Author Topic: Science Fiction vs. Horror  (Read 16314 times)

Cutter McKay

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 952
  • "I was the turkey the whoooole time!"
    • Detention Block AA23
on: March 13, 2013, 03:47:11 PM
So we're about halfway through the contest now and it has been awesome. Many great stories, many more great ideas that maybe failed somewhere in execution, but are full of potential. Congrats to everyone who has put themselves out there for all to see.

I wanted to ask a question here, something that I've been wondering over the course of the contest. So far, I've noticed that in most groups there has been at least one science fiction based story. Bound, Sims, Dwindled Dawn, Happiness is... and inevitably at least one person who comments on the story says something to the effect of, "A good story, but seems like it should be on Escape Pod rather than PsuedoPod." Which is essentially saying, "This is science fiction, not horror."

Now, I'm not calling any of these forumers out. If you're someone who has said this about one of these stories, that's fine. You're entitled to your opinion. What I want to understand is why people have a harder time accepting a story as horror if it takes place in a sci-fi setting.

In my opinion, when it comes to genre, Sci-Fi and Fantasy are most typically defined by setting. That's not to say that the setting is the story, no, the characters or ideas are what make the story, but it's the setting, (new world, magic systems, futuristic, technological) that defines which genre a story will fall under.

Horror, on the other hand, is not about setting. Horror is about perception. Horror is about feelings. The great thing about horror is it can take place in any setting, because the setting does not define the genre. You can have horror in sci-fi, take a look at the Aliens movies. You can have horror in fantasy, contemporary, mythological, steam punk, etc. Horror transcends setting.

So why do so many people seem to have such a hard time accepting these horror stories that are science fiction based? I just want to throw this discussion out here and see what others think.

-Josh Morrey-
http://joshmorreywriting.blogspot.com/
"Remember: You have not yet written your best work." -Tracy Hickman


adrianh

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 752
    • quietstars
Reply #1 on: March 13, 2013, 04:24:14 PM
(Disclaimer: I have submitted a story to this competition with an SF setting - I'm not saying whether it's shown up yet or not ;-)

Quote
Horror, on the other hand, is not about setting. Horror is about perception. Horror is about feelings. The great thing about horror is it can take place in any setting, because the setting does not define the genre. You can have horror in sci-fi, take a look at the Aliens movies. You can have horror in fantasy, contemporary, mythological, steam punk, etc. Horror transcends setting.

Agreed.

Quote
So why do so many people seem to have such a hard time accepting these horror stories that are science fiction based? I just want to throw this discussion out here and see what others think.

I don't think it's the SF element - I think it's the relation of the horror to the SF.

Yes you can have horror in any setting - but just because something horrible happens in a story doesn't make it a horror story.

To repeat a comparison I've mentioned in comments elsewhere. The story of a man being stalked, drugged into paralysis and then stabbed in turn by the twelve people he has wronged is, undoubtedly, a horrible scenario. Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" is undoubtedly not a horror novel (IMHO anyway ;-). It follows the forms of detective fiction.

I don't think the "should be on Escape Pod rather than PsuedoPod" comments are because people think that SF stories cannot be horror. I think they're saying that the stories focus is on the SFnal elements rather than the horror elements - in the same way MOTOE's focus is on the detection elements rather than the horror elements.



benjaminjb

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1389
Reply #2 on: March 13, 2013, 05:13:29 PM
I totally agree with Cutter that our loose understanding of genre separates out genres according to different elements. For instance:

Genre of setting: fantasy, science fiction, western, etc.
Genre of plot: mystery/detective, quest, classic comedy (i.e., people get married at the end), etc.
Genre of feeling: melodrama, pornography, horror, etc.

So theoretically, you could mix and match: science fiction quest porno! fantasy melodrama classic comedy! western detective horror!

But...

A) These genre splits are pretty contentious. I may say "sf is defined by setting and stuff," but you can bust in here and say, "sf is defined by its sense of wonder and therefore belongs under feeling genres." And so on: "westerns aren't about the setting, they're about the feeling of isolation" or some other feeling. Etc., etc.

So we all read "Sims" or "Bound" or "Dwindling Dawn," etc., and you get a shiver of fear primarily, while I get a sense of wonder primarily. I might also be a little horrified by the story, but it might seem more like "horrific SF" than "sf Horror." (In other words, what adrianh said.)

B) Also, I think identification is part of the horror feeling. Like melodrama and pornography, horror is very often about putting you in the position of the person on the screen/page--we're supposed to feel what that character feels and express it in the same way. (There's a reason why "women's weepy" movies of the 1950s had so many women crying both on screen and in the audience. As for pornography, well, you get the idea.)

So if I'm asked to identify with Joe, cubicle worker, that one layer of work; if I'm asked to identify with Joe X, space marine, that's at least two layers of work.

