably a man); Cormac McCarthy, who won the Pulitzer for "The Road"...which was initially shelved in the horror section before reviewers started saying that it was (gasp, sputter) really good. Even Stephen King has won the National Book Award.

The key to all of that seems to be good writing and good story. Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Caitlin Kiernan...these people know how to use the English language in a beautiful (this bit is about the use of language, mind, and not what it portrays) and effective way. For the most part they are always interesting to read.

Ok, so I've taken the long way round: given that there is really well-written horror out there, why do I choose to read it? I've asked myself that question often and can't really say for sure. I've work in psychiatric prisons for many years, and in my personal life am a foster and adoptive parent for abused boys. Perhaps it rings true with what I know of the world?

But in that case, why was I reading it when I was 14? I certainly wasn't doing that stuff then. And are "On the Beach" and "Failsafe", which I read when I was going through my war fiction phase in my teens, any less horror because they aren't supernatural? I felt more overwhelming sadness, sickness, anger, and fright at the world that I live in this morning, when I heard on the morning news about a puppy found wandering about with an arrow through his head (he will be fine, if you're curious - I called and asked) than I did when I read "Salem's Lot", although the Lot frightened me badly.

Perhaps the difference for me here is "revulsion", which takes little craft and sadly is often substituted for true horror, and "fright" or "terror", those things which create true fear. I have no desire to be grossed out - for me the perfect horror film is "The Haunting of Hill House" (also a fabulous book), where nary a drop of blood is spilt.

I guess that this long, rambling comment can be summarized in a couple of sentences: I read it because it speaks to me and because I enjoy it. And although horror is a label, it's a false one: horror is what makes you feel horrified.

183:

Just read this:

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n18/jenny-diski/diary

Horror alright...

184:

I only read horror when someone - like our gracious host - smuggles it into science fiction or fantasy settings. And at times, even this bootleg amount of horror borders on "too much" for me. As with mono-natrium glutamate - really, really artful cooking achieves it tasteful aims without this injection ;-)

185:

Margaret Atwood, who won the Booker Prize for "The Handmaid's Tale" (and anyone who argues that that doesn't have a healthy dose of the horrific is probably a man)

I think that even the men on this site would agree that many aspects of "The Handmaid's Tale" could definitely be described as horrific.

"Abysmal" is another word that springs to mind.

186:

Not sure what kind of horror it would be described as. I certainly know the feeling from the inside having taken LSD on a number of occasions. Which is why, no doubt, that psychedelics were once called psychotomimetics.

187:

The Handmaid's Tale is not something I am ever going to read. I have an immensely strong aversion to dystopias.

188:

The Handmaid's Tale is more than a dystopia.

So many people have posted on this thread about how real threats of existential dread, like nuclear war, are so much more horrific than make-believe threats. If you're a woman, and you have any consciousness about domestic violence, suppression of women by religious regimes or sex trafficking, The Handmaid's Tale is immediately and viscerally believeable.

You will go where we tell you. You will wear what we tell you. You will have sex with whom we tell you, and how. You have no choices about how you work, entertain yourself, pray or not pray. You will not speak unless allowed, and you will not say anything other than what we permit you. You will pretend this is what you want and deserve. If you resist, or if we don't believe you, you will be beaten, raped or killed.

The Handmaid's Tale is more than a book about a dystopia, because a dystopia is an imagined society. The Handmaid's Tale is a literary device that throws a mirror on things that are happening right now, and asks you to imagine that they are happening to you. That is horror.

189:

Does the coming of Case Nightmare Green also relate to your decision to stop writing in the "voice" of previous writers of spy fiction? I'd imagine that once you get to the point where Mo is trying to drive the Night Gaunts away with Erich Zann's violin and the Deep Ones are at renewed war with the Burrowers, you're so far out of any territory covered by Ian Fleming or Len Deighton that there's no point in trying to write in one of those voices...

190:

"What is Horror?" has been addressed very intelligently by earlier posts, so I don't have much to say on the subject that wouldn't be repetitive, with a couple of exceptions:

Horror is also a form of "cautionary tale." Authors neglect this principle at their peril.

