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Violence in fiction


It seems to me (though I'm probably wrong) that I'm seeing a whole lot more stories than usual featuring things like:

  • People murdering family members or other people they're close to. (A lot of these.)
  • Suicide.
  • Dead or dying protagonist.
  • Dead or dying parents.

And in a fair number of cases, some combination of those.

Not just in slush, either—seems like just about every piece of published sf I pick up to read these days features one or more of those topics.

Of course, as with the Law of Fives, this pattern is "more and more manifest the harder I look." I'm imposing a pattern on things by taking a set of broad topics and interpreting them broadly.

And we at SH have always received a lot of dead-loved-ones stories (though in the past I think those have more often been dead children and people who die in accidents). And death has always been a major theme of literature. And of course I don't think people should stop sending us good stories just because those stories focus on a topic that's personally difficult for me right now, nor do I want anyone reading this to feel guilty about having sent us such a story. I imagine we'll end up buying some of those stories; it's not like these are topics the magazine tends to shy away from.

But still, for whatever reason or set of reasons, it feels like I'm running into a lot more of this stuff than usual. I'm doing a lot of wincing as I read slush these days. (For reasons other than bad writing, I mean.)

That's one reason I liked Hitchhiker's Guide: not much death. (I mean, y'know, except for the total destruction of the Earth and most of its inhabitants in the opening minutes. And a couple of comedic death and quasi-death scenes later.) Kind of a relief. And I've been watching the first season of Mad About You; a bit too much humor-of-embarrassment for my tastes in some episodes, but I gotta say, very little use of firearms in that show. (Also, charming and often funny. And Helen Hunt has one of the best smiles in the world. And I'm a total sucker for fiction in which the protagonists truly love each other.) Oh, and that was also part of why I so eagerly devoured that latest Jennifer Crusie book (other than the fact that it too was charming and funny and romantic): I was pretty sure none of the characters were going to actually kill each other, much as they might have wanted to now and then.

Anyway. I'm really truly not asking authors to stop sending us the kinds of stories I'm talking about. I wasn't even going to mention this publicly; I figured that to the extent that it's not all in my head, it was a brief wave that would pass sooner or later. (We often get little waves of stories that are related somehow, like the week when we got a bunch of cannibalism stories all at once.) But it's now entering about its fourth week with no indication of letting up, and it's been on my mind a lot, so I decided (albeit with some trepidation about unintended effects) to post about it.


After I had a close friend die a few years ago, it was difficult to read or hear about death in news, conversations, media, etc., or even things that would remind me of him, such as cancer, or Germany. It took a long to get over it, insofar as I have. Violence and death seem to be omnipresent in popular media (and this is not necessarily a modern phenomenon), and it seems like you one has to shut out the outside world to avoid it.

A friend of mine said that, once he his baby was born, it was very difficult for him to read or hear anything about any child being hurt, even fictional ones, even though his baby was just fine. It was even more difficult for his wife; e.g., I loaned them a collection of animation, and they were not able to watch "Billy's Balloon" (a hilarious short which depicts a group of children being savagely beaten by balloons). Before the birth, he had a healthy level of enjoyment of dark humor in general.

You know, I'm not actually suggesting this, but you could keep stats....

What Aaron says rings true.. We are always being battered by death and gruesomeness in the world around us, and we devote a lot of unconscious attention to blocking it out. So if anything weakens that armor, it's not a matter of the gruesomeness showing up out of nowhere, but of it getting through...

It's odder that you get waves of cannibalism stories and so on, even without any personal sensitivity to cannibalism to make you notice them... I wonder why this is. Chance? The collective unconscious? Six-degrees-of-separation phenomena?

No, seriously: regardless of any extra sensitivity in noticing them, we really have been getting a whole lot of those stories lately. To me it feels like there's some kind of collective unconscious at work. Especially since so many of our stories come from American authors, there's got to be a certain amount of shared cultural mindset -- maybe not so much in what people are thinking, but in what they're thinking *about*. Concerns the media has called to our attention, or anxieties triggered by world events, or just ranges of popular conversation topics that get passed along through discussion? I don't know, and probably reading a few stories on similar themes sometimes makes us feel like we're seeing a wave. But I do get the sense that our fiction submissions reflect obscure patterns of zeitgeist. Of course, they may be reflecting zeitgeist from half a year ago, by the time the stories get written and sent to us...

Hi. I missed the cannibal wave. Please, tell me more about it! I just love this theme for as odd as it may seem. Where can I find them? I am not American. Not even a English native speaker but love to read fiction in that language though having a hard time to get to understand something here and then. I have just come accross this page and don´t know much about it yet, so I´d appreciate it very much if anyone could give me a cleu where to look for the stories I have mentioned before.
My Best Regards to anyone around here.
Roberto Morrone - South America

Thanks but I did it and was directed to a blank page. Help, please!! I am starving.. lol

I can identify with your new father friend, Jed. I used to be able to read about awful things happening to children without much flinching. Now, after 2 girls (the youngest is 9 months), it's torture--so I don't do it. Otherwise I cry.

Sometimes the ol' highpowered imagination is a curse, not a blessing.

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