Dead Air 2

Nov 8, 00:53 by IROSF
Comment below!
Nov 8, 10:44 by Daniel M. Kimmel
As someone who teaches film genre, my feeling is that by the time something is ripe for parody it's the end of the line. Thus the Mafia line of gangster films come to an end with "Analyze This" and it's hard to take zombie stories as new and original after "Shaun of the Dead" and, one of my favorite films this year, "Zombieland." The most recent horror film worthy of the name is not the various retreads of sadoporn and remakes of '80s franchises, but the current "The Box." It makes us uneasy for precisely the reason suggested here: it makes us think.
Nov 8, 13:38 by Nader Elhefnawy
I don't read or watch much horror, but I did find this discussion interesting, especially in its touching on anti-intellectualism.

It seems to me that there actually is quite a bit of anti-intellectualism across all these genres (not intrinsic to them in my view, but common in them nonetheless). What else is one to make of, for instance, the "Frankenstein complex," or anything else in which seekers of knowledge are routinely punished for hubris (a theme admittedly more pervasive in "media" science fiction than the upmarket print stuff these days)?

In a movie like Deep Blue Sea or Alien Vs. Predator, for instance, the quester after knowledge, the scientist who probes into nature's secrets, is invariably killed while some "earthier," more physical type, like Thomas Jane's shark wrangler in the former movie, or Sanaa Lathan's Antarctic guide in the latter, survives to tell the tale.

To name something a bit further removed from horror as it is usually regarded, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica struck me as going to the extreme in pushing the anti-intellectual button (changing the villain Baltar from a power-hungry politician to a scientist-with a pronounced British accent no less, etc.).

It's also worth noting given the implicit politics of a large part of speculative fiction, and especially horror fiction, more broadly, and the associated politics of anti-intellectualism (at least, in American life). Stephen King, whose own politics have been the object of some debate during the past year, had a comment about this in his widely-anthologized essay "Why We Crave Horror Movies." (Accessible at http://iws.ccccd.edu/jdoleh/English%201301/Why%20We%20Crave%20Horror%20Movies.pdf).
Nov 9, 18:47 by David Gardner
I see several sides of this point.

First, there is an anti-intellectual element (and, as Nader pointed out, it's evident in sf&f as well as horror). There's also a virulently PRO-intellectual element, and they're frequently just as misguided. I can't count the number of times that I've heard the argument that if a work didn't "say something" ("something" usually taken in context to mean "make a political statement") that it was worthless. I heard this most often when I was getting my BA. The people who should have been learning how to think where instead being fed what they were supposed to be thinking.

And that brings me to my second point, a point I've tried to make as a writer, an editor and an instructor: "saying something" usually boils down to propaganda, for whatever side it's intended to support. My favorite alternate phrase is "engage your audience in a philosophical discussion." Don't tell them what to think. Instead, invite them to consider.
Nov 10, 13:06 by Nader Elhefnawy
I agree that it is very wrong to say that any work not making a political statement is without merit; and also that presenting ideas for consideration is a worthy option that is probably not tried enough.

However (and I am not saying this is what you're advocating) while people making points can get tiresome, I am also uncomfortable with the idea that statements should be avoided on the grounds that they necessarily make something "bad art." On the contrary, intense feeling about politics-like anything else-can be a powerful source of inspiration, and has been for any number of great works. Satire is inconceivable without it, and it's certainly not absent, even from the works we think of as canonical, classical or "timeless"-in which the politics simply tend to be less obvious because writers were more pressured to pay homage to the pieties of the day (funny how we rarely think of that as "political"), and because so many hot-button issues have long since ceased to be so. And of course, if one wants to broaden the definition of politics, almost anything can be construed as somehow political. (I think this idea is routinely taken too far, but can't be lightly dismissed.) Besides, a very large part of the time when someone puts down something for being political, what is going on is that they don't like its particular politics, while they are much less disturbed by equally political works they happen to agree with. (It's their prerogative to not like it; but they should at least be honest.)

