Once again, I’ve been enjoying a great conversation with Dan Bensen about genre. It began with a mutual rave fest over the inter-genre brilliance of Lois McMaster Bujold, particularly around the elements of horror in The Sharing Knife series (which would be more broadly classified under fantasy in the vein of the Alvin Maker series). We agreed that it’s one mark of a book with rich world-building when imagining the story being told from the perspective of another character in the series would easily recast it as a different genre.
This seems, to me, to play out especially well in science fiction vs. horror. Horror has a good grasp on the value of the unseen monster: if you can’t get a fix on it to explain it, you can’t feel any confidence in the resolution, leaving the possibility of terror hanging in the air. Science fiction, however, thrives on meeting the new and unexplained and giving it a name, learning its language, figuring out how it dies or what will persuade it to be nice so it’s not scary any more. If you look at a story from the boots-on-the-ground, oh-god-we’re-all-dying-one-by-one perspective of, say, a military commander failing to get a group to safety, you’ve got horror. If you turn it around and look at the situation from the viewpoint of, for an extreme example, a scientist in the lab with the ability to measure and test the situation for variables under more controlled circumstances, the same premise can become science fiction. Which genre the story ultimately belongs in depends on which perspective wins: knowledge or fear.
This realization led me to the epiphany that I should probably be writing horror instead of science fiction…the one arena where my inherited tendency to anxiety might actually be an asset. If you can think of a rational solution to a scary problem, I can come up with a catastrophic point of failure.
This realization in turn led me to think it would be fun to write a horror story from the perspective of the correspondence between two people reacting to horrific crisis: the rational, optimistic scientist observing the situation from a safe distance and a military commander in charge of the situation on the ground. Dan graciously invited me to riff on his alien incursion story base on the Lolo Complex forest fires last year, so I’m going to try my hand at something a little different.
More to come on that soon.