Also, horror is every bit as susceptible to fad and fashion as any other form of literature. What's scary now is different than what was scary even a couple years ago. When, in the last few years, has someone used zombies, werewolves, or vampires in a truly frightening manner? (IMHO, Peter Watts didn't - the vampire was a fairly serious distraction from the value of Blindsight.)

Consider vampires in particular. Arguably "Interview With A Vampire" was scary back in the 1970s, though not so much because if its supernatural content as much as it's moral vision. None of the sequels frightened me from any standpoint. Post-Buffy, post True Blood, and soon, I hope, post Edward, we're a couple really good satires away from the end of the vampire in any form of serious fiction. (Notice how cyberpunk died after the publication of Head Crash? Head Crash came out after Snow Crash, which essentially sold itself through humor and a tie-in to ancient astronauts.)

The question to be answered is really "What's scary next?" and that's anyone's guess. Personally, I suspect that nanobot-based horror will be the next fad, but that's nothing more than opinion and I could easily be wrong.

191:

Agreed wholeheartedly. The treatment of women is the best real-world example of horror imaginable.

192:

Alex, "The Apocalypse Codex" is still one of the pastiches -- this time, it's Peter O'Donnell. But it's getting looser with each subsequent book. I have no plans for book 5 other than "take two years off first" (the Laundry books don't seem to benefit from being squeezed out like a string of sausages) but I strongly suspect it's going to have a life of its own by then.

(Unless I end up trying to do an Iain Banks laundry novel ... or maybe a Christopher Brookmyre one ...)

193:

I thought, "Huh, an Iain M. Banks Laundry book," and then my mind froze up for a second.

(I've only read a couple of the non-M books, but those were The Wasp Factory and Complicity. So I'm not actually thinking about what a non-M Banks Laundry book would be like.)

194:

Gee, and here I was hoping you'd do a Laundry story that was a pastiche of Neal Stephenson. Or perhaps George MacDonald Fraser. Probably worth taking some time off first, you're right.

195:

Pastiches...

David Weber: "The first firing of Scorpion Stare destroyed 172 byakhee, but that was less than five percent of Lord Cthulhu's advancing horde. The remaining 3815 byakhee continued in their advance against London. NnnGh'frl, Commander of the 138th Wing of the Dhrr'gkk Division, looked down on the burning city..."

Of course, you've already done him, haven't you.


Eric Flint: I stared at the block beneath us in dismay. "Every Basilisk Gun in the financial district just failed," I said.

Angleton's chest swelled in manly pride. "It was deliberate," he smiled coldly. "The kind of people who meddle in derivatives are Yog Sothoth's natural allies. We're just making sure that neither side gets a chance to figure that out. We'll turn them back on in an hour or two."

Meanwhile, below us, Lloyd's of London burned.


William Gibson:The sky on the other side of the portal was the color of television turned to a dead channel.

196:

Thanks! I needed that!

197:

Neal Stephenson is American -- the Laundry pastiches are only of British spy/thriller writers.

GMF ... maybe, but aside from his autobiographical yarns the only work of his I'm really familiar with are the Flashman books, which aren't a good match.

198:

" .. the Laundry pastiches are only of British spy/thriller writers. " Indeed ?

Oh all right then, but there's at least one good match that I can think of. All right - at Least Two ..though not in a Main Sequence NOVEL in The Laundry Series ... Ta Da ??

So, all right then, and quickly before I lose my nerve ..

There exists a Mysterious Naval Vessel of HM Navy that is too small to fully join the Line of Battle of the Napoleonic Wars - the True First World War .. a Ship that is somewhat too small but does possess a Captain who is an expert mathematician who is also an Expert at Close Combat but who is Master and Commander as it were .... and he is assisted by an Expert in Medicine and Linguistics who is also an Intelligence Agent. These Two are assisted by various Specialists and they Sail in a Vessel that is made of wood, strung about by a cats cradle of carefully crafted rope and canvas and thus it is powered by Sail - though the vessel routinely undergoes voluntary Human Sacrifice, and surgical Torture for the purpose of GOOD in the Fight against a truly vile autocracy that really is governed by an Evil Emperor ...SO what is " The Surprise " really up too way back then and wouldn't this make a Good short story for that forth coming volume of short stories?

