What happens when you take two iconic genres and mash them together like a peanut butter and jam (jelly for the Americans) sandwich? You get a chewy, messy, awesome menagerie of genre goodness. Science fiction is fine as it is, but when you take that alien, bug, mad scientist, or crazy, disease-addled-hyper-death-bunny and have them go on a killing spree or a psychological attack on a protagonist’s sanity, you have a wonderful gooey concoction that is often very hard to beat.
Let me give a few examples. Scott Sigler’s novels often combine horrific situations in a high-tech setting. In Ancestor, a group of scientists reverse engineer animal genomes to discover the progenitor to all mammals. Only it’s not a happy little fluffy kitten, and humans are in a major fight for survival. Horror + Science Fiction = Win.
Then we have something a little more horror oriented like Brian Lumley’s Necroscope and E-Branch series of books. Essentially these are old-school vampire/ware stories but with a protagonist (Harry Keogh) who can travel through a Mobius strip of time, talk with the dead, and be a general badass to the evil gribblies who want to use humans as Pez dispensers. In later books, he even takes us off world to another planet. Although not necessarily high on technology, Lumley creates a scientifically oriented world where the supernatural and horror work both in relation to each other and at odds. The result, like Sigler’s stuff is a complete win.
And my last literary example is arguably the granddaddy of the horror/sf crossover. Not many are too aware of it, but you’ll certainly be aware of what it spawned if you consider yourself a fan of horror cinema. I’d like to present ‘Who Goes There’ by John W. Campbell (1938). This was a tale of an Antarctic expedition that went a little tits-up. A group of scientists (that’s always a precursor to ‘stuff goes horrendously wrong’) discover a craft under the ice (you must know this by now?) and after breaking in, haul out a ‘thing’ (nod, nod, wink wink) and decide to thaw it out. Are they completely off their trolley? Who’d do such a thing? So anyway, these mentalists go ahead, warm chappy up, and by Xenomorph’s beard things get bad real quickly. Dogs explode; heads turn into spiders; and the only action left is to KILL IT WITH FIRE!
Of course, the film that this spawned was ‘The Thing’ (original one, not that god-awful excuse for a ‘re-imagining’ released recently), quite possibly one of the finest horror/SF films of all time. (There’s also Alien, but you know that’s too obvious to mention, and besides, I’m still getting over the travesty of Prometheus).
The melding of the horrific and science is clearly a winner, right?
So as illustrated, these two genres when smashed together like atoms create an explosion of bloody awesomeness. But it’s sad then, that as a literary movement it doesn’t have more of a following, or at least more titles. Maybe this is an issue with the marketers at bookshops/publishers. As we’ve seen lately, (over the last 20 years or so), horror has been squeezed and squeezed so that the shelf-space is ever smaller and moved further back out of the way. Now, horror stories are often shoved into this new pseudo genre ‘dark fantasy’ and it’s urban and paranormal-romantic offspring. Science fiction is still doing well, but seems to be mostly hard, military and epic SF.
The way I see it, there’s a crack between these categorizations. A slither of blackness where horrendous things live just waiting to come out of the test-tubes, evil computer programs, and shape-shifting psychopathic cyborgs. A stygian alleyway of gore and general eyeball tearing horror that feels like a fresh playground.
My current work-in-progress ‘The Techxorcist’ looks at evil AIs, the effects that can have on the brain and what it means to be human. Even in this crossover genre, there’s still room to play with the tropes and explore both the gory and psychological side. And that’s really something that lies at the heart of Horror/SF: the emotions and internal goings-on. Take The Thing or Alien, and they both have paranoia and dread at their core: two classic horror story cornerstones, which work across the genre board.
So go fourth, be bold, pick up one of the books here referenced and discover the horrible joys of a H/SF crossover.
About Colin F. Barnes
Colin F. Barnes is a writer (and publisher with Anachron Press) of dark and daring fiction. He takes his influence from everyday life, and the weird happenings that go on in the shadowy locales of Essex in the UK. Colin likes to blend genres and is currently working on a Horror/Tech-thriller serial ‘The Techxorcist.’