Following the announcement by the Horror Writers Association of the final ballot for the Bram Stoker Awards covered earlier, I’m inclined to remark on the marked under-representation of an entire sub-genre of horror/weird/dark fiction from the shortlist, as well as certain conspicuous authors and editors. And I’m definitely not the only one who has remarked on this. And yes, I’m speaking on behalf of a certain constituency in the genre community, but it’s a constituency that appears to have next-to-zero representation in at least this year’s Stokers.

No one can accuse the Stokers of courting cheap popularity, mind, because I don’t see a single one of the shortlist for Superior Achievement in a Novel in Amazon’s current Top 100 Best Sellers in Horror Literature & Fiction. Nor any of the contenders for the Superior Achievement awards in Anthology or Fiction Collection. (And if I’ve missed any here, please could someone point them out.)  And this is absolutely not to carp at the good works that are on the Stokers ballot, but it is all about those that aren’t. Of course, an award for literary achievement shouldn’t be about straight popularity, but if the benchmark is literary quality, then should that only include certain types of quality but exclude others? Because at #79 in the Amazon Horror Best Sellers list I do find Laird Barron’s The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. To my mind, it’s representative of all that’s missing from this year’s Stokers finalists. And waddaya know: it seems that readers like it too.

Broadly, I’m speaking on behalf of that sub-category of horror/weird/dark fiction that shades into the strange/cosmic/surreal/Lovecraftian end of the genre spectrum. Naturally, this isn’t the only way to write horror, and there are certainly some fine titles on the current Stokers shortlist that pursue other paths. There is also some representation of exactly that vein, but most conspicuously in the Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction category: S.T. Joshi’s Lovecraft and a World in Transition and Leslie S. Klinger’s The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft. In the fiction Award shortlists, meanwhile, it’s a sub-category that the current Stokers voters seems to have trouble digesting.

In particular, horror is a field long dominated by the novella and the novelette. And out of the contributions to longer and shorter long fiction published in 2014, the Stokers shortlisters have marshaled three stories from the same collection for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction:  Joe R. Lansdale’s “Fishing for Dinosaurs,” Jonathan Maberry’s “Three Guys Walk into a Bar,” and Joe McKinney’s “Lost and Found,” all from Limbus, Inc., Book II. That may be a great anthology, but so good that three of its stories have crowded out all other possible contenders in 2014 for this category? Or, just possibly, could someone be gaming the Stokers system?

All told, it’s a ballot distinguished by what it excludes as much as what it includes. I remarked earlier on the omission of Simon Strantzas’s Burnt Black Suns and Shadows and Tall Trees 2014. I could equally well add the Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume 1, which seems to sum up in its title as well as its content everything that’s not in this year’s Stokers ballot. Or The Children of Old Leech. Or Mercy and Other Stories. Or The Lord Came at Twilight. Or … or …

Full details of the rules for the Stokers are available here and here. Broadly, either “the HWA membership – currently “over 1250 members” according to the HWA website – recommends worthy works for consideration,” or “a Jury for each category also compiles a preliminary ballot.” I don’t know if it’s there, or in the Awards rule which states that “to be eligible for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement, a work of fiction must exhibit intrinsic story values that by general agreement identify it as a work of dark fantasy, horror, or the occult,” that the problem lies. But something seems to be going wrong.

As I argued before, horror may have reached its New Wave moment, where the genre is stepping up to a new level of literary maturity and social pertinence. Ursula K. Le Guin’s description of what went on in science fiction’s New Wave as “an increase in the number of writers and readers, the breadth of subject, the depth of treatment, the sophistication of language and technique, and the political and literary consciousness of the writing,” seems to describe exactly what’s happening with modern horror/weird/dark fiction. And as with science fiction’s New Wave, certain Old Wave stalwarts seem to be trying, Canute-like, to resist the tide and deny that it’s there. No prizes for guessing who those might be.


  1. I tend to agree about the marked lack of some authors and styles or sub-genres.
    I may be way off base here, but I have a feeling it relates in part to the general perception of Horror genres by the so called literary elite. For years and years Horror has been looked down on by some believing it is not’ literature’ in any way. You see this kind of …hmmm…discrimination everywhere. Libraries, book stores, etc. Horror is usually mixed in with regular fiction as it cannot stand on its own. These same literary snobs will tell you horror is not and never will be ‘literature’ and thereby worthy of consideration.

    I believe we have fought against these ideas long enough and have enough people both writing and reading Horror in such numbers as to disprove that idiocy.

    Which brings me to my point here, having fought to get Horror recognized after all this time, many have a very narrow idea of what makes Horror..horror.
    The Weird/Dark Horror is different enough that if falls outside of what the purists consider Horror to be and either consciously or subconsciously, they reject it. Even though it has been around for over 100 years (or at least 75) modern/weird/dark horror is still looked down on by those who once dismissed horror in its entirety and even by some who championed horror to be recognized as a viable genre well ab;e top stand on its own.

    I know my comments here are somewhat round-about and a bit confusing. I have a hard time describing my inner mind. But I hope you get the gist of it. If not or wish to discuss it further or rebut, please do.

  2. Keep one’s mind open to the possibilities is my point. There are a lot of good writers on this list. Additionally, there were things I wished had made it, too, and yes, awards are essentially meaningless, but to whine about it is silly. It seems from my reading that people really want a sort of confirmation bias about what they like. If that’s the case, join the org (HWA) and exert some influence is all I can say.

    Yes: Barron won last year. Is the system perfect? No: But name ANY human system that is. Also, just writing a bunch of inferior Lovecraftian pastiche (which much of it has become) is pointless. There is more to life than “Weird Lit.” This aspect of writing isn’t increasing the breadth and depth: It’s actually NARROWING it. Lovecraftian treatments are peaking: The idea of the Weird is a broader umbrella, but there’s more to it than retreads of HPL. These things are cyclic, after all (vampires? zombies? etc). There is only so much of this that can be absorbed in the given marketplace.

    Additionally, will there be this much whining about the Shirley Jacksons? Or World Fantasy? I’ll be curious to see….

  3. Four surprising omissions, all short story collections that are excellent examples of weird fiction, immediately come to mind:

    Ana Kai Tangata by Scott Nicolay
    Burnt Black Suns by Simon Strantzas
    The Lord That Came at Twilight by Daniel Mills
    The Untold Tales of Ozman Droom by Robin Spriggs

    I could list at least half a dozen others, but maybe I should just start my own awards organization instead. It couldn’t be any more meaningless than the rest.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail