Miscellanea, plus Defining Horror

A roundup of the weird, the interesting, and whatever else has caught my attention.

Stories

I just learned about the new Alien movie. Alien: Covenant is set to release on May 19th. I will be there with bells on.

If you’re looking for an Alien fix before then, Aliens: Bug Hunt, an anthology containing fifteen stories set in the Alien universe, is being released on April 18th. The headlining authors (i.e. those on the cover) are Heather Graham, Scott Sigler, Rachel Caine, David Farland, and one of my favorites, Larry Correia.

Science and Technology

Scientists are one step closer to confirming that Saturn’s moon Enceladus has a habitable ocean beneath its icy surface. A proposal is being put together for a mission to, among other things, study Enceladus more closely.

Asteroid 2014 J025 will make a near-Earth pass on April 19th. The asteroid is large, bright, and moving fast enough to be spotted with a small telescope. I’m not sure I want that close a look at something with the potential to destroy all life on Earth should something nudge it closer to us.

A new meta-analysis published by researchers at Vanderbilt University found that certain merit pay programs for teachers can increase student test scores. My question: How many studies have been done analyzing the relationship between non-curriculum related tests (e.g. standardized tests) and learning or the retention of knowledge?

Focus: What is Horror?

If you follow my personal blog at Dreaming If, then you’re already aware that I will be participating in a panel at the 2017 RT Booklovers Convention in Atlanta next month. The panel will focus on the intersection of Horror and Romance, something I write under another pen name, and the rise of this co-mingling of genres.

One topic we’re bound to discuss is the definition of Horror. Like all genres, the lines have become blurred over the decades since it was first recognized as a separate category of fiction. Truthfully, those lines were crossed from the very start. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, one of the first modern Horror novels, is also considered one of the earliest Science Fiction novels and is certainly a forerunner to the SciFi-Horror stories we see today.

When I first began researching stories for this pen name, I looked long and hard at Horror as a genre, since some stories I’m planning contain proper Horror elements, including monsters, gore, and psychological terror, although not necessarily within the same story. The one constant seems to be a shifting boundary for an essential definition. Some consider vampire stories of all kinds to be Horror; others place them in Dark Fantasy, a subgenre of Horror dealing more specifically with supernatural or paranormal elements; still others claim that some kinds of vampire stories are Horror, but others are not.

Really, it should be easier than this. Romance, for example, is fairly simply defined: The main plot is a central love story and the story itself ends in a Happy Ever After or a Happy For Now. Anything else isn’t Romance. I’ve seen all sorts of discussions about this on writers’ fora, particularly from those who want to classify a tragedy as Romance. No. If it ends in tragedy (e.g. if one of the love interests is killed off), it’s not a Romance, even if there’s a strong, central love story. Put those tragedies in Women’s Fiction where readers aren’t looking for a happy ending and you’ll have a better shot at selling your book.

One of the problems I encounter when searching for Horror in all its forms is that same sort of miscategorization. A lot of self-published authors in particular are placing books that are clearly not Horror or Dark Fantasy into those categories, especially books that are more properly classified as Urban Fantasy.

A similar problem forced Amazon to ban romances from also being placed in the (non-romance) Science Fiction and Fantasy categories. Many of the authors doing so prior to the ban were clearly abusing their privileges in choosing category placements; others whose books could easily fall into either Romance or Sci-Fi/Fantasy were summarily punished by the ban. I’m one of the latter under yet another pen name, but that’s a story for another time.

The fact that genre boundaries are so fluid poses a serious problem to authors and readers alike. In a world where stories are written faster than readers can consume them and genre is becoming less and less a distinction than a potshot, how do readers find the books they want to read? Search engines are becoming more sophisticated with every iteration, but the best way is still via proper categorization.

To me, the best Horror induces some level of terror or repulsion. Horror is often weird, sometimes gory, and it usually probes our deepest fears, from portal horrors like A¬†Nightmare on Elm Street¬†and The Babadook to Stephen King’s supernatural thriller The Shining.

Does that definition omit stories that aren’t weird, gory, terrifying, or repulsive? Of course not, but it does provide a baseline for the examination of the genre as a whole for authors interested in writing for the Horror audience.

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