Horror was never my genre of choice. I struggled with the concept of genre for the longest time, as science fiction seemed more of a premise than a genre to me, although the shelves of book stores mockingly disagreed. Is a love story set in a spaceship (instead of the more conventional coffee shop) a romance in a spaceship or a science fiction novel with a romantic subplot? A story with an all-seeing surveillance system on another planet surely ought to be horror on another planet as opposed to science fiction, no? Isn’t Frankenstein–the world’s first science fiction novel–merely a horror story with social commentary? Not that there is anything ordinary about Mary Shelley’s fascinating plot, it is just that genre classification exists and I often find myself caught in a dilemma on such matters. Taxonomy helps me put things in boxes and view them with a renewed perspective.
A few months ago, I finished listening to the most renowned horror podcast of recent years, The Magnus Archives (from the brilliant, diverse, cheerful folks at Rusty Quill who are keen to amplify marginalized voices to the best of their abilities–I have since moved on to the rest of their catalogue and they’re all unequivocally excellent, I highly recommend it all). The podcast brings horror stories of different kinds—things that happen to us all and that we dismiss, things that we don’t think of as scary, but merely upsetting, fears that are far more deep-seated than just your average ghost stories—in a strange anthology that suddenly all seems to tell a bigger story, but only if you’re paying attention.
I’m currently trying my hand at writing horror, and it’s quite hard to do horror well. We know this genre and its pitfalls well enough to succumb to lazy storytelling, relying on jumpscares and predictable villains (capitalism). A vast body of horror either involves sexual violence or Lovecraftian tentacles, both of which I have absolutely no patience for. I do not mind the shakchunni of Bengali folklore, nicking the babus’ packed lunch of fried fish. But when we turn it into a ‘horror’ story of a young woman being violated and left for dead, trying to seek revenge, I find it unfortunately distasteful (which is a personal issue, of course). Such a story is, however, quite predictable and more of a tale that chooses to outrage without any regard for whom it may be triggering painful memories in compared to horror that is the most introspective of genres, probing into our innermost fears.
In a manner, then, perhaps the dystopian societies painted by cyberpunk and steampunk art too fall under the classification of horror. Perhaps all of dystopian fiction, your books on a surveilled future where every choice you make, every purchase you partake in, every friend and acquaintance you encounter is controlled elsewhere, by someone with a plethora of diverse information about you. This, of course, leads us to the line of thought that there is no dystopian fiction anymore, when that future is truly so very close to our reality. We’re left reading what is merely social commentary. And something that resembles the evening news cycle rather closely.
Where does horror and dystopian fiction go from here, then? We can keep recycling our fears of disease, rot, loneliness, the dark, the unknown, rapacious entities, and clowns for the foreseeable future. And perhaps in the pen of some extraordinarily gifted wordsmith, they will indeed spark interesting thought-spirals in our minds. Talking of a dystopia in a world where communicable disease has affected all our lives to some degree, and brought to focus how unkind and dismissive the world is to the chronically ill, to the disabled, to those without easy access to healthcare, seems a bit tasteless. Until we can stop, as people, saying things like “only the immunocompromised shall die ” as though it is perfectly fine for the rest of us to live recklessly when our fellow humans’ lives are at stake. Their lives are an endangerment brought forward by our actions. And we cannot possibly fictionalize a world of inequality and suffering, as though it isn’t just the reality we’re existing in.
And I didn’t even start on the prospect of millions of climate-crisis-affected migrants. Sod science fiction and dystopia, the future is clearly now.
Anusmita is currently working as a technical writer, where she helps people use APIs. She thinks she is a blahcksheep because she is tediously unremarkable and not many people can truly claim to be that. Everyone strives to be special but she has thoroughly accepted her ordinariness.