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[GUEST POST] Rena Mason on Why Horror and Science Fiction Aren’t Such Strange Bedfellows After All

Rena Mason is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Evolutionist, a mash up of horror/sci-fi and East End Girls, a horror/historical fiction novella. A former operating room nurse and longtime fan of horror, science fiction, science, history, historical fiction, mysteries, and thrillers, she began writing to mash up those genres and experiences in stories revolving around everyday life. An avid SCUBA diver since 1988, she has traveled the world and also enjoys incorporating those experiences into her stories. She currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada with her family. She’s on Twitter as @RenaMason88, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Horror and Science Fiction: Not Such Strange Bedfellows After All

I read a blog recently where a hardcore sci-fi author admittedly wrote a scary story but refused to acknowledge that it was also a horror story. I didn’t understand why, and the author never explained his reasoning in the blog. My assumption was that this author didn’t want that redheaded-stepchild label of “horror” tagged onto his work. As a reader of many genres, horror in particular, it disappointed me that he didn’t include the horror label in his description. I’d be more likely to read and buy more sci-fi if it had the horror label connected with it.

Then in the horror community, there are publishers/readers who won’t accept/read any sci-fi related horror submissions/stories. You mention the word “other planet” or “alien” and the pitch/book is over/put down. I don’t get this either, because I think it opens up broader markets/horror story perspectives, and most horror writers who pitch sci-fi stories to horror publishers tend to write more on the horror side and a soft sci-fi versus the traditional hard sci-fi anyway.

My debut novel The Evolutionist is a mash-up of horror/soft sci-fi. I was told at a mixed-genre writers convention by agents that I should label it as soft, “suburban” sci-fi/horror because the hardcore sci-fi people might feel that I advertised it falsely if there wasn’t enough planetary world-building, spaceships, aliens, and weapons descriptions, etc. This put me off a bit, so I hired horror editor R.J. Cavender, who doesn’t particularly care to read hard sci-fi but told me he enjoyed my story because he considered it a character-based driven story and that it leaned more toward the horror side. After editing, he gave me suggestions for a few publishers to send it to, and after a few rejections, I could tell that he too was becoming a little frustrated with the stigma of the horror/vs./sci-fi label.

At a horror convention I was told that horror/sci-fi was a tough market. But on panels, authors and editors encouraged more genre mash-ups. It was perplexing, and even though I was confused about how to label my story, I continued to submit and get rejections until a horror publisher with a co-owner who personally enjoys sci-fi read it and accepted it. Thank you, Robert S. Wilson of Nightscape Press. The Evolutionist went on to win the 2013 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in the First Novel category.

Some of the reviews I get from horror fans comment that the book is more sci-fi than horror, and I don’t get as many sci-fi readers because of the horror tag on the book. There may be better ways to cross-market/promote these types of works, but since I’m more focused on the writing process, I’m not entirely sure what a publisher would need to do to address these issues. Please, feel free to share any ideas or experiences that have worked in regards to this by leaving a reply.

Genre labels will never change or stop mutating. But I feel strongly that we should all be more open to reading works we wouldn’t normally pick up despite what the label says. From E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Sandman, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, and Matheson’s I Am Legend to some of today’s horror/sci-fi authors Benjamin K. Ethridge’s Dungeon Brain, Christian A. Larson’s Losing Touch, and Jonathan Moore’s Redheads, a Bram Stoker Award Finalist, it’s obvious science fiction and horror works continue to be written, but many readers and authors who keep their genres separate are missing out on a lot of great reads.

Is there even a market for it? I believe so. For starters, Dark Regions Press, a traditional Horror publisher, has hired a managing editor for sci-fi/horror, Michael Bailey, who is also editing Qualia Nous, a sci-fi/horror anthology slated to be published later this year by Written Backwards Publishing. I’m pleased to announce that my short story, “Ruminations” will be among the TOC, along with sci-fi/horror authors such as Lucy A. Snyder, William F. Nolan, and Gene O’Neill.

It appears the horror community is warming up to science fiction, and if this is reciprocated by the science fiction community it would open more doors to readers of both genres, which would be an increase in revenue for both sides. I don’t see how this is a bad thing. It’s up to authors and publishers to help bridge the gap and label works according to the criteria they meet for all genres.

2 Comments on [GUEST POST] Rena Mason on Why Horror and Science Fiction Aren’t Such Strange Bedfellows After All

  1. Personally, I love the combination of science fiction and horror. I mean, hello, Alien?

    I’ve only recently been diving into fiction that is labelled “horror” before anything else, and much of it has a scifi or fantasy twist. So scifi horror / fantasy horror mash-ups? bring ’em on!

    in other genres, urban fantasy especially, I have seen things labelled and marketed as what they most certainly aren’t, because the publishers think that will help the book sell better, they just need to jam it into a very short list of useless labels. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and i can only imagine how frustrating that is for the authors.

  2. I know most people would regard it as a special case, but I consider a lot of modern Lovecraftian fiction as science fiction horror.

    It certainly has attracted sf writers like Charles Stross and Brian Stableford.

    For that matter, as a general case, what about Peter F. Hamilton’s Night Dawn books?

    I suspect there are plenty of science fiction readers looking for horror tinged fiction. But I also have to admit that, apart from the Lovecraftian stuff, I don’t go to the sites of a lot of horror publishers looking for stuff that might appeal.

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