An article in The Guardian suggested that the absence of the supernatural monster from books generally considered horror fiction could be the end of the genre. I must respectfully disagree. While Becky Siegel Spratford, considered the expert on reader’s advisory in horror fiction, suggests that supernatural forces must be present for a book to be considered part of the horror genre, here at MonsterLibrarian we have always taken a broader view of what constitutes horror fiction (some would argue, I’m sure, that our definition is too broad). In fact, when we started out, with a much smaller number of genre divisions, one of the categories we had was “science gone awry”. It can be as terrifying as any supernatural creature, that’s for sure. We’ve since integrated the titles from that category into other subgenres, because it’s now such a common source of monstrosity. I confess that the books I remember as most terrifying from my own teenage years included not just Stephen King’s early works, but science fiction stories such as Asimov’s “Nightfall”, and medical thrillers, like Robin Cook’s Godplayer and Mutation. The natural world at its most frightening, and the dangerous obsessions of the mad scientist intent on altering, extending, or creating life–these are the stuff of terror, fear, and dread. And they have been for ages.
The advancement of science and the expansion of our world have changed us, and the source of our fears is now much more often the evil we do to each other and to the world around us, and how it rebounds to us. That’s not to say that we have abandoned our fears of attack from outside or supernatural forces, but mad science is hardly new to the horror genre. Critique of social, economic, and political issues isn’t new to the genre either, and the existence of that critique in a text doesn’t determine whether it’s horror–the emotional punch to the gut does that. Horror does not have to be, as the author of the Guardian’s article suggests, drawn from ancient fears and folktales, or from gothic novels. If it’s not somehow situated in the real, or at least the believable, then the fantastical elements are unlikely to succeed. In spite of the occasional moaning and groaning that horror is dead, it’s not. Like so many of the iconic monsters of the genre, as long as there are things to fear, it will rise. And, to answer the question the author poses of where we will find books that really scare us now… well, in a genre as broad as horror, there is a place for everyone to get their literary chills. And if you’d like some recommendations, we at MonsterLibrarian.com are happy to oblige.