The Unobvious Horrors

The other day I was proofing a copy-edited manuscript of my forthcoming short story collection [Viewpoints Critical, Tor, March 2008], and I came across a line in the introduction that pointed out that much of what I write has unsettling implications… if the reader thinks about it. This observation followed my reading the introduction that David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer offered to my story “Ghost Mission,” which appears in their annual anthology [Year’s Best Fantasy 7, Tachyon Press] and in which they claim that I’m a romantic.

Yet… if my fantasy and science fiction have unsettling implications, why is it so seldom noticed? So much so that respected editors term me a romantic?

As a side note, I was once asked in which of the worlds I’ve created I’d like to live, and I didn’t even have to think about it. “None of them,” was my immediate answer. I’ll leave it to all of you to consider why my answer was both immediate and vehement — for a moment — but it wasn’t because any of those worlds were quiet and “boring.”

Part of the reason why I’m not considered even a borderline “horror” writer is because I seldom throw the horrifying aspects of the worlds about which I write into my readers’ faces… or figuratively rub your faces in the gore. But… if one thinks about the implications…

Would it really be comfy-cozy to live in a world where the ghost of your teen-aged son or daughter who died in an accident or a lingering illness remained for years to remind you visually and physically that, somehow, perhaps you could have done better?

Would you like the idea of living in a world, like that of Recluce, where every substantial increase in technology resulted in an increase in chaos and societal disruption… somewhere in the world? [Or do we live in a similar world already?]

What about a world such as Liedwahr where the greatest power is wielded by those who have musical abilities most of us can never hope to match? [But is that so different from intellectual capabilities in a high-tech world?]

Or a world such as Corus where abusing the environment will ensure absolutely that a few generations hence every intelligent creature will perish?

Or a future high-tech world such as depicted in Archform:Beauty or Flash, where all of the technological and political/legal protections we have enacted make it virtually impossible to be truly ethical — or to protect your family — without breaking the law?

But…of course… none of these are considered horrifying in comparison to novels that spill entrails everywhere and where evil is conveniently personified in devils or evil politicians or business types out to dominate whatever world is being described. Or where massive fleets of spacecraft [patently impossible both technologically and economically] vie to see whether the good guys and gals or the baddies control the universe.

Then…it just might be that most readers prefer simple and obvious horror and that the less obvious and more real horror hits too close to home.