Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

The Horror From Another Genre

The Agony Column for January 27, 2002

Revised and Expanded January 29, 2003

Commentary by Rick Kleffel



Since horror has been handed its own head -- strike that -- marked space on the shelves at chain bookstores, it's really come into its own as a dissed-with-reason genre, the kind of trashy books you're allowed to read in the summer while tanning on the beach or in the beauty salon while your brain is fried by the Martian mind-control helmets installed in the mid-1960's.

But it hasn't always been that way. Horror wasn't always the stupid stepchild of mystery and science fiction. Horror used to be a part of everyday life and mainstream fiction. Since it's once again become a part of everyday life, what with serial killers, snipers and terrorists popping up like whack-a-moles in the penny arcade, and the world once again comfortably on the brink of constant annihilation, perhaps horror can once again assert its cross-genre presence as something larger than monsters and more interesting than men with knives. One of the reasons I started reading what was slapped between foil covers and served up in plus-sized slabs of paper was that the horror genre seemed to offer good writers a lot of leeway to write any damn kind of book they wanted to write. Science fiction, romance, mainstream, literature -- horror could encompass them all, as long as it had a gerund title and a picture of a child in peril on the cover.

In a recent interview with Ramsey Campbell, this subject came up, and it dovetailed perfectly with a suggestion for a column from reader David Lee Hatch. He then wrote me back after I posted the original column and reminded me that I'd missed an entire and obvious genre. So I'm back again, revising and expanding. I'll plead that I was suffering from the effects of teenager radiation. For those who have already read the column, I've added the entire fantasy genre as a source of horror. You can jump to this link to find the new material. I've also added some comments on the science fiction choices I made, which you can find here. And finally, I've added some reader's suggestions here. As ever, I find myself typing away madly at 4.30 AM and once again stacking books from all corners of the house on the dining room table. And now that the horror genre is dead, it needs a bit of spark from other genres to bring it if not into favor, then at least back to life.

Since Edgar Allen Poe invented both the mystery and the horror story, it's not surprising that the mystery genre has proved to be a reliable source of invasions, incursions and explorations into horror. It's also one of the major reason that horror is no longer viable as a ghettoized genre. Via the mystery genre, horror has left the ghetto and contaminated the mainstream.

Here's a shot of the first edition hardcover of the start of Thomas Harris's famous 'Hannibal Lecter Trilogy'. Or, it's a trilogy until the next book comes out, at which point it becomes either a series or a quartet, depending on the sales outlook.

This is one of the most important horror novels of the past 50 years.

Probably the biggest entrée for over-the-top horror into the popular consciousness was the novel 'Silence of the Lambs' by Thomas Harris. If you haven't heard of this novel, or seen the letter-perfect movie adaptation, then you need to come down off the mountaintop. 'Silence of the Lambs' made the horror genre -- or genre horror, more precisely -- disappear. There was nothing left for the punks to splatter after Thomas Harris took it all apart with surgical precision in his carefully crafted character study of FBI trainee Clarice Starling and psychopath Hannibal Lecter. Harris hit all the grace notes of a full-blown supernatural horror novel without ever resorting to the supernatural. His depictions of horrific scenes and his ability to create flesh-crawling terror were serving the needs of a story of fully developed characters in conflict, compromise and consent. Harris didn't flinch in what he revealed, nor did falter when he restrained. 'Silence of the Lambs' is the kind of balancing act that many readers think is too good to be called horror.

This is not one of the most important horror novels of the last 50 years. The disappointment was audible.

Harris is responsible for the monster he created, and 'Hannibal' his follow-up to 'Silence of the Lambs' was more than disappointing for the wide following he had gained. Harris made a tough choice to follow both the characters and the horror, and his tale alienated readers who were expecting a more sympathetic psychopath combined with a more confident cop. Instead, we were served a good deal more horror than most wanted, with characters turned in precisely opposite the direction most readers had hoped for. All of this would have been a lot more forgivable had the twists in plot been as unexpected as those of character. 'Hannibal' is literally all over the place. Instead of lucid, we get ludicrous; in place of intricacy, we get incoherence. Even characters we liked a lot doing exactly what we had hoped for would have been hard-pressed to make this novel as enjoyable as we wanted, given the hoops that Harris has set in place. Yes, 'Hannibal' might have found it hard to live up the mountainous expectations that awaited it. Ten years in the making and the careful prose of 'Silence of the Lambs' left readers with the impression that Harris was handcrafting a masterful follow-up to an unanticipated masterpiece. In any analysis, however, 'Hannibal' failed to match the quality of 'Silence of the Lambs'.

