Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Speculative Fiction: Horror

What is horror? What makes it different from other kinds of speculative fiction?
Louise Ross, Just-Us League Writer
Last month, we compared fantasy, science fiction, horror, and paranormal. Today, guest writer Louise Ross will give us a deeper look at Horror.

What is Horror?

In its essence, horror draws on the things we fear, whether that is the masked slasher or the dark hallway. It’s generally defined as speculative fiction, but it does not require a supernatural or fantasy element. Consider Edgar Allan Poe’s story The Tell-Tale Heart which includes nothing extraordinary other than one man’s wild imagination, first about his neighbor’s eye and then about his heart.
It’s a genre, I promise!
Horror can be hard to define sometimes because it is often used as a story element. For instance, last week, I read a romance story. In the story, the male lead character paced in a hospital waiting room, ruminating on the horrible things that could be happening, as the female lead character gave birth during a high-risk pregnancy. The scene played on fear, guilt, and dread. These are part of the same emotions the horror genre pulls on.
The difference between horror as an element and horror as a genre comes from the overall novel. Sometimes a horror novel is defined by facing and overcoming a fear like Harker facing Dracula. Other times, a novel is horror because the main plot device is horror such as Silence of the Lambs which is a mystery told through action and terror.

Evolution of the Horror genre
Horror has been around since the earliest of the plays and can be seen in early adaptations of spoken stories (afterall scarring your friends around a campfire has a long tradition, and fear can be a useful teaching tool). Some of the earliest horror stories are those that involve death, such as ghosts and empty tombs. As an example, consider the storied of death who comes to town spreading plagues or appearing like a skeleton.
Early Themes
Early horror themes also include persecution. In 300-1300 AD, stories which accused individuals of satanism appear, and by 1500-1700 witch stories are so commonly told and believed that there are waves of witch trials and witch burnings.
Our fascination of monsters is not new either. The Greek and Roman myths are full of grotesque beasts which threaten man and the werewolf legends trace back further than Dracula.
A shift in the genre
Around the 18th century, horror shifts. The stories become less about a frightening creature and more about the character’s reactions to the creature. This is the gothic era of horror, which typically featured women trapped in frightening castles.
By the 19th century, the most famous horror authors are creating haunting tales of psychological terror and gruesome monsters that have become icons today. These authors include Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, Kafka, H.G. Lovecraft, Goethe, and the Brothers Grimm.
By the 20th century, horror developed based upon the changing communication technology: mass distribution, radio, and film. This included news based horror such as the sensationalized serial killers like Jack the Ripper, dime store and pulp horror stories, radio broadcasts such as the infamous War of the Worlds, and film from the slashers to The Shining.

Why we read or write Horror

Fear is a basic human instinct. It can be learned, such as stranger danger; experienced personally, such as the pain of touching a hot stove; or imagined, like the monster under the bed.
Fear tends to create a survival instinct, typically fight, flight or freeze. It heightens our awareness and kick starts adrenaline. These are strong reactions and can be exciting. A word of caution though, fear is only exciting because of the release and resolution. While confronted with the serial killer or the slavering werewolf, fear can be useful or hindering, but once the serial killer or werewolf have passed by, that’s when the excitement and overwhelming emotion become energizing to most people. Therefore in writing or reading horror, it is the moment of relief or the resolution that becomes the factor which determines the story’s effect.
Where is Horror going today?
The current trend in horror is toward blending horror with other genres. Horror romance, horror erotica, dark fantasy, and dark humor are all current genres. In my opinion, anytime there is a development toward blending genres, we also see a movement toward the purist genre as well.


Horror is a genre built off our basic emotional instincts and will adapt overtime.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this guest blog post from one of our friends at Just-Us League Writers. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or on her website. You can also find her latest short story, a fairy tale retelling of Goldilocks in a Just-Us League anthology, A Bit of Magic: A Collection of Fairy Tale Retellings.
Writing from the greater Kansas City area, Louise Ross escapes into writing after her full time career. She aspires to be happy and healthy, and when given the chance, she enjoys writing about everyday people living in fantasy worlds.

Readers aren’t likely to find high court fae or princesses in her work. Outside of writing, Louise quilts, plays computer games, and works; her least favorite thing to do is clean the toilet. Some of her short stories can be found in the Just-Us League anthologies and on her blog.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Speculative Fiction: Science Fiction

What is science fiction? What makes it different from other kinds of speculative fiction?
Heather Hayden, Rowanwood Publishing, Just-Us League Writer
Two weeks ago, we compared fantasy, science fiction, horror, and paranormal. Today, guest writer Heather Hayden will give us a deeper look at science fiction.

