The Disquieting Guest — A Belated Explanation

10 Nov

It occurs to me, a few columns in, that I should perhaps say a couple of words about the title I have chosen for this series of barely coherent ramblings. While I did, certainly, want to suggest something ghostly, what I also had in mind was horror’s uncomfortable relationship with the rest of the field of speculative fiction.* Horror takes on many forms, but some of those share a clear family resemblance to SF and F. One obvious example is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Though often hailed as the first SF novel, it is also a crucial work in the horror canon (though it is not the first horror novel — that honor goes to Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto). As well, what with many writers crossing over from one genre to the other**, or fusing elements, the lines are very, very blurry.

Frankenstein_engraved

And yet, horror is frequently significant in its absence. I see “SF/F” all the time. “SF/F/H” is much more rare. Not all horror has fantastic aspects, of course, but a lot of it does. And yet, broad discussions of, for example, the sate of “SF/F” will exclude an entire branch of the fantastic.*** There is a sense in which horror is the awkward relative, the one that many people would rather simply went away.

Why is this? One possible answer lies in the name itself. “Horror” announces its intent, which is to make the reader/viewer/player/listener acutely uncomfortable. Unlike SF and F, but like comedy or erotica, it seeks to provoke a physiological reaction. And, in horror’s case, that reaction is, by definition, unpleasant. While readers of SF/F are often asked to justify their taste, the implied judgement in such cases is an aesthetic one, i.e. “Why are you reading such trash?” It is with horror too, but with the added suggestion that its readers are actively seeking to harm themselves.

I don’t know that I’m satisfied with that explanation, however. For the moment, I simply want to note the phenomenon, and raise the question: why exactly is horror the disquieting guest at the SF/F banquet?

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*I know that I have probably opened a half-dozen cans of definitional worms in that sentence, but oh well (expressive shrug). I will trust that you get the general sense of what I mean here. The big question that I am deliberately skirting around is a precise definition of “horror.” I’ll try to get to that another time.

**Please consider the word “genre” extremely provisional. It is, in the end, one that is inadequate, and indeed misleading, for describing horror.

***There are, of course, other exclusions that happen at various times, and with various frequencies, for reasons that can, at times, trumpet their biases rather loudly. See the case of Paranormal Romance, for example.

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  1. Top 10 Posts and Episodes for November 2013 | The Skiffy and Fanty Show - December 2, 2013

    […] The Disquieting Guest — A Belated Explanation by David Annandale […]

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