Guest Post: John McNee
It's 2052. The internet is crashing. All across the globe,
digital libraries are collapsing. Somehow, in the midst
of the mayhem, I have the chance to save five books
which, in the years ahead, will be studied as
representing early 21st century horror.
How did this burden come to be mine? Why must I,
68-year-old international sex symbol, award-winning
novelist and multi-millionaire raconteur John McNee
(this is the future, remember) bear the weight of such
a decision, securing the works of a select few while
countless others are lost... forever?
We don't have time for why. We don't have time for
much of anything. A decision must be made.
Presuming that my own works are already safely secured somewhere (or that by 68 my ego has somehow disintegrated to the point whereby I am willing to put all other authors above myself, which doesn't sound likely) I quickly decide that each of the five books must come from a separate author. I decide on five horror sub-genres that must be represented to build an accurate picture of early 21st century horror. And I must limit my choices only to books that I have read.
This last point is a problematic one for a few reasons. Turns out, I haven't actually read a huge amount of horror published post-2000. More than the average person, certainly. But the average person doesn't even read. And a lot of what I've read has been crap. I say that in all seriousness. I review only a fraction of the books I attempt to read. Most of them I don't even finish.
Still, it wouldn't be right for me to recommend books that I haven't actually read, even though that might (definitely) be the best thing for humanity. So, limiting myself to the books I actually have read, here's my 5...
1. Mainstream horror
The early 21st century hasn't exactly been the best time for mainstream horror. Not too
many out-and-out horror titles hitting the New York Times bestseller list. But for a
complete picture of the genre, we need to preserve at least one that hit big. And the one I
pick is 'Heart-shaped Box' by Joe Hill. Hill is fast approaching superstar status for a horror
writer (meaning that even people who don't read horror know who he is – some of them)
and, while I consider his greatest work to be the graphic novel series 'Locke & Key', among
his novels, his 2007 debut remains my favourite. It has a killer hook, relentless pace, great,
unusual protagonist and a villain who is flat-out terrifying. This one gets saved.
2. Extreme horror
I would argue that among the sub-genres, extreme horror has been an important one over
the last decade and a half. With the advent of online publishing and ebooks, the old barriers
of taste and decency have fallen away. There are no limits now in horror fiction and if you
want to read something that truly disturbs and horrifies, you can get it. Just how extreme
are we talking here? Well, Ed Lee's 'Brain Cheese Buffet' (2010) just about runs the gamut.
A collection of short stories pushing well beyond the limits of any kind of taste at all, in
which every character and scenario is pushed to their most depraved, disgusting, cruel and
perverted extreme, this book is worth preserving for future generations if only so they
understand how high (or low, depending on your outlook) the bar has been set. And to see
if any of them can make it all the way through 'The Dritiphilist' (I never could).
3. Quiet horror
'Quiet horror', as a sub-genre, does a lot of overlapping with 'literary horror' and 'cosmic
horror'. Some call it 'psychological horror', because the scares arise from what happens in
the mind, perhaps due to the lead character's fears over what terrible things may or may not
be lurking somewhere in the shadows. It's a style of horror that's typically light on blood,
heavy on internal monologues in which people spend a lot of time wondering whether
they're going slightly mad. I'm not a big fan, but I have read a few examples that were very
good, among them Caitlin R Kiernan's 'The Drowning Girl' (2012). It's a young woman's
account of a life haunted by a woman who may be a ghost, a mermaid, a wolf, all or neither.
The protagonist spends a lot of time wondering if she's going mad. I liked it!
4. Zombie horror
Zombies were HUGE during the early years of the 21st century. HUGE!!! This is what we'll
have to try to make the kids of the future understand, though they may not believe it. How
can we expect them to comprehend that such an innocuous, shuffling creature could totally
overwhelm the horror fiction scene, infecting every genre it came into contact with, to the
point where, for a year or two at least, it seemed you couldn't find a single horror publication
that WASN'T about zombies? How are they to grasp the appeal? The only thing we can do
for them, I think, is to preserve the best zombie book I ever read, 'Tide of Souls' by Simon
Bestwick (2009). In it, as in most books of its ilk, the world is gradually overrun by zombies
(ho-hum), but Bestwick throws in a few extra ingredients with a devastating flood,
supernatural (and fascinating) antagonist and cast of genuinely likeable characters all
meeting horrible fates that add up to make something really special, that deserves not to be lost under the zombie fiction pile.
5. Bizarro horror
I have said it elsewhere (and I will repeat it) that I believe bizarro to be the most important
genre movement happening in literature right now. And bizarro-horror plays a big role in
that. These are weird books. Weird, messed-up, incredibly entertaining, mind-bending,
trope-shredding books that take you on journeys the like of which you have never
encountered before. And it holds a certain appeal to horror writers, many of whom have
jumped into the burgeoning scene with glee, crafting exceptionally weird bizarro-horror
novels of their own? How weird? Well... there's this little book by Shane McKenzie called
'Toilet Baby' (2014) and... well... Y'know what? I don't want to say any more. There are some
delights the scholars of 2500 deserve to discover all on their own.
2 Book Lovers Reviews
About John McNee
John McNee is the writer of numerous strange and disturbing horror stories, published in a variety of strange and disturbing anthologies, as well as the novel 'Prince of Nightmares'.
He is also the creator of Grudgehaven and the author of 'Grudge Punk', a collection of short stories detailing the lives and deaths of its gruesome inhabitants.
He lives on the west coast of Scotland, where he works for a trade magazine.