At this point, I’ve blogged multiple times about the intersection (or lack thereof) between the Sad/Rabid Puppies campaigns and horror fiction. I find it genuinely interesting that horror fandom never had an equivalent to the Puppies or to Gamergate, and since those movements peaked about two years ago, I doubt that horror ever will have such a thing unless a future generation starts the cycle anew.
Right now, I feel like taking another look to try and see what might have inoculated horror against the culture war (if you can forgive the mixed metaphor…)
One of the outgrowths of the Puppy campaigns is the so-called Pulp Revolution. This movement is based on the argument that mainstream publishers are preoccupied with political preaching and literary pretension, causing science fiction and fantasy to lose the vitality and straightforward storytelling of the pulp era. But now, thanks to Kindle direct publishing, indie authors can relight the flame and attract readers turned off by the tosh that big publishers are trying to foist onto them.
If you keep up with the indie horror scene, then this line of thought will be familiar to you. There are many self-published horror authors who pride themselves on dishing up the good stuff which lily-livered mainstream publishers would never dare touch; searching Amazon for “Extreme Horror” will turn up plenty of examples.
But there is a major difference between the Pulp Revolution and Extreme Horror.
The Pulp Revolution has a foot in the religious right: it holds that good fiction must be “superversive” (the opposite of subversive) and reflect an eternal ideal of truth, beauty and goodness. This viewpoint is summed up by John C. Wright, perhaps the key theorist of superversion:
[W]hen the so called freethinking rebels win, they impose a politically correct uniformity of thought far less free and far less interesting to read and far more preposterously hypocritical than the old established pieties, which at least had experience, common sense, and authentic human emotion on their side, not to mention divine revelation. At such at time [sic] the only manly response to the bold nonconformists (all strangely in perfect lockstep with each other!) is to become superversive, and write books upholding not just Motherhood and Apple Pie, but the Virgin Mary and Eucharist.
And the orcs will choke on the wholesome lembas, and spit them out like ashes.
These orcs, in the final analysis, are enemies of humanity, the free market, and freedom; they are the foes of God and Man. For them to claim science fiction as their particular bastion is beyond risible and well into the terrain of the absurd. SFF is the one literature which never will accept the mental uniformity of falsehood these anti-Mothers crave.
In contrast, Extreme Horror abides by Picasso’s dictum that taste is the enemy of creativity. Authors in this field would look askance at any suggestion that their work should embody beauty and goodness (although they may accept truth, since it is entirely true that people are horribly murdered on a daily basis). This is a genre in which we find, not motherhood and apple pie, but… well, yes.
The horror genre, as a whole, is a slightly awkward fit with the mindset of Puppydom. The Castalia House blog, for example, has questioned the extent to which horror can ever be superversive:
Now here’s the question: is there anything less Superversive than a work that exists for the sole purpose of scaring its reader/player/watcher? Maybe deconstructive works, I guess, and Tumblr as a whole, but honestly, the question is probably right. If superversion is about wonder and heroism and great characters, horror as we usually see it isn’t going to innately fall into line there. Certainly not the Friday the 13th model: nubile young girls and highschool jocks dying en mass in gruesome ways. And there’s a certain nihilism that horror tends to peddle in by default. It’s hard to be uplifting when the characters are drinking, shooting up, and banging until they attract the ire of a serial killer. Or engage in that stuff to keep us entertained until we realize they have the misfortune of living on the wrong street– or whatever it was that motivated Freddy.
With Extreme Horror, we have something that exists outside the entire ideological framework of the Pulp Revolution. It is not the sort of thing that the Puppies would be into, but neither is it what their stated opponents – the “SJWs” – would take kindly to. I find it hard to imagine the feminist community of Tumblr cosying up to Sam West’s The Green Fog, for example:
On June 30th, the green fog descends over cities and densely populated towns all over the world, turning every man it touches into a slavering rapist and murderer. Every woman becomes their prey.
Now, possibly Mr. West is making a statement about the oppression of women under patriarchy, but somehow, I doubt it. And then we have John Raptor’s Trigger Warning:
Trigger Warning: strong sexual content involving rape and incest; graphic descriptions of aberrant violence and torture; genital mutilation; blood, puke, sh*t, and other bodily fluids; insects and their consumption; vermin; animal costumes and/or furries; clowns; pervasive vulgar language; police brutality; misogyny; reference to the Confederate flag; religious abuse and/or portrayal of religion as abuse.
Need I comment?
If we use Pulp Revolution publications as a comparison point, then Extreme Horror is doing pretty well in terms of sales.* This contradicts the assumption made in Puppy circles that, when freed from the evil clutches of SFWA, readers will naturally gravitate towards superversive fiction. Indeed, whenever the old battle between literary merit and popular appeal breaks out in horror, the latter camp tends to favour blood and sleaze (see M. R. James vs. Christine Campbell Thomson, or Ramsey Campbell vs. Shaun Hutson).
As an aside, I can imagine Gamergate embracing Extreme Horror. After all, Gamergate championed the Postal games; its ethos in regards to entertainment media can be broadly summarised as “anything goes, so long as I’m not being preached to”. Had the horror scene ever played host to an anti-“SJW” campaign, I imagine that it would have looked closer to Gamergate than to the Puppies – which, despite often being lumped together, have their share of differences.
One last thought: Extreme Horror and the Pulp Revolution are aimed at quite different audiences, but like I said earlier, they do fulfill something of the same role. They offer material that mainstream publishers are uninterested in, for readers who want such material. You could argue that each of them represent the Amazon Direct market as purveyor of quick-fix fiction for every taste. Want unrelenting, wall-to-wall blood and guts exploitation? You got it. Want superversive religious-right Voxploitation? Well, you got that too.
When you hear people associated with the Puppy campaigns talk about a Pulp Revolution, don’t forget that there are actually multiple pulp revolutions underway – and not all of them are ideologically compatible.
*Ding-ding! For all you stats junkies who just can’t get enough sales rankings, here’s the data to back up that statement. First, let us look at the Kindle rankings for some of the books spotlighted in Jeffro Johnson’s “Pulp Revolution Spinner Rack” here, here and here:
- Swan Knight’s Son, by John C. Wright: #251,516
- Thune’s Vision, by Schuyler Hernstrom: #257,222
- Torchship Pilot, by Karl K. Gallagher: #301,463
- The Secret Kings, by Brian Niemeier: #308,844
- Pendragon’s Heir, by Suzannah Rowntree: #447,259
- The Product, by Marina Fontaine: #483,638
- In the Days of the Witch-Queens, by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt: #600,944
- The King’s Dragon, by John Mollison: #805,953
- Knights of the End, by J. D. Cowan: #1,692,330
Moving on, here are the rankings for some of the books that come up when you enter “Extreme Horror” into the Amazon search engine:
- The Devil’s Guests, by Matt Shaw et al: #20,414
- The Abuse of Ashley Collins, by John Athan: #21,134
- Her Father’s Mistake, by Sam West: #24,227
- Butcher Bitch, by Tim Miller: #26,592
- Daddy’s Girl, by Anton Palmer: #31,184
- Maniacs with Knives, by Shaun Hupp: #55,722
- Evil Bastard, by Avery White: #78,714
- The Embalmer, by Rayne Havoc: #84,904
- Trigger Warning, by John Raptor: #288,145
We should be careful about placing too much stock in these rankings, since a number of factors will be in play (for example, the average price of the Extreme Horror books is a little lower than that of the Pulp Revolution). But the fact remains that, if we are to consider the Pulp Revolution a publishing success, then we must logically say the same of Extreme Horror.