2010-11-15 : Scifi vs Horror x3

I read The Word for World is Forest (by Ursula Le Guin) over the weekend, by the way.

Quoth J, here:

Your description of the Shock being horrible things instead of speculation is really interesting.

Wow! I hadn't thought of it that way. That's great. I've been thinking about it since.

That's the 1st versus: the Shock is a horrible thing, not speculation.

2nd versus: the Social Issue is intimate, not societal. In horror, we're looking at a person or a 1-on-1 relationship, not a society. Where the shock illuminates an issue in society, the horror illuminates the inner workings of one person or the inner workings of one person's relationships.

Splice is a good example. Spoilers! The first half of Splice is like Shock: hardcore genetic manipulation, building a new life form; Social Issue: parenting. But halfway through, at this precise and recognizable moment, it switches up. It becomes Horror: my daughter is a deadly unnatural creature; Personal Issue: I'm not rising to the challenges of motherhood, same as my own mother didn't.

In Ginger Snaps, it's all Horror: werewolfery; Personal Issue: my sister is going through adolescence and leaving me behind. In Mulberry Street, it's Horror: rat zombies; Personal Issue: who do I love?

And 3rd versus: there's something different in the way antagonism works that I haven't pinned down yet. Maybe it's something about how the Horror is sometimes the antagonist, where the Shock almost never is, and the story-mechanical differences that creates. I dunno! Any thoughts?

1. On 2010-11-15, Ben Lehman said:

I don't buy this equation. I think Sf and horror have less in common with each other than one might think.

I'm trying to formulate an actual argument, though.

Ah, okay. Horror stories are all about powerful elements that are outside rational human control. The very premise of science fiction, as a genre, is placing all events within rational human control and understanding. In a world where any magic is indistinguishable from advanced technology, there's no way that Freddy Krueger can be about your parents' expectations for you and the social decay of suburbia. He's some sort of stupid dream-technology construct.

Horror pairs with fantasy better than SF, I think.



2. On 2010-11-15, Vincent said:

I don't see where you disagree yet! So far, you're just saying the difference between a horror and a speculation-type shock, right?

My argument here is that the difference you're describing is only one of the differences between a horror story and a sci fi story. (Well, to be clear, I mean social sci fi, like The Word for World is Forest or the stories Shock: makes.)


3. On 2010-11-15, Ben Lehman said:

Yeah, heh, I guess I'm not disagreeing. Just the analogy gives me the heebie-jeebies.

In a way, I think that in good horror, the issues are related directly to the horror, whereas in Sf, the issues are in spite of the shock. Again, a difference.



4. On 2010-11-16, Simon C said:

I don't watch horror movies because they're too scary, so this is all coming directly out of my butt,


There's a thing about moral clarity, right? Like, we think that the teenagers might deserve to be slashed up or whatever, but we hardly ever think that the slasher is right to do so. Or at least, in horror movies it's usually about some affront to the natural moral order being rectified. Maybe I've only seen bad horror movies though. It seems like usually the horrific thing exists to expose some moral transgression, and to absolve people of that transgression when it is overcome.

But in good sci-fi, it's not so much about transgressions, and maybe more about revelation and freedom and change, rather than absolution and restitution of the norm.

But what do I know!

I don't really rate Word for World. It's kind of preachy and reads a bit too much like an anthro 101 text. I really like Four Ways to Forgiveness though. You should read that.


5. On 2010-11-16, Joshua A.C. Newman said:

I was going to say you were wrong about The Word for World, but now I realize that I'm thinking of City of Illusions which, ironically, features an enormous forest. I've gotten an almost constant stream of recommendations for The Word for World is Forest, though.

2nd versus: the Social Issue is intimate, not societal. In horror, we're looking at a person or a 1-on-1 relationship, not a society. Where the shock illuminates an issue in society, the horror illuminates the inner workings of one person or the inner workings of one person's relationships.

Ha ha! I just wrote yesterday that, in Shock: an Issue is something that affects at least three people, specifically because that's the population at which you start to have politics.


6. On 2010-11-16, Vincent said:

Simon, re moral clarity: Sometimes! For the 31 flicks I watched, you could make that case for about a quarter of them - the "moral disgust" ones. For the "instrument of clarity" ones, the "exaggeration to the point" ones, and the "startling juxtaposition" ones - the ones I like - the horror provides thematic clarity, not moral clarity. If you see what I mean, it highlights the moral questions, it doesn't align with the moral answers.

J: yep!


7. On 2010-11-16, Simon C said:


Makes sense to me!

How many horror movies end with them deciding that actually the horrific thing wasn't that bad after all? Like, how often do people learn to live alongside the horror? I'm thinking not often, but maybe I'm wrong.


8. On 2010-11-16, Simon C said:

oh! I just realised I have relevant actual play:

In our Bliss Stage game, it ended up that the adults all woke up again, except they weren't themselves anymore, they were the aliens, and we had to teach them how to be humans. The world would continue, but the old way of living was gone forever.

In my mind, that made it clearly a sci-fi story, and not a horror story.


9. On 2010-11-17, Vincent said:

Not often, it's true, but every once in a while. Teeth is an example, but I don't think that any of my 31 were.

Usually - and even in Teeth, too - the horror destroys everything in the characters' world, ring by ring, bull's-eyed on what matters most. (See "is there hope?" to find out how THAT goes.) I've been thinking about this in antag terms: in Shock:, your antagonist might destroy everything in your world; in horror, the horror will.


