Perhaps the next new phase of horror is “Conspiratorial Horror”. In 1978, a disc jockey named Art Bell had a glimmer of the coming “Talk Radio” phenomena, and pioneered a new political call-in show. He noticed that the higest ratings tended to come with UFO-themed shows, paranormal discussions, or other then-fringe topics. In 1988, the new format Coast to Coast rolled out, and the show became a phenomenal hit on late night AM shows promoted heavily by word of mouth of truck drivers.
Bell also created a hosted show called Dreamland, which his friend and mega-author Whitley Strieber eventually hosted, and still hosts. Becoming fatigued, Bell tried fill-in hosts but ratings sagged until enthusiastic George Noory took the show's weekday helm in 2003. He has become a magnet for quirky stories of all kinds, and often conspiracy themes. As such, he has guests such as former and current rock stars, television and movie stars (such as show-fan Dan Akroyd, or Bill Mumy), and many writers including Steve Alten. The show has become a means to alternative news, some odd, and some very disturbing for our society.
Steve Alten is usually pegged as a science fiction writer, but this tends to be a type-cast catchall. Alten has made a career of very well researched stories, much as the late Michael Crichton, and recently has hyped the conspiratorial theme to red hot. While Alten's stories are sometimes based on oceanic life forms, and maybe vaguely reminiscent Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, they are less futuristic, and more horror based. His most recent block buster is Grim Reaper: End of Days which takes the paradigm of Dante's Inferno, the historic event of the Black Plague (c. 1350), and superimposes both upon Manhattan.
Alten is a student of antiquarian horror, and is studious of cabala - the ancient Jewish mystical set of writings.
In olden days, a type of horror-cypher was used to prevent censors from killing stories. When horror became too explicit, as with C M Eddy, Jr and H P Lovecraft's The Loved Dead (published 1924) cries of “filth”, violation of community standards, and worse was uttered. Even a "Comics Code" was created somewhat similar to the Hays Commission for the movies. Thus Dante encrypted his political commentary in the guise of a religious horror so he could lampoon contemporary Catholic hypocrisy. Even Lovecraft cleverly veiled his xenophobia so that even his closest friends did not fully understand some of it. (Loveman was later devastated, and burned HPL letters). Poe often spoke cleverly of being buried alive, an unspoken dread through the 19th century. Most recently, explicit horror confined Jack Ketchum and Edward Lee to B-novelist stature, though Ray Garton has usually been able to break through the censored ceiling.
Now, Alten has brought “fringe” to best seller status, and it's about time. Every thinking American realizes that something has went very, very wrong. The Presidency, Congress, and even the media have the lowest ratings in modern memory. Our way of life seems “broken”, and that concern – that “horror” if you will - is being played out in Indie Horror, B-list horror (notably by Brian Keene), and now by Steve Alten.
First his book, Loch (2005), proposed the very reasonable theory that if media did not marginalize reports of sightings of “The Loch Ness Monster”, the mystery could easily be solved by trained scientists. His theory that it may be a giant eel, seems to have merit, although the novel proposes this in a fantasy manner. Then his Shell Game (2008) took a piercing eye to Big Oil, the Neo-Con Fascism movement, and a New World Order, all perpetual themes of Coast to Coast AM's radio show.
Grim Reaper moves into the realm of bio-terorism, but spends a great deal of time discussing the irrationality of the West's, and specifically America's invasion of the Middle East and Near East, and purposely picking odd targets very far from real terrorist cells, but very critical for 21st century energy reserves (Oil, Lithium), and key to drug-cartel-international-monetary-institution lanes of traffic. It is as if some unnamed master organization is playing a game of money and power chess with our military.
This theme is not going away, and hopefully more horror based books are soon to explore this topic.
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