In the end, the one rule I've found to hold in all the years I've been thinking about literature is that there are no rules, masterpieces having been created by breaking just about every single one, and advice to a writer that literature must do this or do that is misleading.
Nov 10, 15:18 by Nicholas Kaufmann
Nader, I tend to agree with you. As readers, I think we often label books whose messages we don't agree with as propaganda or preachy, while nodding in agreement with those books whose messages resonate with us. For example, a pro-war novel would probably rub me the wrong way, no matter how well written, while an anti-war novel would probably have me saying, "Gee, this author really has something to say."
Nov 10, 17:12 by Nader Elhefnawy
At the risk of looking like I'm making a shameless plug, I will say that war stories are a good example of that, Nicholas, in that they are particularly difficult to treat in a way that can honestly (rather than disingenuously) be called non-political; and that politics is almost inescapable in the military techno-thriller genre discussed in my article in this month's ediiton of IROSF (even without the constant stump speeches by the authors, many of whom were also very public commentators on these issues). The extrapolations and depictions on which they are founded necessarily assume some stance.
Nov 11, 14:01 by David Gardner
war stories are a good example of that, Nicholas, in that they are particularly difficult to treat in a way that can honestly (rather than disingenuously) be called non-political


I concur completely with this, and especially with the phrase "particularly difficult." I would argue that that's what separates a merely good work (in any genre, on any subject) from a great work. By way of example, the HBO (I think) miniseries Generation Kill presents a gamut of characters who collectively make clear the complexity of the situation in Iraq. I certainly have beliefs about Iraq and about our (U.S.) involvement there, but I didn't come away from Generation Kill thinking either:

"That was total crap! It disagreed with everything I think!", or
"That was great! It agreed with everything I say!"

What I did think was that the characters were interesting and honestly portrayed, and presented a wide range of reactions to the situation.

To be sure, some of these characters are a little more comic-bookish stereotypical than some of the others, but they're generally supporting characters that have plot-point responsibilities rather than the more central characters.

The extrapolations and depictions on which they are founded necessarily assume some stance.


If I understand this correctly, Nader, then I think I disagree with it completely. I'm going to make my point based on what I perceive you to be saying, but if I'm off-base, please correct me. My retort would be:

A story is about characters, the actions they take, their reactions, and how they change as a result of the conflict (by which I mean literary conflict and not martial conflict). The setting is window dressing. If the setting and the extrapolations ARE the story, then you have travelogue, history or some other literary form.
Nov 11, 14:44 by Nader Elhefnawy
I get what you're saying, and I don't think you're being unfair as to the reading of that line. In the military techno-thriller the setting and extrapolations very often are the story, as you put it; and even in the examples where more attention is given to character (for instance, Ralph Peters's The War in 2020) they are still a very important part of it (Peters in fact making his attitude toward the issues in the book very clear in an author's note at the end).

As to the other part of the comment: I haven't seen Generation Kill, and can't say anything about that. But I do think that one can make a point while still acknowledging the existence of different views and complexity. (Being able to see different sides of an issue is not to say that one must be completely relativistic in their outlook.)

And that there are many different ways to be "great," a level of achievement that does not boil down to a single type of distinction, or a single approach to a subject.
Nov 12, 13:39 by David Gardner
And that there are many different ways to be "great," a level of achievement that does not boil down to a single type of distinction, or a single approach to a subject.


Granted. Probably better to say "One attribute of a great work"; I'm not sure that I think a work can be great without this attribute, however, but that hinges on my belief that propaganda can be effective but cannot be great literature. Alan Cheuse once told me that "literature let's you live someone else's life for a while," and however I turn those two things over in my mind, propaganda (which is, as you say above, a disingenuous argument) is incompatible with that attempt at honestly showing life through another being's eyes.

On the other hand, I know plenty of people who disagree. Triumph of the Will is often called a masterpiece precisely because it excels at propagandizing.

I fear we've completely gotten away from discussing the original topic, though.
Nov 12, 17:51 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
As someone who teaches film genre, my feeling is that by the time something is ripe for parody it's the end of the line. Thus the Mafia line of gangster films come to an end with "Analyze This" and it's hard to take zombie stories as new and original after "Shaun of the Dead" and, one of my favorite films this year, "Zombieland." The most recent horror film worthy of the name is not the various retreads of sadoporn and remakes of '80s franchises, but the current "The Box." It makes us uneasy for precisely the reason suggested here: it makes us think.


