Today’s Art (12th January 2018)

Well, this digitally-edited painting ended up being a lot gloomier, creepier and more gothic than I expected.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Realms Of Terror” By C. A. Brown

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Implication In The Horror Genre – A Ramble

Well, I hadn’t planned to write about the horror genre but, the night before I wrote this article, I had a disturbing nightmare that made me think about this genre.

Although I won’t describe the nightmare in too much detail (since, amongst other things, I hope to have forgotten the exact details of it by the time this article goes out), it was a dream where nothing disgusting, disturbing or repulsive was directly shown to me. Yet, I still woke up in a very freaked out mood.

This, naturally, made me think about the role of implication in the horror genre. It’s a well-known fact that the audience’s imaginations will always conjure up worse horrors than anything that a writer or film-maker can directly show. But, I thought that I’d look at why this happens and why it sometimes doesn’t.

Simply put, implying a horrific event in a horror movie, novel or comic reduces it to the level of an idea.

If that idea, in and of itself, is especially disturbing, grotesque, unusual and/or horrific, then the implication of it will be too. This is why, for example, a horror movie like “The Human Centipede” can generate controversy, shock and notoriety despite containing very little gory detail. Yet, something like a zombie movie barely raises an eyebrow because.. well.. everyone knows what the “idea” behind a zombie movie is.

By reducing something to an idea, it becomes especially disturbing for the simple reason that ideas demand to be interpreted in unique ways. There’s a reason why, for example, copyright law doesn’t protect ideas. If ideas could be copyrighted, most creative works wouldn’t exist. Two people’s imaginations can do radically different things with the same basic idea.

So, by giving the audience an idea, an author or director forces the audience to interpret it in their own way. It forces the audience to actually think about the subject in question. This also means that the horror lingers for much longer because it’s easier to start thinking about something than it is to stop thinking about something.

The author or director is also important for another reason too. In short, the audience expects horror writers and horror directors to be brave and fearless souls who have the courage to imagine a plethora of disturbing events in order to turn them into something that will shock and scare the audience. So, if even the director or the writer start shying away from directly showing something, then it has to be especially disturbing…

Likewise, the most disturbing scenes in horror movies and/or novels are the ones where you find yourself thinking “Oh my god! Someone actually had to think of that!”. If an idea is horrific or disturbing enough to elicit this kind of reaction, then the audience is going to react in this way regardless of the level of visual or descriptive detail.

The “Saw” films are a great cinematic example of this type of horror, where the characters are frequently placed in impossible “catch-22” situations which always result in death or injury for someone. But, as the final episode of season four of the BBC’s “Sherlock” showed, this type of horror doesn’t have to be gruesome to disturb audiences. The basic idea behind both things is the most disturbing part. For every diabolical contraption or impossible dilemma shown in either these films or that episode of “Sherlock”, someone actually had to come up with that idea.

So, yes, implication is especially disturbing in the horror genre because it relies on ideas. If the idea is disturbing, then it will be disturbing regardless of the level of visual or descriptive detail.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (19th November 2017)

Well, I was in the mood for cyberpunk art again when I made this digitally-edited painting. Surprisingly though, this has been the first time that I’ve made zombie-based cyberpunk art in quite a while too.

Plus, when making this painting I ended up having a lot more influences than I expected. In addition to the usual cyberpunk influences (eg: “Blade Runner”, “Ghost In The Shell”, “Deus Ex” etc..), I can think of Derek Riggs’ awesome cover art for Iron Maiden’s “Somewhere In Time” Album, plus the “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” for starters…

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Outbreak" By C. A. Brown

“Outbreak” By C. A. Brown

The Paradoxes Of “Subjective” Fictional Genres – A Ramble

Although this is an article about the horror genre, a lot of what I will be saying here can be applied to quite a few other genres too (the comedy genre springs to mind for starters…).

Anyway, the horror genre is a genre that is designed to provoke a strong emotional response in the audience. It’s a genre that can gain it’s emotional power through imagined situations, characterisation, suspense, subtle implication and/or vivid imagery. It’s also an incredibly subjective genre too – ten people can read the same horror novel and all have wildly different reactions to it. After all, everyone has their own mixture of phobias, anxieties and attitudes towards the horror genre.

Everyone has their own personal ideas about what is and isn’t “scary”. Some people like stories that gradually build up suspense and some people like stories that go from zero to abject terror as quickly as possible. Some people like their horror to be “serious” and some people like horror that includes some dark comedy. Some people focus entirely on certain sub-genres of horror fiction (eg: the zombie genre, the vampire genre etc..) and some people avoid certain sub-genres because they aren’t scary or interesting enough.

Yet, the people writing horror fiction can only write what they personally consider to be creepy, scary, shocking and/or disturbing. If they want to write truly great horror fiction, they not only need to delve into the darkest depths of their unique imaginations, but they also need to know what types of horror fiction really fascinate them. Then they need to write the kind of horror story that they would want to read. They also need to be scared by what they are writing, because how can they expect like-minded members of the audience to be scared if they are not?