Err, do I need to make some sort of ritualistic denial of All Rights to this Idea before it becomes viable as a contribution? I regard it as being conversation, but, some bloody strange and desperate people have popped up in the World of H Potter so whose to say what might pop up in the World of Our Gracious Host?

No one will be interested in my Second Idea ..sniff, sob ..and so on.

199:

Actually, I'm more likely to write a Laundry novel in the style of Stella Gibbons ...

200:

Something Nasty in the Wood shed? There will always be Stark Add-ers at Cald Comfort Form....closest I could come to Mathematicians at short notice

201:

I spent most of my high school years reading Lovecraft, Stephen King and Clive Barker (and also Kurt Vonnegut). By the time I graduated HS I'd pretty much read just about everything they wrote (at that time). I never liked goreography in books or movies. I guess I lean more to what's been called "cosmic horror". The short stories of Caitlin Kiernan (A is for Alien is one of the few collections of sf-horror stories that gave me bad dreams) and Laird Barron being two of my current favorites. Both can do Lovecraftian without doing the "1-2-3 Cthulu!" that some writers do.

I still read horror (I read pretty much every genre from Lit to Fantasy) especially around Halloween since it is the season. As I was told once: "All good books are mystery books" and it's the same with horror. If I don't wonder what's going to happen next, or why stuff is going on then it's just a slog of a read and a bore. It's the mystery of whats going on and why. That's why I fell in love with the writing of HPL and horror in general. There's some weird stuff is afoot and what's the cause? Is it because an office clerk was passed over for a promotion? A jilted lover out for revenge? A bitter butler out to steal his employers money? Nope. Big ugly alien monsters trying to destroy humanity. Bizarre occult practices pulling forth horrors from beyond. Things that where always here that we've forgotten about waiting in the shadows to reclaim what was once theirs. The unknown coming at us from angles we couldn't imagine and kicking us in the ass. Good stuff.

202:

Case Nightmare Green as written by David Weber? Yikes. But now I want to read that view, told in alternate parts by David Weber and E.E. 'Doc' Smith.

The starkly incomprehensible things from beyond the dimensional spaces known to men were advancing along Wandsworth Road, already in sight of the Vauxhall tube station. (A vast and cleverly designed subterranean transport network threaded its way beneath the metropolis, in peacetime moving thousands about in automated trains and for now still firmly in the hands of human forces.) The iridescent sphere which had overlaid Croyden the previous night had disgorged untold throngs of the shapeless creatures which were attempting to secure a beachhead on this not fully defenseless planet.

"Stay behind the barricades," Agent Howard urged the gathered soldiers. "They are most vulnerable in the siphon when it's open, that funnel right beneath the central eye. Take your shots wisely and don't waste your bullets. There will be more of them along soon."

He stood, and from beneath his powder-stained shirt drew what looked for all the world like the severed foot of a common pigeon, worn on a steel chain about his neck.

"Good luck, boys. As for me...I'm going in."

203:

"Good luck, boys. As for me...I'm going in."

Nice. Very nice.

(I wanted to interrupt my action with a Weber-style, 3-page info-dump, but I was on a break at work.)

204:

Charlie, you just made this Modesty Blaise fan's day. Suddenly, next July seems a terribly long wait.

On topic: As a child I gobbled up the classics. Frankenstein, Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde. As much Poe as my limited English allowed. There was M.R. James's brilliant "The Tractate Middoth." On the non-supernatural side, I read 1984 and Lord of the Flies at a much too tender age.

Growing up in the latter years of Mutually Assured Destruction, though, I got my most vivid nightmares from newspapers. Like many before me in this thread I'd single out A Colder War as the most chilling short story I've read in a long time. I enjoy it on more than one level, but chiefly, I think it recalls just what gibbering horrors passed for strategic planning in those demented years.

At twelve I read Firestarter to shreds, followed by anything else by King. A friend put me on to Lovecraft, which was not particularly scary, but an ingeniously conceived universe to explore. Dan Simmons has an unholy knack for horrific real-world settings (Ceausescu's Romania). I enjoy good comedy-horror genre mashups, whether the Laundry series or anything by Neil Gaiman. But in the end, it's not about the horror, it's about the story-telling.

