Exploring the Dark Side of Sci-Fi with Michael Bailey and Richard Chizmar

YouHumanDark Regions Press has enlisted Bram Stoker Award-winning editor Michael Bailey to christen the new Dark Regions Sci-Fi imprint with You, Human, a genre-bending anthology of dark science fiction and poetry. The collection, featured as part of an Indiegogo campaign (which also seeks to produce Return of the Old Ones: Apocalyptic Lovecraftian Horror and The Children of Gla’aki: A Tribute to Ramsey Campbell’s Great Old One) is illustrated by world-renowned artist L.A. Spooner, with poetry and spot illustrations supplied by Orion Zangara.

The campaign is entering its final days, and stands very close to its funding goal as of this writing. We were able to send a few questions to Bailey and one of You, Human‘s contributors, Cemetery Dance’s own Richard Chizmar, about their journey into the dark side of sci-fi.

(Interviews conducted by Blu Gilliand)


CEMETERY DANCE ONLINE: You, Human is billed as an anthology of “dark science fiction.” Tell us what distinguishes dark sci-fi versus other, “regular” sci-fi.

MICHAEL BAILEY: When I hear “sci-fi,” my mind immediately turns to common genre sci-fi, or “hard sci-fi.” I think of space and time travel and aliens and robots. While I enjoy some Arthur C. Clarke (2001: A Space Odyssey), Frank Herbert (Dune), Robert A. Heinlein (Starship Troopers) and Isaac Asimov (I, Robot), my liking of science fiction tends to be a bit darker. While all of these noted books have dark elements, I enjoy a more subtle, softer approach to science fiction, stories that touch the reader in emotionally dark places. I grew up watching shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The X-Files, movies like ALIEN and yes, 2001: A Space Odyssey—more frightening on screen than on the page—and reading literary science fiction by the likes of Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick. This love for the darker side of sci-fi has evolved over the years to include the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, Haruki Murakami, and even Cormac McCarthy. This is the kind of stuff you can expect in this anthology. You, Human is a literary blend of science fiction and horror. I like the term “dark science fiction” because it turns the “what if” a shade darker than what’s expected with “regular” sci-fi; in this case: What if Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics were revised and applied to humanity? Hence the title.

Did you solicit stories from certain authors, or did you hold open submissions? Were you surprised by some of the contributors, especially those known primarily for their work in the horror genre?

Almost all the stories in You, Human were solicited, and a few stumbled upon after some of the solicited authors pointed writers in my direction. Before You, Human, I put together a dark science fiction anthology called Qualia Nous, which was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award for anthologies and won the Benjamin Franklin Award. Two of the stories in this book took home the Stoker for short fiction (tied), one was up for a Nebula, and the single poem by Marge Simon received a Rhysling award from the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

I reached out to authors I knew were capable of blending genres and punching emotion in the face, and a few authors reached out to me after reading (or writing for) Qualia Nous. The most surprising in the bunch: Mort Castle’s “Robot,” which is capable of shedding a tear or two, and Josh Malerman’s “The Jupiter Drop,” which is the last thing you’d expect from the author of Bird Box. Another surprise was Marge Simon, who wrote three poems to help define the new laws explored in You, Human (which are used to segment the book into its three parts), as well as a short story (I never knew she wrote fiction before this). John Skipp and John R. Little have both dabbled in science fiction before, but both have told me their story in You, Human is among their favorites they’ve written. Another surprise was “Keepsakes” by Hal Bodner, which is getting some early buzz. I guess what I love is pushing writers to write outside their norm, and of course discovering new writers altogether.

What is it about science fiction and horror that make them work so well together?

Both science fiction and horror explore the speculative spectrum, the great “what ifs” of our imagination. What if the science goes wrong? Horrific stuff…

What are some of the themes explored in You, Human?

The anthology centers around the Three Laws of Humanity, as opposed to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics: 1) A human being may not injure another human being or, through inaction, allow another human being to come to harm; 2) A human being must obey the orders given it by other human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law, and 3) A human being must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second laws. Putting those laws into question, You, Human explores what it means to be alive, what it means to be real, what it means to exist, and, most importantly, what it means to be human. Horror and sci-fi legend F. Paul Wilson was invited to write the introduction, and offers some incredible scientific insight into humanism before these laws are challenged.

The Indiegogo campaign to fund the publication of You, Human (plus two other Dark Regions Press collections) is nearing its goal with just a few days left. Give us the hard sell on this particular book, and why it’s worth supporting.

This is the first book in the new Dark Regions Sci-Fi imprint by Dark Regions Press. The hardback is selling out fast, with only a few copies remaining to preorder. The fiction is illustrated throughout by world-renowned artist L.A. Spooner, with poetry and spot illustrations by Orion Zangara. This book is a thing of beauty, absolutely gorgeous inside and out. There’s fiction by Stephen King, Gary Braunbeck, Lucy Snyder, Tom Monteleone, Erinn Kemper, Cody Goodfellow, Scott Edelman, Laura Lee Bahr, Richard Chizmar, and so many more. YOU, HUMAN is packed to the gills with awesomeness. Supporting the Indiegogo campaign will ensure projects like this continue. Everyone reading this should visit the campaign page and pick up a trade paperback or two, or an eBook, or perhaps one of the multi-book packages. For those in need of editing, there are some incredible editing packages available in the 5,000, 10,000, and 40,000 word range.


CEMETERY DANCE ONLINE: Is this your first foray into science fiction?

RICHARD CHIZMAR: “Ditch Treasures” definitely tip-toes the line of being classified as science fiction, as do several of my other short stories. The “ditch treasure” in question is really the only mildly science fiction element in the story, but I think it’s enough (kind of vague, I know, but read the story and you will get my meaning).

What drew you to submit a story to You, Human?

I had actually just finished a batch of new short stories and wasn’t sure of where to send them. I know Michael Bailey does good work and is a fine editor, so I sent a couple his way to take a look at. Fortunately, he grabbed one for Chiral Mad 3 and this one for You, Human. I’m proud to be a small part of both books!

What can you tell us about your story?

One day this past summer, my son and I were talking about my childhood, and how different it was back then. I told him all about our forts in the woods and our tree houses and how each one inevitably ended up with a library of old, rain-swollen girlie magazines we had found on the side of the road or in dumpsters. I lamented the fact that most kids nowadays probably didn’t have the same experiences. Later that day, I was emailing or texting with my friend, Steve King, and I mentioned the conversation with my son to him. He knew exactly what I was talking about and said when he was a kid they always called such found items “ditch treasures.” I loved that term and a few days later, it became my next short story. Thanks, Steve!

What is it about science fiction and horror that make them work so well together?

A whole lot of different things. Both genres explore the unknown and the boundaries of our imaginations. Science gone wrong is always ripe for terrific stories of terror. And horror and science fiction are perfect vehicles for an interesting cast of characters: the hero, the villain, the Everyman or Everywoman, etc.

What are some of your personal favorite films, books or stories that blend science fiction and horror?

Oh, boy, I could write an essay answering this question! Instead, I’ll just list a handful off the top of my cluttered head: I Am Legend, Frankenstein, The Stand, The Andromeda Strain, The Body Snatchers, War of the Worlds, Carrion Comfort, Jurassic Park, The Colour Out of Space, Under the Dome, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Alien series, The Thing, The Fly, Altered States, The Mist, They Live, Prince of Darkness, and about a hundred others!

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