Over at the lovely online SF magazine Strange Horizons Karen Burnham has reviewed our forthcoming dark fiction title ZOO. It’s the kind of review we like as it really tackles the issues of the book and author Otsuichi’s choices of voice, tone, and topic. But a question emerges—most of the stories in ZOO have no fantastical or speculative content. So why is a science fiction/fantasy imprint publishing it?
A few reasons. Of course, the most obvious is that some of the stories do have fantasy or science fiction content—there are boys with the powers of gods, sentient AIs, and a couple other surprises in ZOO.
There’s also a long tradition of horror being published alongside (and even as) SF and fantasy. Naturally, supernatural horror is a close cousin and subset of fantasy: a vampire or a ghost is as unreal as a dragon or a unicorn. That the fantasy intrudes upon the quotidian everyday life rather than being the bedrock of some other sort of life, as in stories of fantasy worlds—or even stories of travel between the real word and a fantastical one—certainly makes the reading experience different from other sorts of fantasy, but the appeal is often broadly similar.
Then there is the issue of psychology. One might link our fascination with the supernatural to the phenomenon of the uncanny—our fascination with our repressed impulses and the things that consciously disgust us. Or even that which appears to be alive but which is in fact dead. Certainly, one can see the connection between this idea of the uncanny and supernatural beings such as vampires and werewolves who are creatures of appetite and the id, who prey upon us, and yet to whom we are attracted. Writers such as Robert Bloch, who wrote many supernatural short stories in the Lovecraftian mode, wrote what is probably the most famous novel of psychological horror as well, specifically the appropriately named Psycho. We could go even further back to “The Turn of the Screw”; did Henry James write a story about the supernatural, or the abnormal psychology of a character? Much of horror plays on these ideas, even if the stories eventually come down on one side or another. ZOO certainly fits in this mode of horror. If supernatural horror is the brother of fantasy, then psychological horror is the second cousin. Close enough for Otsuichi fans like us!
Also, as pointed out in this recent Pop Culture Shock review of ZOO, Otsuichi is just dead funny. Horror and humor have a close connection as well: both are emotional responses that defy the rational. How many people giggle nervously when they are afraid? How many people get a laugh from hiding in the dark and popping out to scare at some innocent passer-by? (I know it isn’t just me!) Otsuichi offers up SF, fantasy, psychological scares, and dark chuckles all in one book. How could we not have published it?