My friend reads a lot of horror fiction. I’ve never been all that attracted to horror even though it crosses over with the fantasy genre which is something I read quite a bit. However, because of my friend, I’ve learned a lot about horror and begun to read some. He enjoys reading many of the small press horror writers which actually are some of the better horror writers from what I understand. For instance, my friend says that a number of horror writers consider Ligotti to be one of the best living horror writers and yet Ligotti is practically unknown.
Anyways, my friend and I talk about fiction all of the time. We share some of the same favorite writers (such as William S. Burroughs and Barry Yourgrau), but usually we’re reading entirely different authors. In particular, this past year or so, my friend has read hardly nothing else besides horror. So, even though I’ve read only a smattering of horror, I’ve listened to my friend read quotes from and give synopsis of hundreds of horror stories.
I’ve come to have more respect for the horror genre. Because it deals with human suffering in such a direct fashion, its heavily influenced by philosophical and religious ideas. Interestingly, horror has attracted a number of writers of the Catholic persuasion. Horror writers for sure have been influenced by the ideas of Catholocism: original sin, fallen world, demonology, etc.
I pretty much appreciate any imaginative fiction partly because imaginative fiction tends to be fiction of profound ideas. Philip K. Dick is one of the writers of profound ideas, but he is somewhat opposite from horror writers. PKD used Science fiction for his plots even though his stories were often more fundamentally fantasy. The closest that PKD came to horror would’ve been A Scanner Darkly. That book could be made into horror with only minor changes.
I was discussing with my friend the differences between the genres. I was thinking about how its rare for writers to combine horror and science fiction, and when they do its usually through the mediation of fantasy. Fantasy crosses over easily with both horror and science fiction maybe because fantasy is a more general category.
I’m reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson right now. I started it quite a while back but became distracted by other books. I decided to finish it now as its a direct influence on Google Earth and other virtual worlds. It has some similarities to PKD: the average hero and the interspersing of philosophical discussion. But its a bit more hard sci-fi than PKD tended towards.
Hard sci-fi often goes for these massive multiperspective epic narratives. This is quite different from horror. Horror is more likely to go for the small scale and single perspective. Horror writing often creates a sense of isolation and claustrophobia through an extreme subjective narrative voice. This disallows one to see outside of the character and thus magnifies the emotional impact.
Ligotti believes you need the subjective perspective of a single human to register the horror. A horror story can’t be portrayed from the perspective of the monster. The monster portrayed can never touch upon the imagination in the same way as a monster left as a mystery. This is why Lovecraft stories too often make terrible movies because monsters in movies can come off as simply ridiculous. Horror is a profound emotion that isn’t fundamentally about blood and guts. Slasher movies aren’t the most horrific stories.
Besides the claustrophobia of subjectivity, the other technique is intimacy. Almost everyone remembers sitting around a campfire or in a tent sharing ghost stories. This is often recreated in horror stories. Poe used this technique, for instance, in The Telltale Heart. The main character in that story is telling the story in what seems to be a confession. This intimacy creates sympathy all the while throwing one off with questions of the narrator’s reliability. Part of the horror is how the narrator tries to make sense what happened or else tries to rationalize what he did.
How this is different from science fiction is that with sf there is much more action by and interaction between characters. SF characters may spend pages explaining some idea but they don’t tend to tell the story. The narrator’s voice is more likely to be less identified with the subjective perspective or at least not a single subjective perspective.
This is intriguing in what it says about human nature. Science fiction tends towards the optimistic by taking on the big picture. Horror tends towards the pessimistic by confining it to the small view.