Halloween's my favourite time of year. I've always preferred it to Christmas, perhaps because I'm an irredeemable heathen. Or maybe it's the subversiveness of it all. The spirits who should be at rest; the strange creatures roaming the night. And the scares.
A couple of years ago, while in isolation, I watched the disturbing horror film Hereditary. Alone in the house on a gloomy October day, I scared the bejesus out of myself.
On one level.
That kind of paranormal horror always gives me a thrill. I can dare myself to watch scenes of possession by malevolent spirits, all the while knowing the ordinary world lies just beyond my window. It’s easy to imagine the makeup artists painting the blood and the crew rigging furniture to move by itself.
What truly frightens me—primally, I mean—is real world horror. The kind you can’t look away from. Hate, greed and abuse of power. The things that culminate in the most unedifying human failures— poverty; dehumanisation; war; climate change and habitat destruction. And we still have a pandemic to contend with, too.
These are not coincidences. They are deeply connected by our own limitations. And those limitations are what I found myself writing about when I embarked on my first two novels, the eco-thrillers Tipping Point and Counterpoint.
Not that I’m down on the species entirely. We have huge capacity for love and compassion, demonstrated by countless everyday kindnesses and social progress—in the UK, our beloved, enduring NHS embodies both. We have as much light as darkness within us. Yet our constructs for government and society encourage the basest desires for distraction and accumulation. They need us to act this way to feed growth, that sacred cow and arbitrary yardstick of development.
We already know that unending economic expansion is a myth on a finite planet. Our pursuit of it is fatal to both the natural world and less fortunate fellow humans. The 2020 Living Planet report found that between 1970 and 2016, humans killed over two thirds of the world’s mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles at an accelerating rate (World Wildlife Fund and Zoological Society of London). Meanwhile, the richest 1% own 44% of global wealth, but pay less than 4% of global tax revenue, even as 10,000 people die every day for lack of access to affordable healthcare (Oxfam 2020). In the age of information, these are not secrets, but shameful, widely known facts.
So I confess my deepest fear is that we have unleashed powers we cannot hope to control, that will destroy us. Not in a demonic, horror film way, but according to the laws of nature and natural justice we have disregarded for so long. For anyone reading Tipping Point and Counterpoint, the terror comes from the all-too plausible.
Paradoxically, there may be hope in the very darkness of our current path through the woods. Because we’re surely nearing a crossroads, where our go-to pacifiers stop working. With no option to look away when we get scared, we’ll finally be forced to march right on and fix what we broke.
Updated: Nov 7, 2022