Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #3-3: Do You Feel Cyber, Punk?

An easy pairing for near future science fiction horror begins with the cyberpunk genre. Cyberpunk deals with technology that is more advanced than today and focused in two main directions. The Internet, computer software, and artificial intelligence play an important role. This is followed a close second by human augmentation that is commonly in the form of cybernetics, and military hardware. The technological level of sophistication depends on how many years in the future the story takes place. Another factor common to the genre is that most settings involve massive, global corporations that control just about everything between them, even the governments that are supposed to be running the world’s countries. These companies are great motivators of plot in the stories.

The protagonists in cyberpunk are the punk part of the equation. They battle against the monolithic corporations and work outside of the often-corrupt law. Keeping with the dark dystopian mood that permeates the genre these protagonists are not always the most moral of characters. To the common people they are indistinguishable from the criminal element. The heroes of the setting are aware of the true nature of their society and unwilling to leave things the way that they are. They end up fighting, incapacitating, and often killing people in authority even as they do the antagonists. They steal information Robin-hood style. It is not uncommon for them to work with and for criminals, and tread the fine line between doing what they’re paid for and what is right.

Horror is as natural a fit with cyberpunk as it is with modern settings, in some ways perhaps more so. The powerful cyborgs, the futuristic weapons, the surveillance society, and the great scientific achievements all make for a world--human emotions and intentions aside--that is strongly grounded in reality, practical, and logical. The power available to even a single person with the right connections lends to a sense of security unfelt any time before. What better place and milieu is there to shatter with the illogical, the incomprehensible, and the supernatural? Powerful technologies versus the supernatural have a long history hearkening back to the spectacular but ineffective lightning cannons in the Gojira movies. Cyberpunk brings this to the more intimate, personal, horror level.

Mood: roguish.
Music: Wilderness by Brian May and Pork and Beans by Weezer.

Brian May: Another World
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Weezer: Weezer (Red Album)

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #3-2: Binomial Nomenclature Horrorificus

There are three classes of science fiction that are the initial focus of the horror/science fiction cross-genre author. There is Hard Science Fiction where there is great accuracy to the science. There is Cyberpunk, essentially already a fairly dark genre. Then there is Soft Science Fiction where the science is not that strictly correct. These classes can be broken down further. In addition there are other classes of science fiction. The class with the least to say about mixing it with horror would be the Hard Science Fiction. The reason for this is that focus on accuracy and reality. This is not to say that it is flawless, but it does not particularly settle for verisimilitude. The Hard sub-genre requires horror strongly based in reality and might be best relegated to thrillers.

Cyberpunk has restraints upon it that also limit the horror that can be mixed into it. Or so one would think. Anyone who has come across GURPS Cthulhupunk or Catalyst's CthulhuTech RPG will agree. Though the focus isn't on horror Shadownrun is another example of cyberpunk and the fantastical. Cyberpunk can actually be written as horror without stepping outside of the technology that makes up the backbone of its science. It's all a matter of focus, where criminals with advanced weaponry like cybernetics and smart guns roam the streets, and hackers get their brains fried plying their skills against faceless monolithic corporations that are more sadistic and powerful than the worst dictators. Still, it is a genre ripe for adding upon in even more nefarious ways.

Soft science fiction is the most open class of science fiction covering a multitude of different styles from Space Opera like Star Wars, to modern day uses of unconventional science like Fringe, to the goings-on of Utopias with trouble like Isaac Asimov's Caves of Steel--itself a mystery cross-genre work--to dystopian stories like Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Soft science fiction immediately has a built-in cast of characters directly usable for horror in the form of aliens. There is no lack of alien horror stories. Being alien means extra-terrestrial beings are an unknown. Its already been discussed that science can be used for nefarious purposes, however even benign purposes can have unseen affects. Soft science fiction often has strong social overtones, which lend themselves to horror.

Mood: bright.
Music: Iron Maiden by Iron Maiden and Before the Winter by Stratovarius.

