Contemporary horrorists

On eldritch terrors from beyond and their Twitter accounts

Staring into the abyss for fun. I do enjoy a bit of horrorism myself, especially with a political inflection. (See also NightmareFuel.)

Sidebar: The contemporary phenomenon of political horror writers is also independently interesting; Some of the conservative writers have a red-pill tint, in the sense of reading horror as seeing-of-painful-truths that the snowflakes can’t handle, or something? And the painful truth is that the horror is other people? Maybe black people, if you believe you are talking to white people? A couple of other writers on this list are probably similar, your quasi-biological class determinist Houellebecq and your Deep-State-is-Cthulhu-Actually Zero HP Lovecraft, are probably situated at various waypoints along the path to dark enlightenment and indeed the dark enlightenment progenitor Nick Land a.k.a. The Whiteness Out Of Space, is also a horror writer himself.

Another recurring theme (Houellebecq, Tacos, Zero HP Lovecraft) is pluralistic ignorance, i.e. the real horror is that we are all surviving in a vicious social norm that we individually secretly hate but publicly endorse for fear of censure. Since this does not in fact correspond to a regular personal experience of mine this dread typically fails to land for me. (Maybe I am that one person who is happy with the social norm and by enforcing it, ruining it for everyone else?) The kind of awful inescapable horror I more often suspect for myself in is the more general moral maze where we can all see that the situation is not ideal but our local incentives mean that we nonetheless cannot escape. As opposed to pluralistic ignorance where the odds are that you are the monster for voicing what most people secretly feel. Unlike pluralistic ignorance, there is greater scope for complaining over the water-cooler about being trapped in a bureaucratic moral maze, short of a full-blown 1984 scenario. Voicing “geez I am not sure we are working for the common good here” might hurt my promotion prospects but less so invite universal opprobrium. But then where is the horror in that?

Anyway, there are diverse abysses to gaze into here. Gaze on. There is also a goodreads list.

Peter Watts

Everything this former marine biologist touches turns into posthuman ooze. Gritty depictions of a future in which humans are cockroaches to the diverse and uncaring biome that has arisen from them and which eradicates them in incomprehensible ways. Recommended: The Firefall series, in which the diverse superior post-humans that rule the future rarely stop to explain their fears to humans about the even more superior aliens that pop by.

Charlie Stross

In Laundry Files, a series gradually sliding from public-service/dotcom office snark into dark tech Sleeper-in-the-Pyramid weirdness. The density of the puns is decreasing as their magnitude increases throughout the series.

Heide Goody and Iain Grant

The Odd Jobs series is Birmingham comedy civil service horror. The monsters from beyond have a flavour of Brexit-climate-change-with-tentacles. I find it satisfying and cathartic and relatable in a prim medium-density-urban kind of way. The upwardly-mobile god monsters send their kids to private schools and worry about landscaping in between sucking out souls.

Zero H.P. Lovecraft

This guy (?) can turn an arresting phrase and a horrific image, in e.g., God-Shaped Hole, a tale of an augmented reality future in which our wistfully unsocialised protagonist and his PUA AI dating assistant encounter the spammy post-human dark sex gods arisen from Generative Amorous Networks, which is an excellent logic bomb / cheezy pun of doom.

Aside: I think this guy leans neoreactionary based on his tweets, which makes me wonder vaguely if I have missed some of the layers of horror a conservative would experience in his stuff. Maybe there would be still more if I was terrorised as well as titillated by his hot queer robot sex motifs. 🤷‍♂ There is still enough macabre to go around either way and some nifty social media future extrapolation.

Michel Houellebecq

He wrote a biography of H.P. Lovecraft and Atomised is indeed full of a certain type of biological horror so I’ll count him. His later books seem to be more things-that-scare-baby-boomers (?) kind of horror, (“booror”) which has not grabbed me so much.

Delicious Tacos

Another marginal entrant in this classification. The pseudonymous Delicious Tacos writes books with some (appropriately) complicated exploitative relationship to the complciated and exploitative PUA community. Has the Houellebecq aura of speaking painful truths except maybe not so serious? Interview excerpt that gives the flavour:

Part of the plot involves weaponized blackmail, with personal data being leveraged by a terrorist cell. In the wake of the Ashley Madison dump and so many instances of doxing, it’s an eerily plausible scenario – and of course this ties in with our increasing technological dependence. Maybe there’s not a nuclear holocaust at the end of the chain, but do you see things coming to a head?

The good version of this would be: everyone’s innermost secrets are revealed. We all realize that we’re all racist, horny, greedy, hateful. We all jerk off to unspeakable things. We all hate our husbands, wives, children etc. Everyone’s secrets come out at once and no secret has leverage over another.

This is that aforementioned pluralistic ignorance theme. Since I believe that we all harbour varying degrees of racist horny greedy impulses and I thought we all believed that and chat about it reasonably regularly and reasonably openly, perhaps I am the fool.

Jeff VanderMeer

The lauded Southern Reach series has many fans and a lauded movie adaptation of the first book Annihilation. I am the only person in the world who did not like Annihilation. It did not land at all for me. The components here are body horror/weird trippy cut sequences/bureaucratic authoritarian satire framed as a found-footage 1984 with talking psilocybe. I dunno, maybe if it were the first time I had this combination should have blown me away, but for me it had the taste of a bunch of separately tasty ingredients stirred together into an undifferentiated mess. Also, cardinal sin in my narrative preferences: lack of narrative payoff. The payoff is not so much a plot twist as a perpetual plot wringing. Also I prefer my horror connected to my lived experience by stronger sinews than this; there is no horrifyingly plausible version of my future in here, or alternative take on my present but rather some suggestive parable about a world which I clearly cannot visit and in which I have no pen-pals. Recommended for lovers of numinous fungus.

Ahn, Woo-Young, Kenneth T. Kishida, Xiaosi Gu, Terry Lohrenz, Ann Harvey, John R. Alford, Kevin B. Smith, et al. 2014. “Nonpolitical Images Evoke Neural Predictors of Political Ideology.” Current Biology 24 (22): 2693–9.

Boers, Elroy, Mohammad H. Afzali, and Patricia Conrod. 2019. “Temporal Associations of Screen Time and Anxiety Symptoms Among Adolescents.” The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, November, 0706743719885486.

VanderMeer, Jeff. 2014. Annihilation. First Edition. Southern Reach Trilogy 1. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.