At least, that's the theory.



Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8729
    • Diabolical Plots
Reply #3 on: March 13, 2013, 06:21:56 PM
I've never seen a point in saying things like "It would've been better on Escape Pod."  That might be because I listen to all 3 anyway, and I don't really care which place an invidual story ends up.

As far as genre, I don't consider any genre mutually exclusive.  Saying that a story is horror doesn't mean it's not SF, or romance, or comedy.




Fenrix

  • Curmudgeonly Co-Editor of PseudoPod
  • Editor
  • *****
  • Posts: 3996
  • I always lock the door when I creep by daylight.
Reply #4 on: March 13, 2013, 10:53:40 PM
Alien is one of the best horror films of all times. The Color out of Space is a great horror story.

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


daneyuleb

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 112
Reply #5 on: March 14, 2013, 12:41:29 AM
It cuts both ways.  I'm pretty sure at least a couple of stories in the Escape Pod Flash contest were critiqued with something along the lines of: "This is too dark--it might be more suited for Pseudo Pod"






MCWagner

  • Wins
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1526
Reply #6 on: March 14, 2013, 01:29:18 AM
It cuts both ways.  I'm pretty sure at least a couple of stories in the Escape Pod Flash contest were critiqued with something along the lines of: "This is too dark--it might be more suited for Pseudo Pod"

I seem to recall that being a very common comment in both the Escape Pod and Podcastle forums in the past whenever particular stories got scary.  "This should have been in Pseudopod." This was usually in the form of a complaint from someone saying it was too scary or gory or frigthening or dark.

Meaning that horror is the genre where everything goes that people can't deal with.  :)

I have a really enormously inclusive definition of horror... I collect a stupid amount of horror films and subject my friends to them at a regular horror movie night.  At this night, I explicitly did show Murder on the Orient Express (paired with Clue).  In fact, I generally include the entire genre of murder mystery in the genre of horror (what could be more horrific than a film obsessively going through the details of a murder?), a revelation I came to when I realized how downright horrifying most of the police procedural shows have become.  My mom is a mystery fiend, and the stuff that populates her shows and novels has gradually become worse than anything in the horror field.  I think the explicit crossover point was at Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs, but the torture-porn genre has nothing on CSI at this point.

So I'm probably a terrible person to ask about the boundaries of horror.  (Last week was Heathers and Jawbreaker.)



adrianh

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 752
    • quietstars
Reply #7 on: March 14, 2013, 08:21:55 AM
Quote
It cuts both ways.  I'm pretty sure at least a couple of stories in the Escape Pod Flash contest were critiqued with something along the lines of: "This is too dark--it might be more suited for Pseudo Pod"

I know there have been many times that I've listened to some stories on the podcasts and think they could happily sit on two (and very occasionally all three) of the escape artists podcasts ;-)






bjander4

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 87
Reply #8 on: March 14, 2013, 12:40:51 PM
   The horror genre is so all encompassing that it is hard to define exactly what horror is. Like has been mentioned before, it's more the feeling you get than anything else. And because horrible things happen in any situation, and are popular for setting up conflict in stories, people can define things as a mixture of horror and...whatever
   But in my humble opinion, what makes a horror story is the focus on the horror aspect. It's hard to feel terrified on the horror aspect while also feeling wonder at the sci fi or fantasy aspect. Those feelings are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Which is why i think when faced with a sci fi/horror combo story, a lot of people will call it just sci fi. The horror is just part of the conflict.
   It's interesting that the movie Alien was mentioned. I did a quick look at genre of Alien and it was listed as Horror/Sci Fi, but the sequel Aliens was listed as a Sci Fi Action movie. Fun.



MCWagner

  • Wins
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1526
Reply #9 on: March 14, 2013, 03:44:15 PM
   It's interesting that the movie Alien was mentioned. I did a quick look at genre of Alien and it was listed as Horror/Sci Fi, but the sequel Aliens was listed as a Sci Fi Action movie. Fun.

I actually contend that each Alien film is in a different genre.

Alien:  Horror
Aliens:  Action
Aliens 3: Art Flick
Aliens 4: Foreign Film

... can't really work out where the AvP or Prometheus belong.  Suggestions?



Ivy Wood

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 253
Reply #10 on: March 14, 2013, 05:02:07 PM
I propose that Kubrick's 2001 could fairly be called Horror.

I agree that horror can happen anywhere. I don't understand why some see a definite distinction between Sci-fi and Horror.

We aren't calling it Syfi here, are we?  ;)

"Never wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it." :)


adrianh

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 752
    • quietstars
Reply #11 on: March 14, 2013, 08:41:03 PM
Quote
I agree that horror can happen anywhere. I don't understand why some see a definite distinction between Sci-fi and Horror.