I will second this, and quite frankly, it can't happen soon enough for me. Saw and its ilk are not horror but (and I love this new term) torture-porn. Where are the true horror novels and films? I would have to answer, Europe. Living in Canada I have the good luck to have access to British and European publishers that are seldom seen in the U.S.. Like Science Fiction, the best, most realistic (ei horrible) Horror is being published across the Atlantic. There are some notable exceptions, such as Dan Simmons (but even he seems more "European" than most North American authors). Compare, for instance The Descent with its Hollywood "remake" The Cave.

U.S. tastes for the last decade or more seem to be for simplistic, sensationalist gore-fests (in the case of Horror) and jingo-istic, pro-martial shoot-em-ups (S/F). While both of these tracks can be intellectually stimulating and useful, they are better suited to the anti-intellectualism so evidently on display in North America. More's the pity since American markets are what drive the entertainment industry.

If self parody is the end product of any particular sub-genre, (and the proliferation of products like Shaun of the Dead and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies make a strong case), then perhaps there is some hope in sight fans of intelligent genre fiction.
Nov 12, 20:06 by Nicholas Kaufmann
"U.S. tastes for the last decade or more seem to be for simplistic, sensationalist gore-fests (in the case of Horror)"

I'm not sure that's entirely true. It may just be that that's what being produced--cheap, quick, forgettable entertainment to turn a buck--rather than what the audience truly wants. The recent big box office for Paranormal Activity, a quiet, creepy horror film, as well as the poor box office performance of Saw VI, go against the theory that all U.S. horror fans want is gorefests. Sometimes the smarter, scarier stuff really does come out on top.

"If self parody is the end product of any particular sub-genre, (and the proliferation of products like Shaun of the Dead and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies make a strong case), then perhaps there is some hope in sight fans of intelligent genre fiction."

As someone who is over the zombie craze, here's hoping. Still, I've been announcing that zombies are "over" for years now, and I'm always wrong. Like the zombies themselves, nothing and no one seems to be able to kill the zeitgeist!
Nov 12, 21:22 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
Nicholas Kaufmann said:
I'm not sure that's entirely true. It may just be that that's what being produced--cheap, quick, forgettable entertainment to turn a buck--rather than what the audience truly wants. The recent big box office for Paranormal Activity, a quiet, creepy horror film, as well as the poor box office performance of Saw VI, go against the theory that all U.S. horror fans want is gorefests. Sometimes the smarter, scarier stuff really does come out on top.


I would think that movies such as Paranormal Activity are the exception that prove the rule. (Anecdotal, I know) I have read several reviews and posts on internet forums written by people who absolutely hated it, having seen a film very different from what they thought they were going to see. Granted, it is a clever, intelligent creepy film, but its success is an anomaly. The Blair Witch Project was a huge success too, but it had a negligible impact on horror film. And as I recall, the greater part of the audience at the time absolutely hated it (vomit-cam aside).

In the end, I believe it comes down to scale. With a market as big as (theoretically) 350 million potential movie goers, films like PA and TBWP only need a hundredth of that to be huge successes. Their success does not mean that the much larger general audience needs or even wants intelligent, thought provoking horror. The latest Saw movie may have been a flop, but there is enough of an audience to get the studios to make six of them. How many The Blair Witch Projects did we get? And how many of those were good?

On the zombie front; I don't think that the craze will die any time soon. The modern zombie is a manifestation of our current Western zeitgeist in the same way that the vampire was a manifestation of Victorian sexual fear/desire. Our jaded, post-modern, soon to be post-industrial culture has so few things left that can horrify us; the Cold War post-nuclear-apocalypse is 20 years dead, automaton/belligerent artificial intelligences were a manifestation of the fears of mechanization of the late 1970s and the 1980s, science gone amok is a hold over of our grandparents' generation unable to sustain itself far beyond of the 1950s. What we have left is viral warfare, loss of conscious agency, the desire to consume indescriminately and the fear of the atavistic inner ape. These things modern zombies so wonderfully embody. Until some other cultural subconscious fright comes along to be reflected in our entertainment media, I am afraid we are stuck with them.
Nov 14, 16:19 by David Gardner
U.S. tastes for the last decade or more seem to be for simplistic, sensationalist gore-fests (in the case of Horror)


One thing I would point out re: this point is that the market for most horror is young people, kids and teenagers. 40-50 years ago they would have been viewing similar movies in drive-ins, or reading similar stories in pulps. Obviously there are exceptions, but generally this audience is not looking for either literary quality or intellectual positions.

