Horror as a genre exists in part to remind us of fear. Fear is an emotion essential for survival because it indicates danger and triggers fight or flight. On a primal, lizard-brain level, for horror to work it must evoke an existential threat of some kind. This threat is of harm to the self, if you can indulge me as I stretch the definition of ‘self’ to include the individual or the group. When executed properly, all horror emanates from here.
If I were more web-savvy I would have an info-graphic here, but this is what I’ve got: Predators trigger a direct danger to the self. The unknown triggers the idea that it might be a predator, and tracks back to danger to self. In evolutionary terms, it is smart to consider the unknown dangerous until proven otherwise. To understand the danger to children you’d have to see that in some way children are the means by which the self propagates or transmits to the next generation. To transmit your DNA (or cultural/psychic DNA if adopted) to the next generation is important to the self, therefore to endanger children is to endanger the self. Evil children in horror fiction represent a form of contaminated seed, which is a danger to the self.
Horror is a big part of my literary DNA. Shirley Jackson, Henry James, Mary Shelley, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, and others, I read their books to pieces. ‘It’ by Stephen King is probably my most re-read book. I do write straight up horror (the short stories Monkey House, Slip Road, and the novella Gnaw, for example) but I also see horror as in integral part of the fantastical fiction storyscape. To me, the best sci-fi works with a horror element (like Aliens, for example).
In my novel Rosewater there are several scenes of full-blown horror. In the contaminated biosphere there are several alien creatures, often used by criminals. Kaaro, my protagonist, is captured and held by a criminal who has a carnivorous alien for a pet. I took time to design the monster. Aliens trigger the fear of unknown, and in addition, this monster is a carnivore, a predator. Floaters are used by gangsters for body disposal. Floaters use protein breakdown products to produce a gas which they use to inflate biological bladders harnessed for flight. It also stinks and remains suspended in the air even after death.
Imagine if you will, a man walking down the street peacefully, when a hungry floater descends like a hawk, grabbing the man with clawed limbs, lifting the person into the sky silently and eating the man during ascent. The next time the man is seen is when the stripped skeleton falls to the Earth, forty minutes later. Imagine swarms of these creatures haunting the rooftops of your city. Imagine their mummurations at breeding season.
Welcome to Rosewater. I hope you enjoy your stay. Don’t get eaten.
© 2016 by Tade Thompson
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Tade Thompson lives and works in the south of England. His first novel MAKING WOLF won the 2016 Kitschies Golden Tentacle award for best debut novel. He has written a number of short stories including “Budo” at Escape Pod. His horror novella GNAW will be released in December from Solaris Books. ROSEWATER comes out 15th November, but is available for pre-order now.