Iron Maiden: Iron Maiden
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Stratovarius: Visions

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Anatomy of a Horror Setting #3-1: Science Fiction Horror Feature

A psychic horror setting and magical horror setting are just that, horror settings. Now it’s time to look at something that crosses genre lines. A natural fit for melding with the horror genre is the science fiction genre. People often look at science in wonder, but they also look at it and see things that they don’t understand. They see a great unknown. The unknown is always a perfect jumping off point for fear. That which is unknown is frightening--a pretty standard and correct axiom. Science will always be a point of fear for some. There is always something yet to be discovered. Better yet from the horror standpoint is that scientific discoveries are comparable to double-edged swords. These discoveries can be put to both beneficial and malevolent uses.

In the previous setting discussions the questions that needed to be asked were not exclusive. Most of the options chosen worked together. Answering one question did not make other questions moot. Most of the possibilities coexisted in a cohesive whole. When looking at a science fiction horror setting some of the questions, especially the earliest ones, will exclude other ones from being asked. As with horror, science fiction has its own sub-genres. The science fiction sub-genres though vary in ways that separate settings into entirely different lines that are hard to blur--not impossible--and may be undesirable to merge. Horror sub-genres share a common purpose, to instil an exciting level of fear. Science fiction sub-genres serve different purposes and have their own unique goals.

All of this means that the first question the author of a setting needs to ask is what science fiction setting is necessary for the horror to be injected? This is the first question if the author knows what kind of horror it is to be. If the author doesn’t know then there is some leeway. Conversely the author can know what kind of science fiction the story will be--remember it can be a storyline for a short story, a novel, a script, or for a role-playing game--and then decide based upon that the nature of the horror that will be a part of the final amalgamation. The articles to follow will look at the types of science fiction that work best with horror, how to incorporate the horror within the science framework, and all of the important decisions needed to traverse the line between the two genres.

Mood: sombre.
Music: Science Fiction/Double Feature by Me First & the Gimme Gimmes: Are a Drag and Hangar 18 by Megadeth.

Me First & the Gimme Gimmes: Are a Drag
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Megadeth: Anthology - Set The World Afire

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

13 Nights 2008 Aftermath

I hope everyone had a great Hallowe’en and enjoyed the thirteen nights as much as I did. On one of the nights I revealed that there was an unintended connection between several of the movies. Most of them were made by a writer/director. This trend is most common with horror movies. It doesn’t matter whether these are all scriptwriters that want to be directors, or need to be to maintain the vision of their script. It doesn’t matter whether these are all directors who happen to write scripts, or need to as a matter of getting to direct the sort of movies that they want to direct. The first name in horror writer/directors is of course Wes Craven. Right behind him is John Carpenter. Oddly enough the thirteen nights did not involve either of these giants. This wasn’t the only trend.

The list of movies intentionally included several that were victims of bad press. They were written off as rip-offs, or in some cases declared unwatchable. This must be disheartening to everyone involved in their production. It is discouraging enough as a fan of some of these films to see them so maligned. This is further true with good movies that are not campy. At least with camp and a high cheese factor there are people who will flock to be fans for a movie because it is so bad that it’s good. Horror is a good genre for not being dismissive of low budget films. Some of the lowest budget horror movies gained great fame, from John Carpenter’s “Halloween” to Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” to the granddaddy of modern horror George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”.

One last thing that was apparent from the selection of movies is that good horror comes from many different places. Some comes, naturally, from Hollywood. Others can come from a world away like New Zealand. The inspiration for horror movies has just as wide a spread. Some come straight from the scriptwriter’s imagination. Others come from the literary world. Yet others come from other media altogether such as video games. Then there are always the horrors that come from real life. One movie even came about because of one of horror’s most lucrative film genres, the slasher. Life spawns books and movies, books spawn movies, a genre spawns video games that spawn movies, and a genre even spawns parts of itself in a widening family tree. Isn’t horror grand?

Mood: exhilarated.
Music: Breakin' in the Gun by Vince Neil and Harbinger of Fate by Iced Earth.

Vince Neil: Carved in Stone
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Iced Earth: The Crucible Of Man - Something Wicked: Pt. 2

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