Friday, January 29, 2010

The Horror of Speculative Fiction

Posted by LD Keach on Friday, January 29, 2010

(or, You can take your Quantum Snuffle Accelerator and shove it up your tokhes.)

There’s this lovely little term floating around out there in the publishing universe lately; Speculative  Fiction. Speculative, meaning; based on intellectual speculation, theoretical, marked by questioning curiosity. It’s supposed to encompass any genre fiction that is of speculative nature, like magic realism, urban fantasy, thriller, sci fi, dystopian, apocalyptic, dark swords and sorcery, etc. But, one thing I’ve discovered during my many years of submitting to magazines and publishers, it means something else:

Not horror.

Oh, sure, it sounds like horror would fit. (Wikipedia even says it should fit!) Like, I’m speculating that my car full of co-eds gets rabidly mutilated by a theoretical mutated platypus, and I’m curious if anyone will survive with their sanity intact…but, no. After buying tons of copies and reading through the kinds of stories these speculative fiction markets like to publish, I’ve found that there is little to no straight horror involved.

But, apparently, if you add some sci fi to your blood and guts, then everything’s fine. Roll out the red carpet in that case!

Don’t get me wrong, I like me some science fiction now and then, and the term was kinda coined by sci fi people, so they should have first dibs on it...but, still, they are positively hogging the market. All the major pro magazines for fiction are primarily sci fi, with a touch of fantasy mixed in. Like Analog and Apex, the Magazine of Sci Fi and Fantasy, Asimov’s, Heliotrope, Odyssey and a slew of other markets. Sci fi has a huge professional representation, with lots of opportunity, so why can’t horror get any love?

I’d be more understanding if I didn’t see evidence of a massive audience ready for some good horror shorts. There are a slew of semi-pro, small press and ezine publications that cater mainly to horror—like Necrotic Tissue, Weird Tales, Absent Willow Review, Black Ink Horror, Dark Recesses, Fear and Trembling, Fantastic Horror and a ton of other burgeoning markets. And these are cool little magazines that have readership. If there are so many horror readers out there, how come there’s so few pro horror magazines?

There’s probably grandiose conspiracy, moved by an Illuminati-esque secret cabal of publishers, run by the guys who edit the Mag of Sci Fi and Fantasy. (Seriously—have you even heard of anyone getting accepted by that magazine? It’s like the holy grail of the spec short fiction market. I think all their stories are typed up by enslaved zombie ghostwriters chained up in their basement.) Maybe they’ve been in cahoots for years to keep horror down, ever since King blew up with Carrie and threatened their precious hold on the imagination of readers. They probably take their orders from Robert Heinlein's disembodied brain in a jar...

Okay, maybe that is a little outlandish. More likely, maybe people are a little afraid of horror. I suppose that's appropriate.

But, it still makes for slow going for the devoted horror writer. Mixing genres is a great idea for those who are interested—dark sci fi, urban fantasy, steampunk, apocalyptic and anything with zombies in it seem to be genre mash-ups that are gaining ground these days. But what if you just want to write just horror?

Then it’s going to be rough. And possibly gory. (But that’s the way we like it...right?)

Anyway, all of this is based on my own personal experience and In My Opinion, which may mean I am totally wrong. If you feel so, please yell at me in the comments. Also, yell at me in the comments if you have any information on Heinlein’s disembodied brain or any other vast sci fi conspiracy. Together, with our armies of mutant platypuses and zombie co-eds, we can rise up and slay them—!

Er, I mean…we can make the world a better place for horror readers. Yeah, maybe we should do that instead.