Jonathan McCalmont continues to diagnose the exhaustion and depletion of contemporary science fiction, and touches on something I feel is applicable to contemporary horror as well:
This sense of blockage is everywhere… it’s in the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, the films we watch and the books we read. Terrified of change, we cycle faster and faster through the last five decades, desperately trying to convince ourselves that everything is ‘retro’ and ‘vintage’ rather than merely comforting and familiar. Though interrupted, a future is out there waiting to be written amidst the drone strikes, the cloud storage and the teenagers born into the twisted prisms of social media……It is time to take a literary idiom designed to celebrate the dreams of Victoria and Roosevelt and use it to unpick the nightmare that the 21st Century seems poised to become. Enough with the deconstruction and the nostalgia, the future is out there and we can rebuild it… we have the mythology.
These are issues that face writers of horror and the fantastic too, and it is time that our science fictional present is no longer off limits to the explorations of terror. The omnipresence and omnipotence of surveillance organizations, the prison-industrial complex, shit economies and austerities, the banality of and potential alienation by social media are all topics suitable for exploration in horror; possibly even necessary. Horror in the 50’s responded to the Cold War and the threat of nuclear holocaust; contemporary horror must now face its own set of monsters, and extricate itself from the twin fetters of antiquarian settings and the timeless, no-where settings favored by Ligotti and others. In and of themselves, these modes are fine. Taken as the sole vanguard of horror against the 21st century, they are pathetically inadequate.*
And given that, as has been pointed out many times before, we are living in the science fictional world postulated by our forebears, the 21st century’s oddness is perhaps best explored by an interstitial weird fiction, a limber, lissome kind of fiction capable of straddling the lines of SF and horror, of rigorously and scientifically describing and diagnosing our ills, while also not flinching from the cold sweat induced in us by those ills. And perhaps most important of all, a fiction unafraid to make counter-suggestions to the status quo, to never let the vice-like grip of the present crush the voice of the future’s near infinite potentialities.
*I find myself in the strange position of advocating for entirely different approaches to horror and fantasy. With horror, I think the undernourished approach is one which engages with technological advance and the particular qualities of contemporary alienation and abjection; which follows the approach M.R. James recommended so long ago: to write in one’s own world, to use one’s own setting and all its drab, everyday objects, to re-imbue them with the menace which never really left them.