Unless I'm missing something I don't think anybody is saying there is a definite distinction. I've got numerous books and films that I'd happily put in both categories.

What I think some people are saying (at least what I'm saying ;-) is that some of the stories don't feel like "horror" and do feel like "sf". While horrible things happen in the story they're more incidental than drivers of the story's direction.

To pick some examples from the competition :

* Dwindled Dawn - for me - SF, not-horror: Focus of the plot was on the protagonists search for justice & revenge. SFnal elements of thumb-print ID, voice recogition, retinal scans, etc. Yes the fate of the victim was nasty, but for me it wasn't what the story was about.

* Sims - for me - SF & borderline-horror: Lots of SF elements in the computer virus / nanotech stuff (even if it was a bit handwavey on how one became the other). Some horror in what was happening to the lead character, but as much emphasis on the weird pseudo-religion/civilisation that resulted.

* Happiness is - for me - SF & horror. Obvious SF in the emotion draining/monitoring thingy. Obvious horror in what was happening to the victims and the structure of the story.

* Take Two - for me - borderline-SF & horror: Twist at the end resolved around some SFish memory related drug / research program - but the whole focus of the story was on the protagonists breakdown (or otherwise).

Now I'm sure that many folk could quite happily argue over some of the distinctions and readings that I'm making there - but I'm not arguing that a story is not horror because it's SF (or vice versa). I'm arguing that it's not horror because it's not horror (for me anyway ;-). The fact that it's SF too is incidental.

Hopefully this sounds vaguely sane?



Fenrix

  • Curmudgeonly Co-Editor of PseudoPod
  • Editor
  • *****
  • Posts: 3996
  • I always lock the door when I creep by daylight.
Reply #12 on: March 14, 2013, 08:47:48 PM
We aren't calling it Syfi here, are we?  ;)

No need to get uncivilized, now.

All cat stories start with this statement: “My mother, who was the first cat, told me this...”


Umbrageofsnow

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 754
  • Commenting by the seat of my pants.
Reply #13 on: March 14, 2013, 09:33:08 PM
I'm definitely in the all-inclusive camp but rather than rant about inclusiveness I'd just like to point out that Fantasy and Science Fiction have the very hazy boundary of "plausibility" or perhaps it's about a logical approach or an attitude (as Neal Stephenson put it when arguing that Cryptonomicon was SF).  Arguments about which category something falls in tend to get silly because they overlap.  People get to taking tropes or milieu as the definition of genre rather than the shorthand that they are.

[Blah Blah Blah Firefly/Cowboy Bebop are Westerns, Star Wars/Pern are Fantasy, Alien/The Thing are Horror.  You've heard these arguments before, and I think they are good ones, for primary genre, obviously each example has tentacles in two bookshelves.]

The point I want to make is that 75% of current horror, and certainly all the horror that I personally enjoy is really speculative fiction in one flavor or another.  Ghosts, Vampires, Zombies are all fantasy, except for when they are psychic echos, viruses, epidemics, and mad science, in which case they are science fiction.  Books about serial killers are usually also detective/crime books.  Noir is the flip side of that, detective with some horrific feelings.

I was realizing, reading the above threads that I'd classify both of my stories in this contest as Science Fiction, but I couldn't see any of the people citing examples listing my stories, if they've even read them.  I think I've voted for one story so far that I don't believe is either science fiction or fantasy.

Of all the genres, horror is the least pure.  I don't believe you can even have pure horror.  It's a feeling that you get, but how you approach it still matters.  Every non-real concept is either science fiction or fantasy depending on how it is dealt with.  Mundane horror stories still always have other feelings, setting beyond the pure horror.  I've never read a story where the only feeling I got was horror.  There is always something else there, be it childhood reminiscence or romance or action thriller.  The feeling of horror's prominence can help you place something on a bookshelf, but I don't think we should be disqualifying stories for having other elements, because THEY ALL DO.  We're just less cognisant of some because we have come to accept ghosts and vampires as horror tropes even though they are just as much fantasy.
« Last Edit: March 14, 2013, 09:36:48 PM by Umbrageofsnow »



Ramrod HyCrier

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 1
Reply #14 on: March 15, 2013, 11:07:47 PM
It's all about perspective really.  SciFi v H.  One man's SciFi is another man's Horror. 



Jec

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 28
Reply #15 on: March 30, 2013, 02:20:09 AM
Sci-fi is currently my favorite genre. That said horror is better designed for the short story format.   :)



Bdoomed

  • Pseudopod Tiger
  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 5891
  • Mmm. Tiger.
Reply #16 on: March 30, 2013, 07:55:32 AM
Sci-fi is currently my favorite genre. That said horror is better designed for the short story format.   :)
I'm interested in why you think this.  Not saying you're wrong or anything, I'd just like to hear that argument.

