The Horror of Science

Horror. The word conjures images and feelings of discomfort, fear and even revulsion. While modern film and television, graphic novels and video games have made blood, violence and the grotesque intimately associated with and inseparable from the word, the real key to conjuring lasting images and feelings of horror may be far subtler and insidious. Though the genre can more often than not travel a freakish and violent path, the horror stories that are most enduring seem to be the ones that are the most REAL

Yes, you read that correctly… Real. Vampires, werewolves, zombies… These denizens of horror films and novels are not, in fact, real, though certainly elements of their existence are pulled from reality. In truth, those very elements of scientific fact and historical accuracy are what truly make these, and other, horrific characters and plot devices deserving of dread and discomfort.

Science is a dangerous love. It offers so much promise: the promise of health and the promise of understanding. Yet these tempting fruits come with a price, bringing us to the very edge of nature’s dark side and daring us to step over the edge to attain what we desire most. Scientists are always preoccupied with what they can do, what they can accomplish. When the question of whether or not it should be done arises, however, they are dismissive, though they know full-well that the consequences of what they are trying to accomplish could be devastating. Works dealing with the capabilities of science and the consequences that occur when the line between what we can do and we should do is crossed have been popular since the Victorian Era when H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Mary Shelley created tales of science fiction suspense and horror. Cloning, genetic engineering, time travel, cybernetics…All take center-stage in cautionary tales about the dangerous of letting hubris get the better of common sense and logic.

In the world of horror, monsters are created in labs or found in the remotest outposts on earth, creatures brought into the human world with catastrophic consequences. This is also true in the real world, though the monsters we humans battle on a daily basis are much smaller, sometimes microscopic. They destroy our bodies, leaving lasting pain and damage if we are able to survive them. Viruses. They attack our bodies, scarring them, destroying them, and leaving lasting traces if we are able, by luck or miracle, to survive a bout with one of them. Depending on a host for their very life, viruses exist on the edge of life, as it were, adapting and changing as need to survive. They are primitive, focused solely on survival. Barely 5,000 have actually been identified, with millions lurking just beyond the borders of our scientific knowledge, waiting to emerge and wreak havoc. We build-up our immune systems to fight them, creating anti-viral medications to treat them, and use their own DNA and RNA against them by formulating vaccines from them.

The use of viruses in horror is not unique and many modern stories use the element very effectively to explain vampirism, lycanthropy and, of course, zombies. For “Bloodline”, virology became an important element of the plot along with genetic engineering. Not surprising since werewolf tales often commence with the protagonist being victimized and “contracting” the condition through bodily contact, specifically an exchange of fluids. Carriers of the virus often look completely normal and healthy when not transformed, a further similarity to the real world, as people infected with viruses, particularly in the early stages, often exhibit few or no symptoms. As the virus assimilates into the body, or is attacked by the body’s immune system, the protagonist experiences physical changes as well as psychological effects. Isolation is often the greatest obstacle that the protagonist needs to overcome, both self-imposed and that imposed by a fearful society. As the protagonist’s body completes its change, as the virus becomes a part of the body’s genetic code, the motivation to prevent spreading the virus can be overwhelming, leading them on a quest for some sort of cure or control for the virus’ effects or, in the extreme, to precipitate their own death in some way.

In the end, however, there is no end. No matter what steps the protagonist takes to combat the devil lurking inside of them and end the threat, there is always a thread that carries on. Therein, perhaps, lies the true horror of science: the knowledge that no matter what we accomplish, no matter how many battles one, the war will never truly end.

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