Still, the effect on the horror genre and mainstream literature was volcanic. We still can't get rid of novels that promise characters as compelling as Hannibal Lecter, in either mainstream thrillers, mystery novels or the foil-wrapped horror ghetto. That's a monster that Harris is not responsible for. For those fallen forests of bad books, we can lay the blame firmly at the feet of the publishing industry, which failed to recognize that Harris's original work was so popular not because it was about a serial killer, but because it was well-written. Still, 'Silence of the Lambs' stands the test of time as a compelling invasion and use of the horror genre by a mainstream mystery writer.

Mo Hayder's 'Birdman' had some evocative locations but an annoying protagonist.

The protagonist and his gal are still annoying, but the criminals are electrifyingly good in 'The Treatment'.

For those looking for something a tad more recent -- and not as well known -- as 'Silence of the Lambs', Mo Hayder's 'The Treatment' might be a good place to start. Hayder's first novel, 'Birdman' was firmly in the Lecter-ripoff category, including the egregious cover blurb comparison. But she's working the police procedural mystery beat with a definite flair for creating a moist, wet London and an annoyingly depressed cop. His (literally) tortured artist girlfriend doesn't help matters much. But when Hayder gets round to talking about the petty criminals and small-time scum who inhabit the world of pedophilia and child molestation that she creates, she hits a nerve like nobody's business. You're going to have to have a strong stomach for scenes of children in peril and beyond to read this novel, but it's an amazingly effective evocation of nearly supernatural-seeming horror that never leaves the gritty grottoes of reality. A follow-up is definitely called for, and despite the bad taste that this novel left behind, I'm quite interested in seeing what happens next.

I tried but failed to pry the books out of this 1970's vintage box set of Tolkien. I resorted to a kitchen knife, but they're really, really stuck. Part of this are effective horror set-pieces.

This 1960's vintage edition of Peake is a great find. It includes all the illustrations that Peake himself created. I occasionally read aloud Lord Sepulchrave's dinner reverie.

Robert Jordan's number one best-selling fantasy has oodles of horror inside, including a very fine set piece in a town haunted by something we never quite see.

Since much of what used to be called horror is now called 'dark fantasy', it's no surprise that fantasy make use of the horror genre on a regular basis. It's often done as part of a fantasy series. Surely large parts of many famous fantasies are categorizable as horror. Tolkien's scenes in Moria and Mordor are fine set pieces of both cosmic and personal terror. In 'Titus Groan', Mervyn Peake offers a number of scenes of comic terror, as Lord Sepulchrave goes slowly mad. Robert E. Howard dripped blood and split skulls in his Conan stories, but the thrust of the stories was more on the fantasy side of the equation rather than the horror side. Both Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith crossed back and forth between fantasy and horror, as did their inspiration, Lord Dunsany.

Robert Jordan does a very fine pastiche of Dracula in his latest novel, 'Crossroads of Twilight'. Any reader who has not yet checked out Brian McNaughton's 'The Throne of Bones' should hie themselves hence and pick up this fabulous fantasy penned by a horror writer. It's totally over-the-top flesh-eating fun, but in the final analysis, fantasy that incorporates horror. But surprisingly, the number of fantasy writers who write full-blown horror is not as great as one would suspect.


James Herbert gets down with horny fairies and other creatures from the fantasy pantheon in 'Once...', which is probably enough.

Mark Chadbourn has one foot in the world of horror and one foot in the world of fantasy in his newest novel. How could I forget this stuff -- this is one my more favorite series. If you like either horror or fantasy, then give these books a try.