I always have a lot of fun writing the little mini-shorts on each poll thread.  They wont win any awards, but they are fun to do and I've found that horror does tend to fit nicely in the short form.

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
Five pounds?  Six pounds? Seven pounds?


adrianh

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 752
    • quietstars
Reply #17 on: March 30, 2013, 10:25:40 AM
Quote
Sci-fi is currently my favorite genre. That said horror is better designed for the short story format.

I'd always thought the opposite myself ;-) The chunk of SF that's more idea-driven - the exposition of a neat what-if - seems a very natural fit to the short story.

To me good horror needs more evocation of emotion, mood and character - which is harder to pull off in a short form.

(NOTE; not saying that all short-SF lacks emotion, mood & character. It doesn't. ;-)



MCWagner

  • Wins
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1526
Reply #18 on: March 30, 2013, 05:24:50 PM
Quote
Sci-fi is currently my favorite genre. That said horror is better designed for the short story format.

I'd always thought the opposite myself ;-) The chunk of SF that's more idea-driven - the exposition of a neat what-if - seems a very natural fit to the short story.

To me good horror needs more evocation of emotion, mood and character - which is harder to pull off in a short form.

(NOTE; not saying that all short-SF lacks emotion, mood & character. It doesn't. ;-)

I would strongly disagree (again, own opinion).  The real difficulty with horror is maintenance of the necessary mood.  You can't effectively keep an audience on tenterhooks of suspense or menaced by an unknown danger for 2-300 pages easily, and you can't just spend the first 3/4 of a novel building suspense before you get to the horrific part without boring your audience.  (Some authors are skilled enough, but they are exceptional.)  Nearly all the great, classic writers of horror are known for their short stories or stories at most at novella length.  Poe, HPL, Ramsey Campbell, Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, August Derleth, Clark Ashton smith, Robert W. Chambers (I think I'm giving away my usual reading circle), all worked primarily in the short story realm.  Of the most famous horror authors, only Stephen King works primarily in the novel-length format and is justifiably famous for his novels over his short stories. 

Traditional Horror comes from a short tradition:  dark, moralizing fairy tales and campfire stories about local legends cannot, by their very nature, be of epic length.  Modern horror is similarly derived, as most of the output was developed through pulp trade magazines, which wouldn't have supported much longer formats.  My knowledge of sci-fi history is sparse and spotty, but my impression is that sci-fi has more of a serialized history in the pulp and magazine venues (such as Farenheit 451 being serialized in Playboy magazine).



Devoted135

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1252
Reply #19 on: March 30, 2013, 05:37:00 PM
I would agree that horror generally works better in short fiction than sci fi does (though obviously there are many fantastic examples of short sci fi), and agree with all the reasons the MCWagner just gave.

In science fiction, the setting is nearly always 1) very important to establishing the scene and 2) very unfamiliar to the reader due to the technology or location involved. Much of the word count has to be eaten up just in establishing that we are on an alien planet or that we have developed telepathic communication with our space ships or that everyone now has a robotic puppy that cooks all of our meals. This generally leaves less time for the actual story and so is often more successful when length is not an issue. All necessary caveats, exceptions and exemptions are intended to apply to the above. ;)



adrianh

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 752
    • quietstars
Reply #20 on: March 30, 2013, 06:04:43 PM
Quote
knowledge of sci-fi history is sparse and spotty, but my impression is that sci-fi has more of a serialized history in the pulp and magazine venues

Not really. There's a very strong history of SF short stories too (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Age_of_Science_Fiction). Most of the "classic" SF authors - Asimov, Heinlein, Niven, Bradbury, etc. all started on short stories. Still a very well respected and active part of the genre.

Of course there are a bunch of longer works in there over the years. Depending on who and what you define as SF. But I don't think there are many folk in the field who wouldn't point to the basis of "modern" SF being the short stories that came out of magazines like Amazing Stories, Astounding Science Fiction and Galaxy.

(If you want to get a nice intro into SF history Aldiss's Billion Year Spree is a nice fun read).



flintknapper

  • Lochage
  • *****
  • Posts: 323
Reply #21 on: March 30, 2013, 08:37:05 PM
Wow. I really like this discussion. It makes you think.

For me, as a reader mostly and a writer occasionally, horror is based more squarely on reality. It may have fictional elements, but that thing that makes it scary is the reality of the situation. I agree with some who say vampires, zombies, and the like are actually more fantasy than horror. However, I would argue that when creature stories are done well they are really commenting realities of human existance.

Of course this is being said, I am the guy who wrote Giusewa for the short story contest. Most agreed that while it might be a horrific reality, it wasn't horror. I get this arguement even if I do not agree with it.

I find myself as a reader leaning towards the stories based primarily in reality.