Science fiction and fantasy                                            


Musings and rants

Mastodon For SFF Fans
Where to go in the Fediverse to find the best speculative fiction and literary discussions.

Nine Political Books That Change The Conversation
Following news that Simon and Schuster plan to publish an inflammatory commentator, here are nine political books that deserve more attention.

Penguin Random House Withdraws Union Recognition
Penguin Random House have decided not to recognise Unite and the NUJ as a result of staff negotiations, leaving the publisher with a stain on its reputation as an employer.

Authors Support Stop Funding Hate
Some authors have had enough of divisive and xenophobic elements in the British press, and are willing to make an ethical stand.

Women In SFF: Indie Edition
A list of indie and self-published women writing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction genres.

Amazon Finally Makes KU Appealing For Novelists
The new per-page payout for the Kindle Unlimited subscription service makes it a much better deal for authors of longer novels.

Thoughts On The Sieghart Report On Libraries
The Sieghart report on libraries missed its mark by miles. Yet the real cause of the decline of the UK library network is depressingly obvious.

A Shout-Out For The Good Guys
When nastiness dominates online conversations about books it is time to appreciate the well-behaved authors.

Critique Circle: Shaping Fabulous Stories
The appeal of a certain writing critique website. Or, why I have neglected this blog.

Where Shall I Point This Pitchfork?
Some thoughts on Jonathan Ross, Loncon, and the twitchfork mob.

Reading Is Not A Race
Why I will be abandoning annual reading challenges in 2014.

What Book Discovery Is Missing
The current state of book discovery is narrowing our reading choices and squeezing out midlist writers. How can it be fixed?

An Explosion Of Discovery Tools
New book discovery engines are popping up all over the web. But which ones will come out on top?

Blog Tours From Both Sides
Blog tours are the lastest marketing fad. But what are the pros and cons of this kind of publicity?

It's Not Your Story Any More
When a book is published, authors lose control over how the story should be read. They should let go the reins and enjoy the ride.

Same Old, Same Old
Are current methods of book discovery pushing us further away from original literature?

Female Protagonists In Genre Fiction
A list of recommended SFF books for adults which feature a female as the main character.

Is This The End Of Sweeping Vistas?
Do recent trends in fantasy art styles and the constraints of online book discovery mark the decline of landscape cover art?

A Rising Tide Floats All Boats
Authors: stop thinking of other writers as your rivals. They're not the enemy.

Reviews Are Useless Without Context
With so many review blogs, quick ways of understanding their authors are more important than ever.




Filthy, Icky Vampires: Disgust In Immortal Horror

17th February 2012

I love the first part of Tom Pollock's short story Blood In The Water.

"There’s blood in the water.

I didn’t notice it when I ran the tap, but as the froth settled, it appeared. A fine red skein, twisting like a capillary down the middle of the glass, staining the water’s clarity. Like always, a tightness grips my throat that I can’t quite swallow past."


The blood in question is horrible for other reasons, but there's no doubt the repulsion we feel about drinking the stuff makes our reaction to this story all the stronger. It got me thinking about disgust and the role it plays in intensifying our reactions to horror.

It's easy to see why this emotion plays such a large part in our nightmares. Not drinking down the vomit of dysentery victims or handling rotten, worm-infested meat is fundamental to our self-preservation. This is a primal fear. I'd like to say it works on an instinctual level, but as anyone who's had to tell an infant not to eat dragonflies will tell you, it's also a learned behaviour. I'm pretty sure Tom's story is even more shocking in the light of AIDs, hepatitis, and all the other awful diseases we know can be transmitted through infected blood.

Gary McMahon is another author who isn't afraid to deploy the chunk bucket. His Thomas Usher books are full of the kind of stomach-turning imagery that's hard to forget. In spite of the "Pretty" in Pretty Little Dead Things it's often anything but, and I think this is part of why I found it so effectively scary.

Brendan Connell takes this idea to the extreme with stories like The Putrimaniac and The Flatterer in his Unpleasant Tales. Some of these stories are repulsive, but it's a kind of can't-look-away grossness that, like a car crash, works on our worst fears.

Vile immortality

Vampires are a staple of the horror genre that have moved away from their repugnant origins in a lot of recent literature, in favour of emphasising their sex appeal. Sure they drink blood, which is always going to be a bit off-putting, but they manage to do it in sophisticated ways, wearing bodies that don't age or break down, all while wearing tight leather outfits or frilly shirts. Or they do, unless they're part of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's Strain trilogy. These books are a reaction against the idea of the attractive vampire, and their Strigoi are foul creatures indeed. And being repulsive they're much more alien to us, harder to sympathise with, and therefore it's easier to imagine running in fear from such beings.

Disgust is about survival. We feel it because things that disgust us are also unhealthy. But what happens when your characters are immortal, as they so often are in horror? All your angels, mummies, gods, some kinds of elves, and of course vampires have one thing in common: they don't actually need disgust, at least not in the sense that we might need it. Why would you cringe from bacteria if it can't harm you anyway? Why even wash your hands?

That's something to bear in mind the next time you read about characters mashing faces with these undying hunks and hunkesses.