A number of horror writers have used fantasy genre tropes to bolster their horror novels with varying success. James Herbert tried to incorporate stories of faerie into 'Once…', but the integration consisted mainly of hot sex with ethereal women. Mark Chadbourn, on the other hand, is a fascinating absolute middle-of-the-road success. Is he a fantasy writer writing horror or a horror writer writing fantasy? I'd trend towards the latter take, but in any event his 'World's End', 'Darkest Hour' and 'Always Forever' are terrorizing novels of horror that bring fantasy elements to life. His newest novel, 'The Devil in Green', continues the tales told in this world but with a new set of characters. It's an interesting way to extend the life of a series by exploring the fascinating world he's created with a new set of characters. Science fiction writers do this all the time, but it's not as common in the horror and fantasy world. If you were to consider him a fantasy writer, then you would certainly consider his PS Publishing novella 'The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke' a very effective invasion into the horror world that most assuredly uses elements of fantasy fiction.


James Barclay effectively uses elements of stalking terror in his latest fantasy novel.

James Barclay is another fantasy writer who uses large elements of horror in his work. 'Dawnthief', 'Noonshade' and 'Nightchild' all incorporate lots of horrific monsters and violence. Barclay shows a gleeful willingness to execute major characters in violent and emotionally wrenching scenes. It gives his fantasy a gritty edge of realism, while taking it over the edge into horror. His latest novel, 'Elfsorrow' is probably the most horrific of all, incorporating scenes where readers will find themselves fearing the good guys. There are absolutely terrorizing visions of characters we like and dislike being stalked by characters we like and dislike. Barclay crosses the sympathy border so often as to positively erase it with his footsteps. For readers who enjoyed the movie 'Predator', there are scenes of jungle stalking here that will bring back the best parts of that film. But once again, this is not an invasion of the horror genre, but rather a use of horrific techniques in fantasy fiction.


Chine Mieville writes fantasy that is so thoroughly laced with horror that some readers find it too much. They surely don't know what they're missing.

Mieville's 'The Scar' has a terrifying scene set on an island of vampires the likes of which you've never seen before. He has a few slightly more standard-issue vampires as well.

China Mieville bears some mention here as well, but once again, he's more of a horror writer who's turned to fantasy and taken his grue with him. His first novel, 'King Rat' was an out-and-out contemporary horror novel. He then turned to what I'd call science fantasy with 'Perdido Street Station' and 'The Scar'. Both are set on the created-by-Mieville world of Bas-Lag, which is populated by lots of very bizarre and alienesque critters and races. 'Perdido Street Station' features some monster of a Lovecraftian nature, while 'The Scar' has a set-piece on an island populated by the nastiest vampire-like thingies you'll ever have the displeasure to read about. Yes, both novels feature horror, but both are essentially science fantasy at heart. Their intent is to cause wonder -- mixed with nausea for some readers. They are eminently successful on all levels. Now if 'The Tain' qualifies as a contemporary horror novel -- I'm hoping to get it in the next couple of days -- then perhaps we can peg Mieville as a fantasy writer who invades horror. But in the interim, he'll just have to be a great writer that readers should seek out and plan to enjoy.


Terry Brooks was probably hoping to capture some of that Stephen King audience with this horror novel

This horror novel gets the phrase 'dark fantasy' blurbed right on to the cover.

Don't hate him because he's popular. But writing a horror trilogy might be reason enough.

There are in fact at least two fantasy writers who have invaded the horror genre with the full and obvious intent of writing novels of terror, and who had in previous works, focused on big fat doorstop trilogies. You never thought you'd be reading this name in this column. Terry Brooks wrote 'The Sword of Shannara', which made Tolkien fans around the world either joyful or furious. (I was in the latter camp when they came out -- I remember seeing them in the college bookstore at U. C. Irvine and ranting about them. But I'll admit that back then I was also already tired of Tolkien as well.) He then paid for several mansions (I hope) with innumerable follow-ups and almost single-handedly established the Generic Celtic Fantasy Industry. Now, since I haven't read any of these, and don't intend to, I can't really speak to them other than to say they don't look like my cup of tea.

But Brooks, like any good industrialist, knew a huge fan base will follow a writer if they don't stray too far, and so in 1998, he released a full-blown mainstream-style horror novel titled 'Running With the Demon'. I have to admit that I gave it more than a few glances back then, and it still seems that it might have a slack-jawed-read-n-drool appeal, if I had enough time to read it. But no doubt, Brooks is a fantasy writer who invaded the horror world with enough success to get a horror trilogy published. What else would you expect from a fantasy writer? He followed up 'Running With the Demon' with 'A Knight in the Wood' and 'Angel Fire East'. 'A Knight in the Wood' gets the "dark fantasy" label blurbed right on the to cover, since horror is a dirty word as far as publishers go. Apparently that was enough horror, however, since he's now returned to Shannara.


Steven Erikson's atmospheric tale from the Malazan empire might really be appealing to Mieville's fans. Though they're set in a fantasy world, the novellas themselves are very much in the horror genre, with a creeping sense of menace. No quests or battles here!

A fantasy writer who has three doorstops out but has taken the time to pen some wonderful novellas of horror is Steven Erikson. His 2002 novella 'Blood Follows', was good enough to make me buy his doorstops, and I look forward to the time when I can get round to reading them. But even though it's set in his fantasy world of Malazan, 'Blood Follows' is nice little tale of toe-tapping terror. The second tale in this series of novellas, 'The Healthy Dead', also featuring Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, is due out any day now from PS Publishing. Erikson's evocation of the city Lamentable Moll, haunted by demons and other supernatural entities is powerful, urban and moody. Readers who like atmospheric supernatural horror would be well advised to find these scarce novellas. It's rather surprising to me that there haven't been more fantasy writers who have attempted what Brooks in particular tried. Yes, there's a lot of cross pollination between the genres, but not so much invasion from fantasy into horror. Perhaps the right explanation comes from the innumerable mystery novels where the advice is to 'Follow the money'.

This novel has an index. Don't say you weren't warned.

Since it's so absurdly easy to write a horror novel, writers of highfalutin' literature do so on a regular basis. Once you've swept away the detritus left behind by their often-embarrassing attempts (after all, it was only a lark to write a horror novel) some well-heeled successes show themselves. For a huge novel of brooding, cosmic supernatural terror that is so literary it hauls itself clearly over into the realm of the experimental, you need look no further than Mark Z. Danielewski's 'House of Leaves'. If any author ever wanted to sign up for the More Metafictional Than Thou award, it's Danielewski. This is a novel with an index.

Danielewski is clearly having way too much fun in 'House of Leaves'. He pushes the envelope, then tears it into shreds and sets it on fire with typesetting that must have had his exceedingly generous and permissive publisher, Pantheon tearing their hair out in clumps. But the result is a powerful, utterly weird novel of dislocation and darkness. Don't expect a page-turning thriller here, though the pages will turn and there are plenty of thrills. Instead prepare for an immersive reading experience unlike any you've yet encountered. On the flip side of this is the potential that the novel will utterly alienate some readers, proving too difficult for the rewards that it parses out. Here's a novel that absolutely requires effort to read, and repays it in kind. Still, climbing Mount Everest requires effort and repays it in kind. That doesn't mean that every reader will find the reward justifies the effort. But this is ever true of experimental and literary fiction. 'House of Leaves' is an excellent example of what happens When Experimental Literary Writers Attack. It may not make a great television series, but it certainly can make for compelling reading.

Here's the book cover beneath the dust jacket of 'House of Leaves'. The chaotic look gives some idea of what's up with the novel

The portion of text in the blue inset lines is actually reversed text from the following page. More fonts here than at Adobe!

'House of Leaves' is a book that demands that you pick it up, page through it, look at it, put your toes in the water before diving in. It's the kind of book that makes bookstores worth visiting, and leaves the Internet storefronts swinging in the wind. Even if it does not sound like a book you'd enjoy, you should certainly take the time to visit your local independent bookstore and page through to see what a talented writer, no a talented artist can do, having applied himself to the idea of writing an experimental horror novel. Pantheon, having suffered a long time, is to be congratulated for getting output that looks so great, even in a trade paperback version. I urge all readers to at least take a peek at this novel the next time they're out shopping. You may not like it -- you may not buy it -- but you'll certainly be glad you've seen it.

