I know what you're thinking: at this point in global history, it seems like the
genre of horror fiction and the reality of international politics have essentially merged. Politics is horror. And visa versa. In fact, Cthulhu rising from the deep to wreak destruction on humanity is starting to look almost appealing these days (at least Cthulhu doesn't have a Twitter account?). But, while all books are political in some way or another, there are a few horrific tales that stand out from the rest in blending horror and politics to genius effect. These tales of mayhem and woe don't just scare us — they also critique the horror genre as a whole. Or they motivate us to get out there and fight the real monsters. Or they remind us that evil can, in fact, be defeated. Here are a few politically charged horror stories, for a spine-tingling, well-informed reading experience.
Now, by singling these books out, I don't mean to say that other horror books are
not political. They are. In fact, everything can be read through a political lens, if the daily news is stressful enough. But these books go above and beyond. They unpack what monsters mean to us, and subvert horror cliches. They start a dialogue on what scary stories can do. And, of course, they're freaking terrifying, too:
'Lovecraft Country' by Matt Ruff
It's 1954, and Atticus Turner is off on a road trip from Chicago to New England in search of his missing father. It's a trip full of horrors, both of the malignant spirit and the Jim Crow variety, but eventually Atticus and his friends do track down his father—only to find that he's being held captive by a secret cabal, and their bizarre rituals seem to center around Atticus himself.
Lovecraft Country weaves together the cosmic horror of the Old Gods and the real life horror of white supremacy, deconstructing H.P. Lovecraft's original stories to create something far more poignant and hopeful (and just as scary). Click here to buy.
'#Murdertrending' by Gretchen McNeil
It's the near future, and public executions have gone viral. Using the Postman App, upstanding citizens can watch the executions of society's most notorious criminals on a live stream. But when Dee Guerrera wakes up in a warehouse and realizes that she's next up on the app for a crime she most definitely didn't commit, the whole process starts to feel a whole lot less fun.
#Murdertrending pokes fun at our app-obsessions while delivering some truly brutal executions and a horrific look at the implications of capital punishment. Click here to buy.
'The Natural Way of Things' by Charlotte Wood
Two women awake from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned on a remote desert compound. They are trapped here doing hard labor with eight other women, a "nurse," and two viscous guards. Each of these women has been involved in a sex scandal with a powerful man, and now each of them are "paying the price." Stomach-churning and painfully relevant,
The Natural Way of Things is a disturbing story that pits 10 women against the cruel forces of state-sanctioned misogyny. Click here to buy.
'Deep Roots' by Ruthanna Emrys
H.P. Lovecraft is a popular choice for subversive horror novels, because there's just so much to subvert. Lovecraft was a notorious misogynist, racist, homophobe, and all around terrible person. In
Deep Roots, however, Ruthanna Emrys twists Lovecraft's mythos on its head with Aphra Marsh, a determined young woman (and descendant of monsters) who wants to negotiate peace and rebuild rather than terrorize and destroy. Click here to buy.
'White Tears' by Hari Kunzru
Two white twenty-somethings, Seth and Carter, share an obsession with music. Especially, in Carter's case, music from the past. So when Seth records a stranger singing in a park, Carter shares it online, claiming it's a 1920's blues musician called Charles Shaw. But it turns out that their invented
Charles Shaw really did exist, and the two young men quickly find themselves in the middle of a ghost story. White Tears is a haunting murder mystery, a tribute to the blues, and a nuanced meditation on race in America. Click here to buy.
'Blood Crime' by Sebastià Alzamora
Barcelona is in the midst of a massacre, and one lone figure revels in the violence.
Blood Crime is the story of the Spanish Civil War as told by a vampire. I mean sure, it's a little more complex than that. But if you're looking for a blood-soaked tale of war, of police inspectors questing for justice and orphans trying to escape from murderers (and also there are vampires), then this is the book for you. Click here to buy.
'The Good House' by Tananarive Due
Angela Toussaint has returned to her hometown, two years after her son's tragic death. She's finally ready to step back into her grandmother's house and to confront the truth of what happened there. Is this all part of her family curse? Or was her grandmother the one doing the cursing? Inter-generational trauma and racism are
literally haunting this family in a brilliant new take on the classic haunted house. Click here to buy.
'Frankenstein in Baghdad' by Ahmed Saadawi
Hadi walks the streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, collecting body parts. He's stitching them together to make a new corpse. His goal is to give these various parts a proper burial through the government—but then his patchwork corpse goes missing, and a wave of horrific murders sweeps through the city. Hadi has created a monster who cannot be killed, and who has an insatiable desire for human flesh.
Click here to buy.
'Let's Play White' by Chesya Burke
Let's Play White is a collection of masterfully dark short stories exploring race, loss, and power (and, of course, horror). One follows a witch as she travels from town to town and another gives us a sympathetic take on zombies. There are subway gore fests, disappearances, and strange brothel madams. In all of the stories, however, poverty and trauma are just as deadly as the book's more literal monsters. Click here to buy.
'Deathless' by Catherynne M. Valente
Koschei the Deathless is a legendary evil figure of Russian myth, and this is his story.
Deathless follows Koschei and his eventual bride through Russia of the 20th century, intertwining folklore and actual history. It's a creepy fantasy filled with Stalinist elves, bureaucratic power plays, witches, gun-goblins, and plant-golems. Perfect for fans of revolutions and off-kilter fairy tales. Click here to buy.
'When the World Wounds' by Kiini Ibura Salaam
A lupine creature struggles to understand its brutal captors. A woman escapes enslavement only to be thrust into a divine war. A post-Katrina New Orleans struggles to carry on.
When the World Wounds includes five chilling stories and one novella, each of them more delightful and disturbing than the last (and yes, there is at least one sensual encounter with a deer). Click here to buy.
'The Ballad of Black Tom' by Victor LaValle
Charles Thomas Tester is a New York City hustler, and quite adept at keeping himself and his father alive. He's weathered pretty much everything the city can throw at him... until he delivers a strange old tome to a sorceress in Queens. All of a sudden, Tom is pulled into a world of Lovecraftian horror, in another savvy subversion of classic Lovecraft tropes (but with plenty of genuine terror, too).
Click here to buy.
'The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories' by Angela Carter
Angela Carter is the queen mother of dark, subversive, feminist fairy tale re-tellings. With
The Bloody Chamber, she takes on classics like "Little Red Riding Hood," "Bluebeard," "Puss in Boots," and "Beauty and the Beast," transforming them from kid's stories to wholly adult, utterly horrific tales of horror under the patriarchy. Click here to buy.