‘Revelations: Horror Writers for Climate Action’ Tells Us How To Accept Being Haunted by the Future

"Other Worldly" by cobaltfish is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Trying to live with climate change today is terrifying, traumatic work. We’re all suspended in a time and place between the past actions that guarantee massive planetary change and the unfolding of these changes. People are haunted by the future. How we will be tested. How we will respond. What we will lose—if we’re still around to register losses, that is. This is a weird and powerful time of grief. It’s a time that calls for new tools and stories, for putting aside the coziness of disavowal and forging a harder hope. One thing that can help people accept our haunted status and work through the grief so we might bust some of the global warming ghosts is horror. Revelations: Horror Writers for Climate Action is a brand new anthology of short stories well worth checking out

It may seem counterintuitive to some, but horror can help because it’s a genre that tarries with those hard experiences of death, mourning, doubt, and uncertain futures. In fact, there’s an emerging field of academic study called eco-horror that researches and teaches these intersections of horror fiction and climate action to shape a future that includes us on Earth. If you’re interested in exploring this cutting-edge approach to horror, I can recommend the open-access academic journal Gothic Nature. It’s written by scholars who want to reach readers who’re curious, smart, and not necessarily specialists in film and literature.

photograph of Revelations book clover in front of a bare tree.
Image courtesy of the author.

For horror fiction that helps readers confront climate change haunting, Revelations presents an opportunity to explore studies at the intersection of eco-horror and climate change through fiction. The anthology delivers twenty-two stories by a formidable range of horror masters: Stephen King, Clive Barker, Tananarive Due, Sarah Pinborough, Nuzo Onoh, Paul Tremblay, and the list keeps going. To be clear, the stories have been previously published, so you’re not buying a collection of brand new content. What you are buying, however, is a masterfully edited collection that reframes all of these stories so they take on deep and different textures. Put together under the climate change umbrella, each story retells its characters and plot in a whole new light. What you’re also buying is a better future for the planet as the proceeds of Revelations sales are going to the action organization Climate Outreach.

In the introduction to the anthology, Sadie Hartmann highlights a favorite sentence from each story. This presentation gives us a taste of each story’s style and horror. It also helps position readers to enter each new tale with an ecological context. What’s especially exciting is that Hartmann’s set of previews does not coerce readers to experience the collected stories through an imposed ecological lens. Instead, this set of wonderful sentences sparks us to consider how climate change is a lurking, chronic horror that infects the stories we tell, even when we may not be conscious that this warming, and we as the warmers, are among the real monsters being registered in the settings, plots, and characters.

As to the stories, let’s start with the contributions written by Stephen King and Joe Hill. King’s “Summer Thunder” is technically about Earth after nuclear weapon devastation. The rapidly changing life experience of the characters, however, transfers seamlessly to climate change horror. King paints a paradoxical future in which the beauty of sunsets is wildly amplified even as the soundscape is devoid of birdsong. In place of bad harbinger crows and hostile seagulls, the story conjures up a bird-based horror of extinction that people feel sonically. “Summer Thunder,” like so much of King’s work, is about love among strangers in troubling times. Read as eco-horror, the story homes in on kinships in a world where terminal disaster has been irreversibly set in motion but not yet fully arrived. The story offers a way to grasp and reflect on the grief and future-loss we might feel in real life as well as the power of loving neighbors, human and non.

Photograph of sun, clouds, and orange sky.
Sun and clouds” by Tambako the Jaguar is marked with CC BY-ND 2.0.

Joe Hill’s entry “Dead-Wood” is as chewy as it is short. Hill invites readers to imagine trees’ perspectives on time. Strange temporalities consistently appear in horror. Within this anthology, this instance of weird tree-time complicates the default sense of human time scales. Readers don’t get to escape human temporality, but we are provoked to recognize how different time is for trees, much less the myriad of other fellow earthlings on the planet. Learning to flex from human time is vital to the future, and it’s what horror has long equipped us to practice.

Nuzo Onoh’s “Black Queen” contributes the cosmology of an Igbo community in Nigeria. Onoh’s story leverages a multi-generation family transmission of values to lead readers to consider relationships to rivers. The river in the story is not a resource, not a standing reserve. This river is alive. It has energy and agency and a capacity for horrific vengeance if it’s mistreated by its human cohabitants. What’s more, the story depicts its local Nigerian setting as influenced by Chinese investors eager to extract profitable materials from the land under the auspices of progress. In this way, Onoh makes the horror about individual decisions and the global capitalist structures that determine which choices are even on the table for consideration.

On the subject of water, Tananarive Due’s “Carriers” springs readers into a future California both devastated and divided by drought. Ecological pressures for water have reinforced and amplified existing divisions across class, race, and gender. And, really, although the story’s set in the future, this horror-show California has existed to varying degrees for decades. Of note is that Due also puts a pandemic at the center of this story. “Carriers” was originally published in 2015, yet it feels like fiction written during the COVID-19 era. The story moves around the protagonist potentially having a child, created in a lab from her egg, that she didn’t know about and believed she was incapable of producing since she was a carrier of the virus. There’s a cool moment in the story when the protagonist dwells on Halloween as a social practice that has been lost.

When she explained what Halloween had been, the children sat literally open-mouthed. She wondered which part of her story most stupefied them? The ready access to sweets? The trust of strangers? The costumes?

That list is essentially one of global commodities, a social fabric based on trust—without even a verification system, and the freedom to play at other worlds and embrace being haunted. Due’s insightful rendering of Halloween into parts is a brilliant map of what climate change also puts under threat.

The stories I’ve mentioned are excellent, as is the rest of the collection. As a final statement on Revelations, I want to emphasize the careful crafting by its editor, Seán O’Connor. Each story places us in unique situations of dire circumstances. The sources, impacts, and ways out of their horrors are diverse just as life in a changing climate Earth is and will continue to be diverse. The real-life horrors will be unevenly felt and addressed. Furthermore, O’Connor’s mix of stories includes an emotional spectrum that runs from nihilism to dark hope without optimism to utopian visions of cooperation and love. It’s a deep, dark green read.

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  1. Thanks for this great overview, as well as synopses of key individual stories. Especially since there’s no Amazon “Look Inside” feature or Google Books Preview for this anthology, your work here is much appreciated!

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