Essay : Embracing the Cold, Desolate Cosmos
So, we've been exploring cosmic horror all month, right? We've discovered great new authors. discussed some aesthetic issues we're not familiar with, but I wouldn't have dared leaving you without providing some expertise on this particular subgenre of horror. I'm happy to welcome today Bob Pastorella from This is Horror.
In case you didn't know, This is Horror is THE online resource for horror fiction on internet. They publish news, features, reviews, interviews, books and podcasts, which Bob co-hosts himself alongside head honcho Michael David Wilson. They are also hosting Scott Nicolay's podcast The Outer Dark. Bob and Mike are one of the reasons why I grew an interest in cosmic horror. Bob is also an author himself, so make sure to check out his novella Mojo Rising if you like this piece.
Written by Bob Pastorella
The internet age opened the door for eBooks, and self-publishing, and strangely enough, the triumphant return of the novella. Usually collected with other similarly sized tales, the novella collection is still a rather big deal, and we probably have Stephen King to thank for that. And what a more perfect vehicle for cosmic horror than the novella. There have been plenty of full-length novels written in the cosmic horror genre, but for most writers, they prefer the novella. As there are many reasons for this, the simplest reason in the best: the novella allows the writer to closely examine a character for one singular, momentous event. There’s no room for sub-plots, and really no room for messing around. Writers using the novella form today are producing some of the most mind-blowing, hair-raising pieces of cosmic horror ever written.
So why now? Why is cosmic horror suddenly so popular again?
We only have to look at ourselves for the answer. Never before has society been so fixated on the ‘self’. We even have a style of photography named after our narcissistic fascination. Celebrity worship is at all-time high, especially when it only takes one YouTube video to push us over the threshold of ‘nobody’ to household name. We’re told how special we are, how if we try we can do anything we want to do. And for the most part, this is true. We are in the age of the Instant Celebrity, measured only by our own fickle attention spans. So if no one is more important than ourselves, then our greatest fear is that in the end, we really don’t matter. The universe is still cold and distant, scoring very high on the don’t-give-a-shit scale when it comes to the endeavors of humans. The fear that we don’t matter in the grand scheme of things is terrifying.
Why should we even pursue our dreams?
Why write that story, sing that song, talk to that girl?
Why even write this article?
The answer is that we have no other choice than to believe it matters, to pretend that the sun won’t supernova during our lifetime and consume us with fire. We maintain hope, it is our mantra. Without hope, without believing what we do matters, there is really nothing else for us.
So we write about these fears, and oh what tales we spin today. Contemporary cosmic fiction is far removed from the pulpy purple prose from which it started. And then, there are writers that are using the pulp conventions in ways we never thought possible. Cosmic horror today hits the nail on the head when confronting things that matter the most to readers without bombarding them with some kind of message. Writers have upped their A-game with cosmic horror, using their characters to cast the mirror’s reflection back at us. It’s all very relatable, accessible, and available. The small presses are doing an excellent job getting these stories out to readers, and an overwhelming amount of the work is exceptionally well-written, and often, outstanding.
Writers use cosmic horror to investigate the horrors which humans will never escape from. The characters are faced with the unimaginable, the undefinable, much like in real life when the odds are so high we wonder how we can even go on. So now, more than ever before, we are faced with these questions again, wondering why, knowing there’s not an easy answer. Cosmic horror doesn’t even pretend to answer the question. It knows the answer won’t help you anyway. Cosmic horror knows the screams you hear from the void are only echoes.
Who is writing cosmic horror?
Damn, I hate lists, and I think readers can learn a lot by doing a little exploring by themselves. If I have to name one writer who’s doing it right, and by right I mean consistently knocking it out of the park, then it’s Laird Barron *. A quick Amazon search of Laird Barron will lead you a ton of books by other writers that are in the same vein. Do yourself a favor and check out Mr. Barron’s work, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the cosmic horror genre. If his stories won’t get your motor running, nothing will. The best writers in the genre are building on the foundation laid down by the greats of the past, but also engaging the reader with accessible prose that packs a solid emotional punch.
We made cosmic horror what it is today, so we might as well enjoy it while we’re still here. Trends don’t last too long in horror. Hell, I just saw an article stating that ghosts are the new vampires. I think cosmic horror will be around for a while, as long as it doesn’t get too commercial and watered-down, which is usually what happens when something popular hits critical mass. The good news is that fiction trends mirror our society and culture, so now we are all just staring into the abyss, seeing ourselves stare right back.
* Editor's Note: See, I wasn't lying to you!