June 9th, 2006

International No-Horror Guild Awards

So, how about those International Horror Guild Awards, huh?

Now I'm as happy to recognize good writing in the genre as the next guy...but the key part of that phrase - and the one that seems to elude the IHG judges - is "in the genre". I get irked with these awards that seem so anxious to get away from stereotypical horror that they nominate things that just ain't horror. Take, for example, the work of Kelly Link. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Ms. Link's a bad writer (she's not); I'm saying that what she keeps getting nominated for is usually not horror. This year, for example, the Stokers have nominated her story "Some Zombie Contingency Plans", and simply everyone has nominated her collection Magic for Beginners.

Have any of these people actually read "Some Zombie Contingency Plans"? Here's a brief description: A young man who has just done six months in jail for a badly-conceived prank crashes a teenaged girl's party, and finds himself strangely bonding with her baby brother. The title comes from the notion that the young man entertained himself in the slammer by concocting fantasies of how he'd react to a zombie invasion.

There is no attempt made in this story to horrify, disturb, frighten, terrify, revulse, disgust, or even get a single hair to rise. It's simply a quirky mainstream work of fiction that happens to refer once or twice to a popular horror trope.

Say it loud, say it proud: IT'S NOT HORROR.

And don't give me the argument about how I "need to expand my definitions" blahblahblah. A story does not automatically become horror only because it references ghosts, or vampires, or zombies in some oblique fashion. For me, a work's primary intent must be to cause the reader to experience some version of fear.

These awards are not doing the genre any service by trying to claim that mainstream, science fiction, fantasy or mystery stories are horror when they're not. Rather they're insulting the very genre they mean to serve by telling us that no true horror writing is good enough.

That's bullshit.

Hey, award guys, wanna "push the envelope" (my most detested phrase) and prove that horror can expand in new directions? Then how about recognizing something political, like Glen Hirshberg's "American Morons" or Whitley Strieber's "Kaddish"? Oh, but that might actually offend someone! At least the Stokers have tabbed Gary Braunbeck's In the Midnight Museum, which - as flawed as it admittedly is - nonetheless does something new and hip by redefining the popular tell-all recovery story as horror.

I think awards can serve as a signpost for a genre, and may be used as reference points by future readers. That's why I think it's too bad that twenty years from now someone might seek out the best horror writing of 2005, come across the IHG nominees, and conclude that no real horror writing occurred in that year.

Because plenty did.