Joyce Carol Oates all-too-human killer made 'Zombie' a very uncomfortable novel to read.

Danielewski's not the only literary writer to invade the horror genre. Joyce Carol Oates invades so often, she's almost categorizable as a genre writer herself. Her apotheosis of horror is 'Zombie', a disturbing first-person narration by a serial killer that strikes us not with its horror but its humanity. For all the reprehensible things the narrator does, for all the terror he inflicts, it's the observations that make him seem like us that are the most disturbing. Oates' invasion of the horror genre was eminently successful, since she won the Bram Stoker award for this fine, unsettling novel. More importantly, she also garnered mainstream critical success and was able to keep her label as a literary writer, though obviously at this point she's on the darker side of the shelves.

Joyce Carol Oates then lent her literary cachet to Lovecraft with this collection of his stories selected and introduced by Oates.

But 'Zombie' wasn't her only entrée into the horror genre. In 1997, Ecco Press published the Oates-selected 'Tales of H. P. Lovecraft'. The stories she selected comprise an excellent summation of Lovecraft's best fiction. More importantly, for Lovecraft has been collected ad nauseum, this particular selection was by a writer largely accepted as a literary figure. Yes, Lovecraft has a lot of fans in the speculative fiction world, and he generally receives the regard he deserves; but in the world of mainstream literature, he's still rarely regarded and not given the stature most aficionados feel he deserves. Oates, a mainstream literary figure, certainly brought some cachet to Lovecraft with her selection. An excerpt from her perceptive introductory essay, can be found here.

Anne Arensberg find horror in fortean happenings and small towns.

Martin Amis used a science fictional device in a literary horror novel.

You must have a very well-adjusted family to be able to read this novel without cringing.

I'd love to hold my tongue, but it's not possible, apparently. So I'm forced to mention the ever popular 'Time's Arrow' by Martin Amis and 'Incubus' by Anne Arensberg. 'Time's Arrow' plays the simple science fictional trick of running time backwards, and the results are particularly horrific when viewed from the point of a physician who got his start during the Holocaust. Arensburg flirts with a massive dose of Forteana, and comes up with a chilling and intriguing tale of a small town invaded in the 1970's by entities that seem to be taking their cues from John Keel. Of course, I could go on and on, from the origins of horror and the novel itself, right up through 'The Corrections' which is a rather chilling look at the today's families. I don't need to beat my readers upside the head with this -- mainstream and experimental literature are well-known for birthplaces for successful, well-written horror fiction. The literary invaders? We can only hope.

One might be tempted to think that science fiction readers and writers would find a great kinship with horror readers and writers. It's simply not the case. At Worldcon this year, I found myself constantly amazed by the number of readers who didn't know -- or wish to know -- anything about the horror genre, current horror writers, or any horror fiction. It was pretty clear to me that most SF fans looked down on horror as being beneath their notice, somehow scuzzier than the more intelligent genre of Science Fiction.

John W. Campbell, Jr. is one of those guys who invented science fiction as you know it. Thank him -- I think!

The movies based on his work had a pretty big impact. The first version of 'The Thing' talked about the military versus the scientific mind, while the second version tanked the career of director John Carpenter, though it's now acknowledged as a classic bit of film making. Or it should be.

How this could happen in a genre that owes its birth to John W. Campbell, Jr.? Arguably his finest and best-known story is 'Who Goes There?' which deftly and perfectly mixes science fiction, horror and mystery in equal portions to transcend time and space. Or, at least time and space go away when a reader starts this classic story. Few writers before -- other than horror writer H. P. Lovecraft -- and few writers after -- whom I will shortly be naming -- have hit upon Campbell's perfect-pitch ability to describe scenes of anatomical and psychological terror as well as Campbell. Perhaps the presence of horror in works that are so thoroughly science fiction and seem so thoroughly science-fictional is the strongest argument that horror itself is not a genre, but rather a literary tool that writers can use to achieve a multiplicity of ends.

