Necrophobia and thoughts on genre
Saturday, January 14, 2012 at 7:07PM

You got your zombie in my alien!I read an interesting novella recently, Necrophobia by Karsten Kluge, and was thinking about posting a review on Robot Squid. Then I thought, "Well, it doesn't really fit our remit. It's not science fiction."
That got me thinking about the whole idea of genre. Sometimes it can be tricky to pin down exactly what fits where. Robot Squid's thing is "intelligent scifi", but that can be a pretty subjective boundary. Over on the excellent Escape Artists podcast forums, discussion can quickly degenerate once somebody pipes up "Yes, but that wasn't really scifi/horror/fantasy, was it?". A popular response is the Damon Knight quote ""Science Fiction is whatever I am pointing at when I say 'science fiction'"  - handily,  this can be adapted for horror and fantasy too...
So, Necrophobia. First off, it's about zombies. That would automatically put it in the horror camp, right? Yet the main horror in the story in many ways, is general humanity's lack of empathy and tolerance towards others. Does that place it closer to dystopian scifi? The zombies in Necrophobia aren't souless monsters, indiscriminately tearing apart humans to devour their flesh. The main zombie, Sarah, is a more sympathetic character than most of the living humans. She is trying desperately (with the help of cosmetics, drugs and plenty of air freshener) to survive in a world where many people find her disgusting and terrifying. It's certainly a riff on a well-know horror theme, but it's not graphically horrific in nature.
The source of the zombies is a mystery infection, the Lazarus Virus. It seems that everyone can be, or is, a carrier of the virus, but it only asserts itself once you die and come back to life as a zombie. The only way to avoid this is to take medication all your life to suppress the virus and prevent re-animation. That's an original way to deal with the whole zombie origin problem, and more thoughtful than the majority of stories which shy away from any kind of explanation for the sudden rising of the dead. It also provides opportunity for social satire of the American health system - what happens to those who can't afford the medication or who aren't covered by insurance?
Rod Serling said that the difference between science fiction and science fantasy is "science fiction the improbable made possible; fantasy, the impossible made probable". So I keep coming back to zombies being supernatural creatures, therefore unscientific, therefore they can never be science fiction. On the other hand, a time travel story, or one where spaceships can go faster than the speed of light, will be classified as scifi- yet many scientists believe those things are also impossible.
I guess this is why the genre of 'speculative fiction' was created- so much simpler. What do you think? How useful is genre? Are zombies and vampires always horror; spaceships and robots always scifi? And how much does nitpicking over classification detract from the more important question of "Is this a good story?"
If you'd like to read Necrophobia for yourself, please visit the author's website or use the affiliate link below.

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