Beyond Bestsellers: Sinister Speculations of Science Fiction

by Emily Z.

I happen to think science fiction (and his close friend, speculative fiction) is the future of horror. No, not exclusively and certainly not just recently, but increasingly. Science fiction is about uncomfortable questions. What if the robots we create become so sophisticated they overthrow us? What if virtual reality becomes so commonplace that we abandon our bodies? What if we never leave Earth, as a species, but manage to survive until the heat-death of the Sun? What would we even look like so far in the future?

Such science fiction is not always clearly labeled as horror, but part of this is because horror is such a personal, subjective genre. For me, it’s simply a bonus when I find out my science fiction has some teeth. And the harder (i.e. more realistic) the science part of the fiction is, the greater the odds its speculative premise may one day become reality. Hardly a comforting thought. Once upon a time, sophisticated robotic automatons were a distant dream, yet before we’d mastered the microchip, humans were dreaming that those hypothetical creations would turn on us. The robots of our present reality resemble the robots of our fiction more and more each day, performing surgery and preparing for combat. Science fiction and science fact are overlapping. It’s more than just robots, too. The smart watches we willingly buy are reminiscent of the myriad monitoring devices explored in numerous books. The voice-controlled speakers being rolled out now? They might remind a few of us of Hal from 2001: a Space Odyssey. Even though science fiction is best known for offering us the alien and inhuman, it proves all the more unsettling when its theories are at least a little familiar.

Before I start sounding too paranoid, I’ll summarize. We need to keep the blood in our blood-baths and the breath in our re-animated corpses fresh, right? Well, the (currently) theoretical dimensional gateways, aliens, sentient robots, and super plagues science fiction offers give us access to vast, galaxy-spanning tracts of land on which to cultivate some of our oldest fears.

Wool by Hugh Howey

A thrilling, finely-woven tale about a seemingly textbook post-apocalyptic society. Wool unravels with a twist, though: humanity actually had a plan in place for the apocalypse, they followed it, and they survived quite handily. Now what is left of the human race lives in one tall/deep self-contained, hermetically sealed structure known as a “silo”. It protects them from the poisonous miasma contaminating the entire outside world. Really though, they’re fine. They’ve found a way to grow food, manufacture or repair other supplies, generate power, etc. They have a simple government with rigid, but straightforward rules. The right to reproduce is controlled by a randomized lottery, so the size of their little flock is kept stable. Yet, out of the blue one day, someone demands to be let outside. The shear audacity of this suicidal request raises some alarms, but the request is granted for the greater good.  The damage is done though and this close-knit community cannot ever truly be the same. Why did that person want to walk into a fog of death? Did they know something?

Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The less you know about this book going in, the more surprises there are for you to enjoy. Of course, this is complicated by the fact that there is now a film adaptation available in the US. I will confirm that it’s a zombie survival story, but there’s more to it. Yes, there’s still action, violence, and some hauntingly gory scenes, but there are also ethical quandaries, strong female characters, and sparkly shoes.

The Warren by Brian Evenson

In an incredibly far-flung future, X exists alone. X is not supposed to be alone, but X’s progenitors ran out of material and couldn’t make a partner for X before they themselves passed away. In the creaky, decrepit cocoon of a warren-like bunker, X spends a lot of time watching corrupted instructional video files from untold generations ago. The videos explain everything X needs to know (especially about not going above ground) except for what X, perhaps the last person alive, is supposed to do about being the last person alive. Of course, X is not truly the last. Someone else is there, scurrying around the nest of tunnels with X. They’re not like X at all. Do you think they can be friends?

John Dies at the End by David Wong

You might not consider this book science fiction at first or even much later, but I would. It is at least 40% science fiction, 30% horror, 10% supernatural, and 20% (admittedly adolescent) humor. It all starts with Soy Sauce, the nickname given to a pitch-black party drug so powerful it can let you see the future, the distant past, the history of a single grain of rice, or maybe even levitate. It’s a fantastic high, right up until the point where you explode messily. Fans of the Sauce don’t always explode, though. Sometimes they’re totally fine or even chosen to have their consciousness elevated by the insane, foul-mouthed deity Korrok. Our anti-heroes, the mostly lovable slackers John & David, are not so chosen. Instead, they find themselves dragged inescapably into a trans-dimensional drug ring and some amateur monster-hunting. Somehow they’re supposed to save the world from an obscene eldritch horror even though they can barely keep their jobs at the video rental place.

Keep in mind, this book started out in life as a long series of online installments, so the story arch is non-traditional. Sometimes the tone is irreverent, other times deeply melancholy or violent or absurd. For all its eccentricities, this book and the rest of the series (third volume is out now), are a trip.


Don’t forget to check out the rest of the books especially Annihilation. The film is coming out in February of 2018 (unless it’s delayed again) and you’ll want to be ready!



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6 responses to “Beyond Bestsellers: Sinister Speculations of Science Fiction”

  1. Kaley says:

    Annihilation has been on my TBR foreeeever! I might have to bump it up now. Though I honestly wasn’t crazy about The Girl with All the Gifts.

    • Emily Z says:

      Annihilation is my favorite book of that trilogy. I’d have to know what it was about GWATG that didn’t thrill to know if you’ll like Annihilation more though. No judgement!
      If it is helpful, Annihilation is more about gradually building menace and puzzling over which characters to trust than monster-fights and gore.

      • Kaley says:

        It was the dynamic between Helen Justineau and Eddie Parks. I just wasn’t buyin what the author was sellin! I really liked the concept of the book, but couldn’t get past…er, that.

      • Emily Z says:

        Oh, haha, yeah but you know that all apocalyptic fiction stories have to have a will-they-or-won’t-they relationship no matter what, right? I mostly ignored it as I do with the majority of relationships in books. There’s actually a romantic element in John Dies at the End too that I …also didn’t entirely buy into. There was enough going on in the rest of that book to distract me from it though.

  2. Isaac H. says:

    I loved Wool! The whole Silo trilogy, in fact. If there was ever a book trilogy that would make for a great TV series, it’s those three books. The author even allows others to write and publish side stories in the same universe through Amazon.

    • Emily Z says:

      At one point I was convinced they were going to make a movie or series, but that was five years ago when I was young and naive. I will likely read the rest of the series some day; I think I just forgot that it was part of a trilogy because I consider Wool itself to be a series of novellas. I might also check out the Machine Learning collection, which has the very …different short story The Walk Up Nameless Ridge.

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