If you've only seen the movie based on this book, read the novel. It's very witty and well written, as well as terrifying.

For a meditation on identity and terror that follows directly from Campbell's incept point to the McCarthyesque 1950's few can equal Jack Finney's 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'. They've made a couple of excellent movies out of this source material, and it's not just because the original novel has a good idea. Finney is a tremendously skilled writer, and 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' is still a cracking good read, literary, terse and successful on all levels. You all know the story, but most are probably not familiar with the easy, sinuous power of Finney's prose. 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' is funny, slick, pointed and sharp as a box full of Ginzu knives. Here's another book that shouldn't be judged by any of the movies made from it, good or bad. The book stands on its own as a powerful statement of how science fiction can be used to create pure and simple terror.

I can barely make myself think about certain passages of this novel.

Readers of this column should have a pretty good idea of where I'm headed next. While science fiction fans may not think too much of horror, the horror 'genre' has been invaded by science fiction writers on a regular basis. Thomas Disch's 'The M. D.' is a toe-curling tale of terror reminiscent of more recent works by Graham Joyce. In it, as a young boy, Billy Williams is bequeathed a vision of Santa Claus, in reality the god of medical science, Mercury. Williams is offered the caduceus, a talisman with the power to heal and to kill. What follows is a horrifying, terrifying story of a Faustian bargain. As an adult, Williams creates a plague only he can heal. There are scenes in this book that readers will never, ever forget, as illnesses are inflicted on the helpless in a fashion that makes Lecter and company look positively beneficent. Tiny elements of science fiction are used to bolster the horror that Disch unleashes, with excellent effect. 'The M. D.' shows that Disch knows what horror is all about.

These novels and novellas are a fantastic way to experience well-written horror and science fiction simultaneously.

More recent invaders of the horror genre from science fiction include Alastair Reynolds, Neal Asher and Richard Morgan. I wrote an entire column on Reynolds' work as horror, and probably don't need to belabor the point again here. But readers who might have managed to miss Reynolds finely written explorations of gothic horror in a science fictional setting need look no further than (listed in chronological order) 'Revelation Space', 'Chasm City' or 'Redemption Ark'. His latest release from Victor Gollancz, 'Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days', consists of two novellas replete with creepy imagery and ominous ambiance. Reynolds effectively creates the same emotions of awe and terror evoked by both Ramsey Campbell and the movie 'Alien'.

Even the cover of this first novella by Neal Asher was terrifying.

'Gridlinked' is a bonified hoot of a novel. Enjoy it now!

Neal Asher has been called 'the master of sci-fi horror' since British specialty press Tanjen first issued 'The Parasite' in 1996. With 'Gridlinked', 'The Skinner' and the upcoming novel 'The Line of Polity', he has more than lived up to that early label. Using broad, gripping strokes of blood-and-guts prose, he builds up complex pictures of a universe that is hazardous and voracious. 'Gridlinked' introduced Ian Cormac, a cross between the Terminator and James Bond, tracking down insidious aliens and horrifically altered humans in hostile environments. Asher's books read like lightning and they seem simple until the reader is about halfway through. That's when the accumulated detail and complexity starts to impinge on a reading-unconsciousness that is tearing through page after page with the same gusto Asher's monsters and aliens gulp down human flesh.

'The Skinner' is both page turning and complex. It's easy to read and yet very satisfying.

'The Skinner' is set in the same 'Runcible universe' and details the happenings on the planet Spatterjay, an ocean-based ecology that proves every bit as complex as Frank Herbert's 'Dune' but a thousand times more deadly. It's also a lot faster reading, as Asher spins another seemingly simple story of three characters searching for a fourth. Asher spray-paints his world in day-glo colors, predominantly red and blue. For all the action, for all the gore, for all the out-and-out slack-jawed-drooling-sci-fi-fan's-feast that Asher serves up, 'The Skinner' is a remarkably calm and knowing novel. His characters are not all sympathetic, but they're all fascinating and readers will enjoy each one they meet and look forward to any characters' appearance in the narrative. Such is Asher's skill that AI subminds that other writers might leave on the sideline get fully -- well, not fleshed, really, but certainly filled in with detail and humor that makes even their appearances a joy.