10. On 2010-11-17, Simon C said:

I get you. In horror, there's no way you're getting out unchanged. In sci-fi, maybe?


11. On 2010-11-17, Joshua A.C. Newman said:

In SF, if a character gets out unchanged, it's in defiance of a world that has changed out from under them; relatively, they've changed.


12. On 2010-11-17, Vincent said:

"Does the protagonist change?" is sometimes the point, but not always, in either horror or SF. That's just one way it can go with a protagonist.

In horror, the protagonist's meaningful world is being destroyed, and the protagonist's humanity, however it's embodied, is under direct threat. In SF - at least in Social SF a la Shock: - even when the world is being destroyed, the meaningful world isn't, and even a transformed person is still a person. In our Human Contact game, for instance, the Higher Machines' weird FTL communication nodes were just a technology we didn't have, they weren't an assault on rationality - look into one and you don't see Ogdru Jahad staring back!


13. On 2010-11-18, Robert Bohl said:

No, the Higher Machines weren't an assault on rationality, but they came pretty damned close.


14. On 2010-11-18, Simon C said:

Seems like maybe you're reducing your distinction to: "In horror, the horror is horrible."?

But like I said, I don't know nuffing.


15. On 2010-11-18, Vincent said:

Ding ding ding! That's distinction #1: In horror, you have a horror. In SF, you have speculation.


16. On 2010-11-18, Simon C said:


I realised why I don't get this conversation. What are you making a distinction for? It's possible to define sci-fi and horror however you like. You can read any media to fit any theory. What matters is what you're using it for.

So, why do you need it to be different?


17. On 2010-11-18, Vincent said:

Wait what?

It's the parallels that I'm talking about, that aren't evident without J's observation that a horror is (in some ways) a Shock. I'm drawing distinctions to establish parallels.


18. On 2010-11-18, Simon C said:

Oh right!

Ok. So, why is it a useful observation that horror is (in some ways) a Shock? What do we get out of thinking about it this way?


19. On 2010-11-18, Vincent said:

I think it'll let me talk better about horror with some of my non-horror-fan friends. I mean, yesterday you were like "but isn't horror mostly morally certain and, like, even a little conservative?" and I could say that no, horror can illuminate a genuinely interesting question, the same way that speculation can in SF. Right?

I don't know whether it has any value otherwise, but by default, I always assume that drawing connections between disciplines, movements, genres, scenes, mediums, whatever, will eventually pay off.


20. On 2010-11-18, Simon C said:

That makes sense to me. And yeah, I think I can understand what people like about horror movies more now. Still probably too scary for me though.


21. On 2010-11-18, Simon C said:

Oh! But, doesn't the fact that it's horrible imply some kind of moral judgement?


22. On 2010-11-18, Vincent said:

Like I say, you could make that case powerfully for about a quarter of the movies I watched. For the rest - and especially including the very best ones - sure, I guess, but whatever, the morality of the horror isn't the issue at hand.

Like, rat-zombies are morally repulsive, big duh. They kill thoughtlessly and eat helpless people and stuff; they're awful. But that guy, though, Clutch, whose world the rat-zombies are destroying and whose humanity they're threatening, his actions are worth our careful moral consideration.


23. On 2010-11-18, Simon C said:


What does destroying someone's world and threatening their humanity show you that, say, changing their world and challenging their humanity doesn't? Cool things, I'm guessing (but things that are hard for me to watch—well, actually mostly I just hate it when things might jump out from behind other things).


24. On 2010-11-20, Josh W said:

In my gut the difference between horror and scifi is the attitude to the unknown; in a scifi film the person walks slowly up to the iridescent glob on the floor and we lean forwards, curious to see what happens, in a horror film we lean back, bracing ourselves for the possible horrible consequences.

Also, I'm wondering if there is a horror equivalent to the non-shock scifi story; like those stories (usually short ones) where they just live in some weird world and we get used to it via their experience. Is that even possible?


25. On 2010-11-22, Chris Chinn said:

The difference that stands out to me is a matter how how sci-fi vs. horror handles "How you redefine your life in the face of this (thing)".

In sci-fi, the technology is shaped by, and shapes, society.  In most cases, what you're really negotiating is your life in the face of society, perhaps a society that is dynamic ("Hey, our robots just became sentient!") or one that is stagnant (1984).

The horror story, on the other hand, is about something that a) exists outside of society, and b) violates boundaries without regard.  The real theme at the heart of it is about maintaining or losing self- morally, physically, rationally, etc.

Instead of asking, "How do I negotiate living with this society?", it's asking, "What do I do with myself in the face of something society is completely unable/unwilling to handle?" (This is also why a lot of horror deals with stuff like abuse, unapproved sexuality, etc. - both superficially and meaningfully).


26. On 2010-11-23, Modern Myths said:


Curious whether you've seen 'Let the Right One In' (or even the US remake, which I am told is a fine film in its own right), and how it falls on your spectrum here. It really made an impact on me when I saw it and I keep kicking it around in my head.

And where do you slot those pulp-style stories where you find out at the end, or at some later point in your story, that it's actually a horror story you're in, when you thought it was noir, or SF? Do the horror elements trump the genre trappings?

-Jim C.


27. On 2010-11-30, Joshua A.C. Newman said:

Josh, remember that a Shock is for the players, not necessarily the characters. The alien world thing is a Shock kind of story.

... unless I'm thinking of a different kind of story. Can you give an example? (... if this thread hasn't died)


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