If you stop writing a horror story because you are just too damn disturbed by it to continue writing, then this is both an extremely annoying thing and an extremely brilliant thing at the same time. On the one hand, it’s a testament to the power of the written word. On the other hand, it’s annoying because you’ve left a story unfinished. This is perhaps one of the greatest paradoxes of the horror genre and the perfect example of how it’s an extremely subjective genre.

In other words, a good horror novel often tends to be something that only that particular author could have written. This is, of course both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the horror genre. When you read a horror story by someone else, you are stepping into the unknown territory of another person’s imagination and you have no clue whether it’s somewhere that you’ll feel at home in or not.

Most of the time, you’ll probably feel “slightly” or “mostly” at home with a horror novel. But, although you might have read the blurb or a few reviews first, there’s no real way to know for certain how you will react before you start reading.

Again, this brings up another paradox. On the one hand, a horror novel by a new author is a fascinatingly unknown thing that could scare you senseless. On the other hand, it might be hilariously cheesy, annoyingly boring or just completely off-putting. Even with a horror novel that sounds like it might be cool, there’s no real way to know for certain before you actually read it.

The horror genre is sometimes derided as being a “cheap” genre. A genre that is below the enlightened perspective of respectable critics. A genre that is often only talked about to other fans of the horror genre. Yet, it’s a genre that most people enjoy in some form at least occasionally. But, some people have a bizarre inherent dislike of the entire genre – sometimes with disdainful overtones. It has historically been seen by some as a genre that is a corrupting or dehumanising influence, and has even suffered censorship in the past as a result.

And, yet, the horror genre relies on humanity in order to “work”. It relies on someone expressing their unique imagination in the best way possible, in the hope that other people will find it an interesting place to inhabit for a few hours. It relies on provoking common instinctive emotions that all humans share in one form or another.

The horror genre is a genre that is about as far from “dehumanised” as it is possible to get! And, yet, this is both it’s greatest strength and it’s greatest weakness. On the one hand, it can contain immense emotional power and the potential for strong emotional catharsis. On other hand, you might find that you just don’t get along well with the unique imagination of a particular writer, director etc…

Likewise, paradoxically, the horror genre cannot “corrupt” people. In order for a horror story to disturb, horrify and/or disgust the audience, the audience must have pre-existing moral standards. After all, would anyone be unsettled by or fearful of something that they personally consider to be “good” or “righteous”? The horror genre relies on the audience having moral standards in order to work properly!

In other words, it’s a subjective genre. A genre that is, paradoxically, as much about the reader as it is about the writer.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

All Ten Of My “Retro Sci-Fi” Halloween 2017 Short Stories :)

Well, in case you missed any of them, I thought that I’d provide a list of links to all ten of my “retro sci-fi” Halloween 2017 short stories 🙂

This series was kind of an interesting one, although I was super-inspired when I started it, I ended up battling writer’s block at several points during the series.

This resulted in the series having slightly less of a consistent atmosphere, style and “world” than I’d orginally planned. Even so, I was still able to include some consistent details (eg: instead of the internet, there is phone-in radio etc..) and a couple of occasionally recurring characters (eg: Oakfield and Chekhov).

Likewise, the quality of the story varies somewhat. The best stories are probably “Procedure“, “Community Spirit“, “Haul” and “Nice Things“.

Another interesting thing about this series is that, for the first time in ages, I actually started using third-person narration occasionally. Although I was still getting used to writing in this style again, it opened up a few new storytelling possibilities for me.

Anyway, here are the stories 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

– “Community Spirit“: A newspaper editor decides that what his paper really needs is some community spirit.

– “Lacunae“: John has found an apartment that isn’t on the city maps and, at five hundred credits, it’s an absolute steal!

– “Details“: On the way home from the pub, a slightly nerdy guy notices something strange about the city’s advertising posters.

– “Procedure“: Detective Prest is a loose cannon, a “shoot first, ask questions later” kind of cop. But, after angering Chief Oakfield and getting reassigned to a fraud case, he’s in for a surprise…

– “Service“: A well-to-do couple are invited to a robot-run restaurant by their friends. What could possibly go wrong?

– “Broadcast“: Gianna is having a boring shift at the freight park terminal, so she decides to pass the time by listening to some public radio…

– “Haul“: Two gangsters have scored big! But, after shooting down a flying cop car, they need a place to lie low. And quick!

– “A Night Out“: Dillhale is a P.I., an old school gumshoe. So, when a glamourous lady arrives at his office and leaves a mysterious envelope, he’s in his element. Of course, it isn’t long before he realises that something isn’t quite right about the case…

– “Another Time“: Emily is worried about her colleage, Dr. Yelport, and the mysterious time travel experiments that she has been conducting…

– “Nice Things“: Accompanied by the rookie Detective Stevens, Chief Oakfield is summoned by the Mayor to personally investigate a bizarre disturbance at a recently-opened shopping centre.

