Speculative Fiction Playdates

I want to first of all thank Jack for inviting us onto his blog, this week. It’s easy as authors to get comfortable in our own playgrounds, er, blogs. Writing a guest post is like visiting your cousins – in this case, the ones dressed all in black and living in a house that looks like something from a real estate listing geared toward the Addams Family. You know. The kind of house that eats good little boys and girls like you. Those were my favorite cousins. I was always begging Mom and Dad to let me visit them.
I grew up geek, and like so many people who describe themselves with that once-reviled label, I’ve read a lot of stuff from the “children’s sci-fi and fantasy” shelves. As a kid, I read pretty much nothing but. My transition into the “adult sci-fi and fantasy” section of the library was painless and swift.

My journey to horror was less direct. I’ll admit the prospect of reading something I knew was going to try to scare me didn’t really appeal to my 10-year-old self. I spent my preschool years running out of the room whenever I saw a Dalek on Doctor Who and cowering before the big screen presence of Jabba the Hutt. In grade school I believed the ghost stories my peers told me. I watched just one documentary about alien abductions and spent years terrified of that. Jacques Cousteau’s shark documentaries? Pure nightmare fuel. I still occasionally have nightmares about that wolfman from The Neverending Story. I was definitely not the kind of kid who was going to read Stephen King’s It by the age of 12.

The first book I remember terrifying me wasn’t horror at all. It was a children’s time travel fantasy called The Bungee that Google doesn’t even remember having ever existed (seriously, I’ve tried three different spellings). The two kids were in an underground lake inhabited by this amorphous predator called the Jelly that was tracking them by sound. The cave was dark, so they couldn’t see the danger, but they knew it was there, and they knew the only way out of the water was getting past the Jelly, but first they had to attract its attention. Shut up. I was 10. In any case, I have a vivid memory of reading this book until 1 a.m. on a school night, sweating like mad because I needed to know if they got out okay or if one of them would be gobbled up by the Jelly.

I kind of liked it.

There is a very good reason that fantasy, science fiction, and horror tend to get lumped into the same branch of the genre family tree – speculative fiction. The three genres are frequent playmates. Stephen King regularly brings in elements of fantasy. Steampunk is at least partially a subgenre born when fantasy devours elements of science fiction, but even more traditional epic fantasy quite often uses science fiction world-building techniques. For example, The Name of the Wind has a magic system that follows rational laws the characters understand and can confidently explain.

Horror has horror, certainly, but fantasy and sci-fi authors frequently incorporate elements of horror in their work. Strange new technologies and extraterrestrials give humans more things to fear. Hollywood loves mixing horror into its science fiction – Alien and The Terminator, as well as countless lower-quality flicks – but you certainly see it in books, too. And fantasy? Given no limit except the author’s imagination, fantasy has some seriously twisted shit. It takes something very clever or perfectly aimed at my fears to frighten me, anymore.

Forced by magic to do the bidding of another person or being? Every day. Having your mind/soul devoured by some horrible nightmare creature? Not all that weird, in the grand scheme of things. Pursued by an invisible monster that is invulnerable to harm and babbles nonstop about how much it wants to eat you? Par for the course. Tortured in a hundred lovingly described ways? You’re not even trying, are you? Did you say it involves sewing the eggs of monstrous spiders into the meat of my thigh?

That’s not too bad, actually. Leave that in.

Matt and I write high fantasy. We have our fair share of swords and wizards and strange creatures. We invite our cousins over all the time, though. A self-aware sandstorm that kills in minutes? Pretty much the bare minimum. Children turned into sand-like statues by an angry, all-powerful king? Probably more horrifying in context. Tiny snakes that like to burrow into your ears and nose to stay warm at night? Okay, I’m pretty proud of that one, and not just because it gave my mother-in-law the willies.

What are your favorite examples of speculative fiction playdates in books you have read? If you’re a speculative fiction author, what has your experience been with inviting elements of your genre’s cousins into your work?

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Find out more about ERIC ZAWADZKI and MATTHEW SCHICK on their blog Four Moons Press. Purchasing their book, Kingmaker from: