Mapping The Zone: an Effort to Create Some Long-overdue Fiction Genre Nomenclature

Rod Serling at a typewriter
It’s good, but what should we call this stuff?

I’m on a mission. (Probably from God.)

Since I seek to be traditionally published, and since I also on occasion confer, converse and otherwise hobnob with my brother and sister writers, I need a way to talk about the writing I’m doing. Yes, my stuff is a little bit horror and a little bit science fiction, with a little literary and psychological suspense thrown in, but HSFLPS is not a particularly elegant acronym. And, even that cumbersome definition doesn’t quite work. I need something more specific, recognizable, a genre label that people will understand as easily as they would the words “cozy mystery,” “historical romance,” or “western.”

“Get the license number of whatever it was that destroyed the dream. And I think we will find that the vehicle was registered in our own name.”

Rod Serling

I’m talking about The Zone, fellow humans, those stories that mess with your head, mess with your smarty pants preconceptions, shake the dust off your ability to be surprised. You know, Black Mirror. The Lottery. Body Snatchers (especially when you look at how so many people knew something was up long before the pods showed up in the plot.)

Here’s Clive Barker’s definition of “horror:”

“Horror fiction has traditionally dealt in taboo.… It makes monsters of household pets and begs our affection for psychos. It shows us that the control we believe we have is purely illusory, and that every moment we teeter on chaos and oblivion.”

Now, that’s a pretty darn good definition, and I do love me a good bug-eyed monster now and then, but in The Zone, the loss of control, the chaos, the oblivion is internal, even if it’s sometimes expressed in external metaphors. A slot machine is Hope. An obsession with books is Misanthropy. Instead of fighting the aliens in orbit with lasers (awesome as that is), in The Zone, those of us who live on Maple Street fight them within our own minds.

At the moment, I’m hawking a short story where a door is the barrier of fear, blame and shame between the healthy and the well. I have another where a toy might make the difference between imprisonment and freedom. In others, a suitcase holds the entirety of a girl’s value to her society and a pearl necklace gives a man access to a world whose dangers he has woefully underestimated.

Yes, I’ve been busy, but how do I talk about this stuff? Here’s my proposal. And, I do hope this becomes A Thing, because these times are fostering stupidity, narcissism and selfishness at terrifying levels, and we need more writers, and readers, venturing into The Zone, and fast. My idea? Let’s call the genre what it is: Zone fiction. Let’s make it real, a category, a habit. Any time you’re tempted to say, “You know, stuff-kind-of-like-Shirley-Jackson-or-Black-Mirror-or-The Twilight Zone..,” just say “Zone” instead. Ask for it by name! Acknowledge the name that already (subconsciously) exists!

As in:

  • “I’m reading a lot of Zone these days.”
  • “I mostly write Zone stories.”
  • “Our Zones are shelved in with the fantasy books.”
  • “Zone fiction is especially popular this year.”
  • “We’d love to publish your Zone stuff.”

(That last one’s my favorite.)

What we name, we create. We can make it happen.

Meanwhile, back to work for me. I’m busy with another Zone.

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