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January 22, 2002


The Supernatural Addiction

© by Rick Kleffel 2002


Admit it -- you're addicted to the supernatural. If you don't get that little frisson of weirdness when you're reading a book, it's -- it's just lacking. Not quite good enough. What can you do but head to the bookstore and stand staring at the horror ghetto (if there is one)? It's a pretty sparse ghetto. You've got 25 books by Stephen King, 15 books by Dean Koontz, 10 by Anne Rice (unless they've filed her under Romance), 5 by Peter Straub (at least when he's recently published a collaboration with King), 2 by Clive Barker and 10 by 10 other authors who are getting a shot this month. It's like going to a restaurant where you've ordered everything too many times. What do you do?

This question comes to mind with the visit of a family friend who has recently found her way into horror and she's got the addiction. Serial killers are no good. Mysteries are not mysterious enough. And science fiction is too shiny, and surprisingly, not very weird. What is it about horror fiction that is so compelling? It's not particularly escapist fiction. Sure, few of us are going to meet ghosts, vampires or werewolves. But the protagonists of horror novels and stories also meet bills, jobs and humanity in full spectrum, from merely annoying to dangerously abusive. Yet, to get that frisson, the horror reader needs that one thing more -- a nice dollop of unreality mixed into the harsh mirror reflection. Why?

Enough with the questions. What do you do? Diversify, of course. Look at those other writers in the horror ghetto. You might see James P. Blaylock's 'The Rainy Season', or Brian Stableford's 'Werewolves of London'. Then, step around the corner and carefully look through the SF section. There's you might find Tim Powers' 'Declare', or Lucius Shepherd's 'The Golden'. Muddle through the unicorns and elves section, and you might find China Mieville's 'Perdido Street Station'. Another notch over, in the fiction section, you might find Mark Z. Danielewski's 'House of Leaves'. They all have more than enough of the stuff to provide a nice little fix, with that 'new author' thrill that is such an unmatchable experience.

Since you're reading this online, you have access to the best book search engines money need not buy. Look for review sites, and new vendors who specialize in your requirement. I'll be covering these in more detail as the columns march forward. If you're a vendor or reviewer, send me an email and I'll take a look at your wares. I personally like to go to the UK to pick up a lot of material. Many of the best horror writers currently at work today publish only in the UK, and many who eventually wind up in the US publish first.

Now as to why you want it -- however "it" might be described. For me, the supernatural, the weird, even the science fictional (when it is good science fiction, and there's a lot more of that about than there used to be) all appeal because they allow a good author to externalize emotions, to provide a bigger vicarious kick when the reader wants to lash out. It allows us to go beyond ourselves and our lives, to look back in anger and fear and terror and hatred, to create wounds that heal leaving the mind and body stronger, more capable of dealing with the terrors that everyday live can dish out. At least, that's how it works for me.

I'm going to be writing about horror and science fiction and regular fiction and non fiction, about books and movies twice a week. I'll respond to your enquiries and suggestions. I buy most of the books I read read -- say 95%, so I try to select books that I'll like. I can't always be right, but it's my money, and I don't want to waste it.



Rick Kleffel