Anyway, I find that the most terrifying passages in works of supernatural horror are not about supernatural horror, as such, but about what all-too-real human beings will do to each other. When things go just pear-shaped enough that the bully-boys and petty criminals get thrust into positions of authority (as in King's Under the Dome -- and in not a few cases before the Yugoslavia tribunal).

The most terrifying works are not supernatural at all, but explore what we may do when social control becomes total (room 101), or reverts to twisted traditional patterns (the congregational lynchings of Glasshouse -- or indeed A Handmaid's Tale), or when social control collapses and must be reinvented from scratch (the stick sharpened at both ends). The stories that suggest things need only go a little bit pear-shaped before we flush our reasonably humane, liberal civilization down the pipe.

205:

British Thriller/Spy writers, Charlie?

Gavin Lyall?
H. Rider Haggard (Who did some very peculiar "otherworldly" stuff himself)?
Andy McNab?
Conan Doyle (as in Professer Challenger)?
Proably the best would be Joh Buchan, who also wrote "otherworldly" stuff, like "The Gap in the Curtain" ??

206:

How about William le Queuex?

(Ducks and runs ...)

207:

OK. I'll play. How about Mark Twain, a-la Tom Sawyer Abroad, Umberto Eco, or Dorothy Sayers?

208:

I've never really read Mark Twain -- his fiction style disagreed with me. (Mind you, I'm violently allergic to Victorian literature in general; something to do with the style of the day: over-ornate and turgid.)

Umberto Eco as written by Mark Twain -- now, that'd be something!

209:

I tend to stay away from that era as well, for the same reasons. As a writer, can you imagine producing that "over-ornate and turgid" stuff in longhand, including rewrites and a clean copy for the publisher?

It occurred to me, just a little late, that Lois McMaster Bujold had already done Dorothy Sayers in A Civil Campaign.

On the subject of Eco, I was thinking more of Bob Howard dropped into Foucault's Pendelum, (which is a great read, just in case you haven't already seen it.)

210:

Horror movies - the one I have enjoyed the most is Carpenter's "In The Mouth of Madness". Vastly underrated IMHO

211:

Unless I end up trying to do a Christopher Brookmyre laundry novel

Please, pretty please, pretty please with sprinkles, raspberry sauce, and a chocolate Flake?

212:

GMF ... maybe, but aside from his autobiographical yarns the only work of his I'm really familiar with are the Flashman books, which aren't a good match.

Hmm, the northwest frontier bit in Atrocity Archive is Flashmanesque, at least in that it's what happened after Flashy saved his own skin and left everyone else to get killed.

Elsewhere, there's a Le Carré plot on the mantelpiece of the Laundry waiting to go off in the third act, of course. There are reasons to suspect Angleton of all kinds of things, but the structure of the spy novel requires that disloyalty be first among them.

"I am loyal! I am loyal! Don't send me baaack!"

213:

My favourite horror isn't fiction. "Artificial Intelligence as a Positive and Negative Factor in Global Risk", E. Yudkowsky, 2006

[...] The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else. The AI runs on a different timescale than you do; by the time your neurons finish thinking the words "I should do something" you have already lost>>

214:

I worry about AIs as much as I worry about submarine aircraft carriers.

217:

Mark Twain was violently allergic to Victorian literature in general. And in particular. He wrote some reviews of writers that bite, hard. Look up what he said about Jane Austen's social values. High society hated him for writing simply and at the lower classes. Till he made big money.

218:

Lovecraft's stories were in my grade and mid school recommended reading. I found my old "The Shadow over Innsmouth" from the Scholastic Book Services. You could order their books in class. I read all his stuff in the early to mid 60's. maybe that's why what's printed is not that big a deal to me. I re-read much after I got out of the Army. I would snort over a Old One and 50 gallons of foo gas and some claymore mines. X pounds pounds green hamburger, extra crispy.
As I remember the "The Horror at Redhook" had a mob of low people using what they had to make light to hold in the horror. And they were RC not Jewish.
But I think you must be numb not to have the stress of the flight or fight hormones kicking in at modern horror movies. I can't help but wonder if a lot of people are not affected by PSTS that's from and reinforced by horror movies.