“Nice Things” By C. A. Brown (Halloween 2017 Sci-Fi Stories #10)

This is the final Halloween story, stay tuned for a full series retrospective later tonight 🙂

It’s an honour to have you with me, sir.‘ Detective Stevens banked the ground-car to the left and activated the siren. The sea of headlights ahead barely even moved in acknowledgement.

This isn’t the military, Stevens.‘ Chief Oakfield sighed. ‘Though I have to admit that it has a certain… gravitas.

Sorry, sir. I mean, Chief.‘ Stevens stuttered. ‘It’s still an honour.

Ah, if only they were all like you. But, if you must know, I got called out personally by the Mayor. I thought that I’d dodged the old bastard’s invitation to this shopping centre opening. But, they only bloody have to turn it into a crime scene.‘ Oakfield sighed and leant against the passenger window, watching the neon signs crawl past slowly.

Stevens glared at the headlights ahead ‘Do you want me to turn the siren up, Chief? I mean, they should be clearing a path for us. Section seven of the…

Forget it.‘ Oakfield waved his hand. ‘I’m still in two minds about whether this whole thing is an elaborate ploy on the part of the Mayor. But, for future reference, you don’t crank up the siren. Just keep it on low and, eventually, people get too annoyed by it to get in your way. Works every time.

But, what about emergencies sir? I mean, Chief? For all we know, there could be a hostage situation or a…

Oakfield let out a quiet laugh: ‘If it was an emergency, Stevens, they’d have called for the tactical squad or sky division. Not a rookie and an old man. But, again, for future reference – the bumper of a standard police car generally tends to be tougher than the rear of a civilian car. Just give ’em a gentle tap and they tend to get the message. No! Not now!

A loud mechanical clank and the furious bleeping of a horn echoed through the car. Stevens muttered an apology. Oakfield rubbed his forehead and smiled. The police car began to accelerate slowly.

——–

By the time the Agora Shopping Centre gradually sailed into view, the crowds had already begun to disperse. Whilst Stevens honked the horn at the remaining pedestrians, Oakfield stared at the constellation of flashing red and blue lights ahead.

Gonna be a long night.‘ Oakfield sighed, before picking up the car radio and barking an order for a status update. Stevens almost jumped out of his seat. A second later, nothing but radio static filled the car.

I can check the maintainance logs when we get back, Chief.‘ Stevens stuttered. ‘I thought that the equipment got checked every..

Don’t bother. We’re nearly there anyway. Just pull in over there, and try not to hit anything.‘ Oakfield pointed into the mass of flashing lights.

Whilst Stevens nervously began to park, Oakfield reached for his hat and said: ‘Just leave the talking to me.

————-

Oakfield had braced himself for the worst, but nothing could prepare him for what he saw. The Mayor actually smiled at him. Gaunt and huddled under a blanket, the old man rushed eagerly towards Oakfield: ‘Oh, thank god! I’ve never been more glad to see you.

What… What is going on here?‘ Oakfield said, hiding his trembling hand in his coat pocket.

The Mayor let out a rattling sigh and said: ‘Derren DeVor started acting strangely. We’d hired him to put on a show for the opening. But, after the first song, he started muttering something about the walls.

Stevens smiled enthusiastically: ‘Derren DeVor was here?

Oakfield glared at Stevens, before returning to the Mayor. He was leaning against a wall and had wrapped the blanket even more tightly around his shoulders. For a second, Oakfield could swear that he saw fear in the old man’s steely eyes.

In a trembling voice, he continued: ‘At first, we thought he was just joking. Or crazy. Then he ran off of the stage. A few seconds later, the walls started to crack. Like an earthquake, but without the tremors. There was mass panic, looting, violence. I saw someone literally bludgeon a man to death over a designer radio.

Oakfield nodded silently. Stevens looked dumbfounded. Finally, the Mayor said: ‘I know that your officers have probably started going over the place already, but I’d feel better if you were on the scene. The press are going to get here soon, and it’s only a matter of time before they find a way in. We need to show the public that we’re in control.

Standing up straight, Oakfield said: ‘Yes, sir!

———–

The first thing that Oakfield noticed as he stepped inside the gloomy shopping centre was the smell of burning rubber. The next thing he noticed was the rust-coloured stains and smeared grime that covered every surface. If the shopping centre had been buried underground for a decade, it would still be in better shape.

Stevens followed hesitantly, before suddenly tripping over something. A wet squelch echoed around the cavernous hall. As soon as Stevens got up, a single glance downwards soon filled the hall with tortured retching.

Finally, coughing slightly, Stevens said: ‘What the hell happened here?

Without saying a word, Oakfield walked over to a cracked information stand and pulled out a pamphlet. He handed it to Stevens. Squinting in the gloom, Stevens looked at the pristine photograph on the cover. The immaculate white walls, the sparkling fountains, the verdant palm trees and the shiny storefronts. Stevens looked at the centre, then at the pamphlet again.

Finally, Stevens muttered: ‘Hard to believe it’s the same place.

Not really.‘ Oakfield sighed ‘It’s this city. It just can’t have nice things.