Halloween Special: Why I hate horror.

This is going to be a much shorter article than the one on why I hate fantasy.

I hate horror because it either bores me or terrifies me, and not in a good way.

Let’s deal with “terrifies” first. I am so easily frightened by things that are actually scary that Stephen King’s “how to write” book (On Writing) gave me literal honest-to-goodness nightmares. It’s a pretty good “how to write” book, with interesting stuff about his process and career and honest stuff about his addiction problems. I recommend it. However, in the course of the book and for good reasons, he summarizes his novel Misery. It’s well named. It’s been making me miserable every time I think about it ever since. I had trouble going to sleep and had nightmares—and this not from the book itself, but from the author’s synopsis of the book.

I am, however, prepared to put up with this distress on occasion as if the story is worth it, if this is one element in it. In horror, it so seldom is.

The tropes of horror do nothing for me at all. The undead do not strike me as mysterious and sexy, but as a cliche that has been way overdone. Rivers of blood leave me yawning. Skeletons and mummies just strike me as stupid. They’re boring. They’re cliched. Eldritch horrors were original when Lovecraft did them, now they’re dull. Oh, graveyards. Look, monsters in modern settings. It’s all about as interesting as bell ringing.

So, as you can imagine, I don’t read much horror.

The last couple of times I tried, it’s been things by authors who work in other genres. I was fine with George R.R. Martin’s Skin Trade, even though it’s about werewolves and was published in a book with a black cover. I can’t say I was actually fine with Susan Palwick’s collection The Fate of Mice, but I think it’s terrific writing and I’m not sorry I read them. (Gestella did bother me a lot. But you should read it anyway.)

Pretty much all of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s work edges into being frightning, but it isn’t genre horror with blood everywhere. Alien Influences is a good but scary SF novel. Traitors is a good but scary fantasy novel. I figured I could therefore cope with a novel of hers published as horror. But in fact, no. It piled on the gore to a degree I just couldn’t deal with, and before the characters had been sufficiently established that I cared about them. Because it’s horror, and what horror readers want is blood, right away, rivers of it, and scary stuff too, immediately, even before you care about the characters.

People kept saying I was being unfair to horror and there was all this great stuff out there—which is what I fully expect everyone is about to say in comments. I asked my horror-reading husband to recommend me something. I asked for something well-written, not too scary, and not using the cliches of the genre. What he gave me was S.P. Somtow’s Riverrun, and this is why I know I hate horror and I am never going to try it again, no matter what.

Somtow is a writer whose non-horror work I like a lot. The Shattered Horse is a very good post-fall-of-Troy historical fantasy. Jasmine Nights seems at first like a semi-autobiographical novel about an odd geeky boy growing up in Bangkok, but it flowers into a fantasy. It would be terrific anyway, and Bangkok is more alien than most alien worlds in SF, but as it is it’s a masterpiece.

I was ready to give Riverrun the benefit of every possible doubt. And indeed, it’s brilliantly written. Nevertheless it managed to hit both of my “why I hate horror” buttons at once. It distressed me and it’s using boring cliched tropes. Spoilers coming up! The distressing bit probably wouldn’t bother most people as much as it bothered me. There’s a boy with a brother who goes missing in a mysterious way and everyone starts acting as if he never had a brother at all. My sister died when we were about the same age as the kids in the story, so this was just out and out personally triggery. It was all well done. I was coping. Then the brother, now grown up, went into a fantasy world. I perked up a little. In the fantasy world, in the first two minutes, he’s on a raft, being poled by a skeleton down a river of blood. And this is non-cliched horror? OK…

We can’t all like everything. Think of the terrible shortage of shoggoths.


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