What is science fiction?

Imaginative concepts based around science (or a facsimile thereof) form the heart of this genre. Science fiction may delve into the consequences of advanced technology, space travel, extraterrestrial life, and even time travel (just to name a few), or it may celebrate the possibilities of such scientific endeavors, but science is what binds the story together.
Is science fiction all about the future of technology?
In many, many cases, yes. One of the wonderful things about science fiction is that it allows the reader to explore futures and other worlds where technology has advanced to a distant point—perhaps allowing the eradication of disease, or travel to other planets (or galaxies!), or even immortality.
That’s not to say science fiction always focuses on the distant future, however. Sometimes science fiction considers what might have been, such as how air travel might differ if the Hindenburg disaster hadn’t occurred. It also looks at the present and how our rapidly growing knowledge in computer science, biology, medicine, and other fields is changing life as we know it—or how it might change things if something went perfectly right (or, more often, disastrously wrong).
Does the science have to be based on real science?
All science fiction is in some way relatable to the scientific principles. Although the science of a particular story may not be completely true (for example: as far as we know today, teleportation isn’t viable), there must still be some elements that hold true to current scientific laws or theories. This connection is what makes a story science fiction, rather than another speculative fiction genre such as fantasy.
The human perspective
Beyond imagination, beyond scientific laws, there is one more element that truly makes science fiction what it is. That is the human perspective. Good science fiction not only explores amazing worlds and technologies, but also considers the human side: how scientific discoveries, events, and developments affects humanity either individually or as a whole. I use “human” in the broadest sense here; many wonderful stories have been written from the point-of-view of sentient beings who may be like or unlike us in many fundamental ways—that is, “aliens” (though they might come from or be created on Earth rather than another planet). However, even within those stories, the effects of science are shown, acknowledged, and acted upon.


Science fiction is a broad genre that ranges from “hard” to “soft” science fiction. Under those two labels lie many others, some of which can lean either way depending on the author’s bent.
What makes Science Fiction “Hard” or “Soft”?
Not all science in science fiction is the same. Hard science fiction strives for scientific accuracy, while soft science fiction does not. The latter also tends to involve the social sciences (such as anthropology and psychology), while the former often draws more on the natural sciences (engineering, chemistry, physics, etc.).
For example, if a story focuses on documenting a realistic space flight to Mars, then it is likely hard science fiction. If a story involves telepathic aliens that look like humans and are here to sign an intergalactic peace treaty, then it is likely soft science fiction.
Common Subgenres
Beneath the overarching subgenres of hard and soft science fiction lie many subgenres. Here are a few examples:
  • Artificial Intelligence: A personal favorite of mine, artificial intelligence is a common theme in science fiction and often involves the development of a sophisticated machine intelligence capable of reasoning and learning on its own. It can be helpful or hostile, and it may even be portrayed as sentient.
  • First Contact: When humanity (or any sentient species) meets an alien race for the first time, there will likely be some conflict involved, whether cultural or otherwise. First contact stories explore the possibilities and consequences of such encounters.
  • Galactic Empire: Often the setting for space operas (another science fiction subgenre), galactic empires stretch across vast distances and offer a massive tableau for stories to play out upon. Whether a novel follows a down-on-her-luck space merchant or a rebel spy, there’s always something new to discover at the next destination (be that another planet, an asteroid, or a space station.)
  • Steampunk: Always set in an era where steam is still the unifying power for machines, steampunk can involve everything from old-fashioned cars and dirigibles to giant robots and even ray guns.
  • Time Travel: A story based around time travel may travel forward, backward, or both, and often involves paradoxes or altered timelines.


Science fiction is an imaginative genre that is in some way based on or inspired by real science. What is your favorite subgenre of science fiction? Let us know on our Facebook page or leave a comment below!

Fueled by chocolate and moonlight, Heather Hayden seeks to bring magic into the world through her stories.
A freelance editor by day, she pours heart and soul into her novels every night, spinning tales of science fiction and fantasy that sing of friendship and hope.
Heather’s publications include Augment, a YA science fiction novel, and several short stories in the JL Anthology series. She is currently working on Upgrade, the sequel to Augment, as well as a gaslamp fantasy series titled Rusted Magic.

You can follow Heather’s writing adventures on her blog, Facebook, or Twitter, or through her newsletter.

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