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Science Fiction: Can It Exist Without Horror?

Ashley Dufault is the author of If I Let You Go. Her debut novel, If I Let You Go was published on November 24th. I had put out an open call for guest posts for a general topic of “science fiction horror” earlier this month, and Ashley was one of the respondees. I’m very pleased with her post, and wish her the best of luck! You can find more information about her novel, including where to order it, at the end of this post.

Science Fiction: Can it Exist Without Horror?

by Ashley Dufault


Is it sci-fi or is it horror? This is a question many of us ask ourselves as we’re perusing the Internet for new books to read. However, I believe the real question we ask ourselves shouldn’t be if a science fiction novel has elements of horror, but rather, if it doesn’t. Moreover, if a sci-fi work contains no element of horror, is it even science fiction at all?

Think briefly about the plot-lines of major science fiction works: Terminator. Back to the Future. I Am Legend. Frankenstein. Star Wars. Wall-E. Nine times out of ten, the science fiction we know and love plays significantly on fear. It forces us to ask difficult questions about ourselves and our limits as human beings.

Let’s look at artificial intelligence; it’s been a popular science fiction theme for decades and seems to only be growing as a subgenre as our culture continues to shift toward the adoption of higher-level technology. To me, the most prominent story utilizing this motif is the Terminator series. The original movie terrified me growing up and still leaves me feeling uneasy, despite technology having changed so much since the movie’s 1984 release.

Sure, artificial intelligence is great! Robots can handle customer service inquiries on the Web, we can teach smart home assistants when to lock our doors and turn off our heat, and soon our vehicles will be driving themselves. What’s not to love?

Robots don’t inherently care about people. This can spawn communication barriers at minimum (as in the case of Facebook’s robots creating a language that humans were unable to decipher) or blood-hungry, unstoppable beasts at worst. With A.I. that’s already capable of experiencing emotion and excluding its creators from its conversations, no one really knows what direction A.I. will take us in, positive or negative. The fears Terminator capitalized on are even more real now than they were three decades ago.

Most of the fears the science fiction genre utilizes are evergreen; over the years, creators just find different ways to package them.

The hit CW show, the 100, used artificial intelligence as a plot-point when computer program A.L.I.E. decided that humans were killing themselves and that the best response was to wipe out civilization and start fresh. In a way, A.L.I.E. was right: humans have recklessly ruined the planet, we have a terrible track record of violence, and despite our efforts, we just can’t come together to agree on anything. The questions A.L.I.E. posed about our existence don’t just reflect reality on the show, but life in the real world. The horror is in the knowledge not that we are capable of creating a terminator or a program like A.L.I.E. to flatten the world, but in the reminder that we’re fully capable of doing this ourselves.

Even Wall-E presents a bleak picture of humanity, the planet a barren wasteland covered in garbage while people live on a space station equipped with traveling pods that enable them to barely lift a muscle. The horror here isn’t as overt or heart-racing as other science fiction stories, but its subtlety beautifully points out the terrors and potential consequences of our global culture and begs us to change our ways if we’re at all capable.

A lot of introspection occurs at the hands of science fiction. It’s always interesting to ask people what they believe happens to the plant that’s sprouted at the end of Wall-E. Is there any hope left, really? If someone says no, does that automatically make them a pessimist, or is there more to be said?

My favorite subgenre of science fiction is post-apocalyptic fiction for the very reason that it doesn’t shy from the dark lens it places against the world. It embraces the darkness and forces readers and viewers out of their comfort zones to hear a message of caution.

The best sci-fi, in my opinion, has nothing to do with science at all. Technological thrillers are fantastic, and while I appreciate the immense amount of detail authors put into those genres, what really interests me is the human element of science fiction. The psychology that lies at the intersection of science fiction and horror is fascinating. People fear the unknown, death, isolation, poverty, losing our freedom, and so many other things, yet we persistently challenge these fears and seek to overcome them.

Justin Cronin’s The Passage is a great example of this. Despite the majority of civilization having been exposed to a virus that’s created worldwide vampirism, colonies of healthy people continue to fight the hordes of baddies trying to turn, farm, or kill them. They don’t have much to live for but each other, but they go on kicking, anyway.

The craziest part? The plot to this story was thought up in part by Cronin’s daughter, under age ten at the time. When I grew up, I wasn’t allowed to watch shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark? because of how strongly they affected young children, but kids are totally capable of developing fears on their own just by observing the world. Some of the more visceral fears, like death and pain, reside with us from the day we’re born no matter how much we try to quell them, and even from a young age people create narratives exploring these ideas. The science fiction-horror genre helps us to understand the world we live in, but still feel like we’re escaping to another.

Book cover for If I Let You GoMy own science fiction-horror novel, If I Let You Go, makes readers ask some uncomfortable “what if?” questions. The story centers on an underground society years after biological warfare has destroyed the world. The main character, Edwin, has spent his entire life as a workaholic just for the opportunity to join his colony’s upper class, the Most Privileged, but after he’s promoted, his opinion about their culture shifts in light of a growing rebellion and chronic food shortages. How does someone save a world that doesn’t listen, that’s stripped away its individuals’ ability to even speak? If Edwin tries to have an impact and fails, it could destroy his life. If he doesn’t try, he’s not sure he’ll have a life worth living. Fortunately for him, he’s not alone in his feelings. If I Let You Go speaks about our culture and perspectives on freedom, persistence, and happiness.

How does a society of people without mouths survive, anyway? Order If I Let You Go  to find out!

For more information about Ashley’s works, visit her website at

Link to purchase If I Let You Go:


Published inGuest Posts


  1. Excellent post that really made me think! I agree, most sci-fi novels are spawned out of fear and the element of fear plays a large role in most of the books. I think it’s related to how sci-fi is part of something unknown, something new and we have never discovered before and something that scares us because of the endless possibilities that might happen. Which is part of why I love reading sci-fi!

  2. I’m for horror and psychological thrills in my science fiction reads. Probably why I read a lot of dystopian, apocalyptic stories.

    • After reading this article I sat back and thought about some of the themes in the books that I had read recently. I prefer more hope than horror, but I do like it when they mix.

  3. Oh, come on, thrillers aren’t classed as horror (although some I’ve read with my bookclub should be), suspense isn’t, why should scifi have to include horror? Mine don’t, that’s for sure. There’s scary, and there’s horror. They are not the same thing.

    • That’s a good point too. Scary and horror aren’t always the same thing.

    • I see what you mean. There are elements of “scary” things in most books when you look closely enough, but that doesn’t mean they should be classed as horror. I only meant to say that science fiction tends to play on the grimmest horror themes like survival, death, etc. Even if the horror edge only applies to 10% of the book, it’s still there. In my opinion, it makes them more memorable, but it all depends. I’d never class something like WALL-E as horror, but it contains a few horrible niblets that enable the story to work, they’re just framed differently because it’s a kids’ movie. I’d love to see some sci-fi that swapped out horror for hope.

  4. If I Let You Go sounds awesome! I love it when horror is mixed with ANY genre. Scary books are the best books.

    • I agree. Scary books are best!

    • Thanks for reading! I love horror, as well. It pairs up well with just about any genre.

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