Asher's latest will satisfy his old fans and bring in new ones. Look for it in March from Tor UK. Place your order now to ensure a first printing.

Asher's latest novel, 'The Line of Polity' ups the ante once again. It heralds the return of Ian Cormac, in search of separatists and rogue scientists who have turned themselves into weapons of mass destruction. Much of the action takes place on Masada, a world that is about to fall under the line of Polity and into Earth's control. That can't come a minute too soon for the masses who live as slaves on the surface of the planet, watched over by a Theocracy that controls them with space-based lasers. As one might expect, there's room for quite a bit of topical and timeless political commentary in such a story, and Asher rips into his subject with a joy that is positively frightening to behold. Just beyond Asher's tide of monsters and fairy tales, his humor and horror, there's some very serious and rather angry thoughts. It's a tribute to his writing skill that he manages his anger so successfully in the novel format. 'The Line of Polity' is surely one of the best science fiction books you're going to read this year.

Richard Morgan's 'Altered Carbon' caught a lot of people by surprise with it's intense scenario.

'Broken Angels' promises to reveal the universe behind Morgan's first novel.

Finally, there's Richard Morgan, who brought science fiction and mystery to horror's table in last year's 'Altered Carbon'. Here was a science fiction mystery that gave 'Silence of the Lambs' something to think about, but with a much more compelling aspect of the classic American mystery. With all the cleverness of his science fiction setting, with all the complexity of his fascinating mystery, Morgan really mined the depths of horror in creating a world where human consciousness can be re-sleeved into a new body. That concept may not be new, but Morgan's exploration of the consequences was filled with teeth-rattling scenes of gore and awe that stretched quickly into terror. Morgan combined mystery and science fiction to invade the horror genre with high-tech, high-tension and powerful drama. 'Altered Carbon' is a novel for almost every science fiction reader -- except those with a low tolerance for horrific violence. A *very* informed correspondent suggests that 'Altered Carbon' is not particularly horror. To a certain extent, I can see this point of view, right up until I remember some key scenes that in any perspective are, as I said above teeth-rattling. But the vibe, to be honest is more mystery than horror. However, Morgan's next novel, 'Broken Angels', promises to extend his universe and achieve an even grimmer level of despair, with the same compelling characterization that kept readers' eyes glued to the page in 'Altered Carbon'. I'm reading it at this moment, and I'll report my findings shortly. I suspect that there will be a more Lovecraftian feel of horror,along with ultra-violence that would leave little Alex with a big smile.

The Mother of All Foil -- the first edition of 'Interview with the Vampire' broke the foil barrier and cost horror publishers millions in cheesy, expensive imitation covers.

One genre readers might not expect to be invading horror is the romance genre. But in point of fact, it's one of the most prevalent sources of invasion. Remember that all horror fiction as once classified as Romance fiction. And then look at the writer who is quite probably the best-selling horror and romance author -- Anne Rice. Starting with 'Interview with a Vampire', Rice forged a path to the top of the bestseller list by writing gay romances with horrific themes and characters. What else could you call the culinary journey of 'Interview With A Vampire' other than the story of two men in love and the meals they ate -- most of which happened to be human. Rice continued her Grand Guignol love story across numerous sequels, and even penned some kinky novels under an alias set in a B&D vacation resort. She defied genre and convention and has been and continues to be hugely successful.

Is it horror, science fiction or romance? Whatever it is it's definitely Jonathan Carroll's original vibe.

While Jonathan Carroll is usually pigeonholed with the science fiction or horror writers, he considers all of his novels to be romances, with supernatural overtones that stretch into awe and terror. His latest novel, 'White Apples' explores the complexities of love and the terror of the unknown. He invades the horror genre by pursuing the ambiguities of perception into the depths of an unknowable universe, where the rules of a life can change on a dime, bringing back the dead, sliding lovers from one time stream into another, confronting men and women with fleshed-out concretizations of their deepest anxieties. Yes, in every word and gesture, Carroll is talking about love, and to think of it, what's more terrifying than being in love?