219:
I've only read a couple of the non-M books, but those were The Wasp Factory and Complicity.

Then you should definitely read The Crow Road. Not a spy story, but I think very amenable to a Laundry pastiche. The Business would be even easier to pastiche, since it's very satiric to start with, but perhaps not so much a tour de force.

220:

Seconded.

My personal favourite Iain (no M) Banks is "Dead Air", but that's because the male protagonist somehow struck a chord with me.

I'd suggest that anyone who enjoys "The Crow Road", will probably also enjoy Complicity and "The Steep Approach to Garbadale". Of course, is Sean wasn't impressed by Complicity, that doesn't mean he won't enjoy "The Crow Road", since that's almost certainly the best of those 3.

221:

As another data point, I disliked Complicity (my least favourite of his works), didn't particularly like Wasp Factory, and loved Crow Road and Whit.

The Bridge is an Iain Banks that could arguably be repackaged as an Iain M Banks

222:

In which case, "least favourite" definitely "A Song of Stone", and not keen on Transition (apparently with the M in the USA) which I found too disjointed.

223:

To me, why is connected to what kind of horror I read.

When I was about 14, I started reading H.P. Lovecraft, and loved it because it was creepy, weird, and other. I had been watching horror movies for years, and was no longer scared, and had been reading SF for about 5 years. Here was something that was not "off to the Stars in ships, where we build worlds even more screwed up than this one", or the old holloween monsters.

HPL could write stories that creeped me out, not many others could. Poe did, Ray Bradbury could, when he tried, Bob Bloch did (more about him later), Richard Matheson, Machen, and M.R. James could. August Darleth and a legion of others tried, but couldn't do it. More recently Steve King can sometimes, not always when he tries to, and Ramsey Campbell and Charlie Stross do. The simple otherness is the hard part, soemthing that is logically consistant but utterly strange and weird. HPL "At the Mountains of Madness", or Charlie Stross "A Colder War" does it.

Mundane horror with blood, gore, torture, and the Serial Killer bogeyman does not scare me. It is just life. I have known two people who ended up as victims of serial killers, but I have known other people who died for other horrible reasons, AIDS, serious accidents, and suicides. And so it goes.

Bob Bloch wrote stories about Ed Gein and HH Holmes, two serial killers, that scare other people, but not me. They are just history. Bob Bloch was everybody's Uncle from Milwaukee who was so funny when he drank a bit. I miss him. It was Hitchock and Tony Perkins that turned the retarded farmer Ed Gein into the charming and witty Norman Bates. And Ted Bundy who lived him.

I grew up with other children whose grandmas and uncles were survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. I later had neighbors who were Cambodian refugees from Pol Pot's death camps. The only horror in that for me is some of the the camp guards will die old men, cheating the hangman.

The first 40 years of my life were spent looking over my shoulder for the bright light in the sky that was the end. A while ago, there was a TV commerical for Droid phones that had two re-entry vehicles arcing through the sky. I saw them and thought "That's Frankfort and Lexington, Louisville and Cincinnati will go, too. Head for the basement. No, Ft. Knox and the chem weapon dump in Richmond will get pasted. Get a cold beer and go out on the lawn to watch. You are dead." That horror wore out a long time ago.

So a life with these real horrors makes it hard to really horify me. I still try.

224:

I'm pretty jaded with horror movies now. But...I most definitely felt exact horror in the garage scene in the film "Wolf Creek". I won't spoil it...I tried some html tricks to hide the spoiler but none of them hid the text in the preview, and I don't want to pad the comments section with white space.

But that creepy feeling...that realisation that the bad stuff has a lot more to it than I first understood...that's horror for me. Horror is: things are worse than I thought they were. Someone else mentioned A Colder War...same thing there.

(What html formatting is allowed here?)

225:

Anybody here read David Drakes first short stories. Green GIs, (FNGs) in the deep jungle running into very very old things that did not like them.

Specials

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