Re: RARA-AVIS: Noir Horror?

From: Bob Toomey (
Date: 10 Feb 2000

Doug Bassett wrote:

> I review horror magazines for a small horror magazine.
> Yes, of course there's still good work being done in
> the field. But I think I know whereof I speak on this
> point: the genre as a whole really needs a new
> approach. They've been sifting the same pile of sand
> ever-more finely, and it shows.

The same might be said for the hardboiled P.I.

I've been reading horror stories for forty years, and for most of that time it was a very small genre, existing mainly as short stories, with only a few novels, and even fewer real classics. Blatty's THE EXORCIST and Levin's ROSEMARY'S BABY changed all that. Suddenly the publishers discovered that horror, hitherto a virtually ignored category, could actually generate bestseller revenue. Next thing you knew, the shelves were crowded with millions of books about demon babies and demon teenagers. King's CARRIE caught the crest of this wave, and King himself ushered in a flock of lesser, and in a few cases better, writers.

And practically before you could say "Horror boom," the bust was already in sight. It looks like horror is going they way of the category western -- a few top performers survive, but the midlist team is sent back to the bleachers to hack out TV or movie novelizations, sell their vision to the small presses, or maybe even to find real jobs. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

Because horror, for the most part, is a small arena, with a limited amount of space for maneuvering. I'm not saying there isn't room for another vampire novel. But it needs to be reconceived in the way, say, Dan Simmons' CARRION COMFORT reconceived it. And so on, through the basic types, supernatural and non. Do we really need another serial killer or slasher novel? It had better be as good as THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and definitely not as bad as HANNIBAL.

So you may be right about the field needing a new approach, but it's hard to see what that might be. Good original writing is hard to come by in any genre, but somehow it keeps happening. And good original writing is the answer. You're obviously reading a lot of work that doesn't hit the mark, but ask yourself this: was there ever a time when things were better?


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