It may just be that that's what being produced--cheap, quick, forgettable entertainment to turn a buck--rather than what the audience truly wants.


I think Nicholas is speaking to the same point that I quoted at top. I disagree, Nicholas, at least from a certain standpoint. The audience is the people who pay (for the books, the magazines,the tickets), and if they weren't paying then the lower-grade product to which you're referring would disappear. Most of these lower-quality horror films for instance, do great box office for the first weekend then drop off quickly, primarily because the kids who are excited about seeing them (their intended audience) see them on opening weekend.

In other words, the product is what the intended audience really wants, but the bulk of the intended audience is not discerning, and this is a good thing for the producers. Not so good in a sense for those of us who are the discerning parts of the audience, but at the same time the production of the lower-grade material (and the money it makes) opens the doors for the occassional production of higher grade material.
Nov 15, 18:06 by Janine Stinson
As a 30+ year reader of SF/F/H, I'm glad to see knowledgable perspectives on horror (regardless of delivery method) find their way to IROSF. I hope more of them will appear in this forum.

I have a question. Science fiction and horror have been combined in short fiction and novel-length form, but from my admittedly limited reading in this area, there haven't been many examples of it since around 1999. Are there read-worthy novels that might be covered by the term "SF horror" which were published in the last decade, and could you (plural) provide titles?

Of the few I've read in this area, Peter Watts' Rifters books (Starfish, Maelstrom, Behemoth:B-Max and Behemoth: Seppuku) and his stand-alone novel Blindsight are very good examples of SF infused (infected?) with horror. An atmosphere of constant unease pervades these books, even after scenes where an obstacle is overcome with force (usually a cathartic moment for a reader). "Edgy" is an overused word, but that's the best one-word description I can think of right now.

And no, I'm not related to him or employed by him. :) Just an admirer of his work.
Nov 16, 04:54 by Nicholas Kaufmann
Janine, The Road by Cormac McCarthy springs immediately to mind as the kind of hybrid novel you mention. It's got a science-fictional setting but is infused throughout with the dread of a horror novel. It's a somewhat divisive novel, but I happened to love it.
Nov 16, 15:57 by D. Nicklin-Dunbar
Dan Simmons' S/F work is also infused with horror, although it is usually reserved for his antagonists rather than atmospheric. The Shrike from Hyperion Cantos, Setebos and Caliban from Illium and Olypmos are fairly horrific creations. Simmons' skill at horror is, of course, more clearly seen in his straight up horror novels, but his Science Fiction is certainly informed by it.
Nov 16, 17:15 by Nader Elhefnawy
I'd second the take on Watts's Blindsight as having something of a horror feel, and Simmons's Shrike (and some of his other creations, as with the aliens in "Muse of Fire") have that quality too.
Nov 18, 16:08 by David Gardner
Bluejack,

Have you ever thought about instituting an open discussion forum? What you have is great dor discussing the articles you publish, but I'm thinking about something that could let people share info on topics on their own choosing. GEnie used to be pretty good for that kind of thing.
Nov 20, 21:41 by Bluejack
Sure David,

We've definitely talked about it. There's actually nothing to prevent that happening now, but something about the user interface makes it a little less conducive to that kind of discussion than we would like.

We're going through some thinking about the user interface now, and figuring out how to make the forums into something better is very much on the table.

Thanks for raising the point!
Nov 25, 00:26 by David Gardner
Thanks for the response, Bluejack. As I read through this thread it just looked like we were going in several different directions, all of which could lead to interesting discussions, but at least some of which seemed to be getting away from discussing the article itself.
   

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