What becomes clear when one looks at horror from other genres is that the horror genre is a lot more common than publishers and booksellers and even readers may want to admit. Few mystery readers will proudly proclaim that they enjoy violent scenes of human dismemberment that achieve an almost cosmic terror hidden within the depths of the human heart. But more than a few readers flocked to read Harris' 'Silence of the Lambs'. Few literati will want to admit that soul-wrenching cosmic terror is a mainstay of their mainstream taste. But more than a few went way out of their way to enter 'The House of Leaves'. Few science fiction readers want to wallow in rivers of gore, but John W. Campbell's 'Who Goes There?' set the standards that writers like Jack Finney, Alastair Reynolds, Neal Asher and Richard Morgan meet and exceed with each new novel. Few romance readers will rally to read about blood-sucking fiends. But more than a few romance readers have followed the corpse-strewn path of Anne Rice's Lestat to see if their favorite vampire can ever, ever find true happiness.

Yes, it's possible to look at horror as that trashy little group of books sadly stuffed together in the corner of Bordersarnes&*. It's also possible that horror is the genre beyond all others. It's possible that horror is not just a genre, but a most effective tool to dig into the unconscious minds of readers and writers. Don't hate horror because it is beautifully written and badly packaged. Horror is everywhere. You can take it, as long as you're not afraid to look in the mirror.




Rick Kleffel


Addendum 1/28/03:

Readers have responded with lists of their own -- and I think that the suggestions are intriguing enough that others will want to see what they suggest. I've got suggestions like this before, and I don't know why it didn't occur to me until now to append them to the column. Without further ado, then let me add the first two lists from correspondents.


The first was the inestimable John Pelan, a wealth of information and suggestions for fine reading:

Harry Crews - FEAST OF SNAKES, CELEBRATION (two name but a couple)

Flannery O'Connor - A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND (among others)






Cormac McCarthy - BLOOD MERIDIAN

Davis Grubb - NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (and many of his short stories)


Hell, I could do this all night... (But I won't) ;-)




John Pelan


Next up is Randy Money -- and I agree with him on the Faulkner; Randy if you like Faulkner (are you folks getting tired of this yet) you owe it to yourself to check out William Gay.

Let it rip Randy:

Okay, so I'll weigh in ...

_The Night has a Thousand Eyes_ by Cornell Woolrich (primarily a

mystery writer)

_The Island of Dr. Moreau_ by H. G. Wells (s.f.)

_The Church of Dead Girls_ by Stephen Dobyns (lit.)

"Black Destroyer" & "Asylum" by A. E. Van Vogt (sf)

_The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch_ by Philip K. Dick (sf)

_Fata Morgana_ by William Kotzwinkle (marginally horror by a lit.



I also find William Faulkner's _Absalom, Absalom!_ frightening in its implications, but suspect I'm on my own in thinking it marginally horror.

 I'll leave it at that.

Randy M.(Money)


And of course the eminently observant David Lee Hatch suggests.....

Great article, though I was rather perplexed re: your lack of fantasy--to my mind, fantasy is much more linked w/ horror than SF or mainstream. I mean, think about it - both genres, horror and fantasy, sort of go after an emotional rather than an intellectual response, and both genres use the supernatural to instill a sense of awe and fear. I mean, you listed many great examples of SF-horror, but even w/ those, the "weird stuff" usually has to accounted for in terms of workable scientific theory. And even some of the classic monsters of horror fiction show up in fantasy - I'm thinking of CASmith and his vampires, Brian Mcnaughton and his ghouls - hell, there's even mention of werewolves in THE LAST UNICORN. And, of course, ghosts frequently show up in fantasy tales as well. Anyway, I loved the column, but was disappointed not to see things like Robert E. Howard (Conan is all about fighting monsters!), Michael Moorcock, Tanith Lee, Brian Mcnaughton, Michael Shea, Tolkien, Peake, stuff I know you read!!!!