On the nature of horror in the Premiseverse

“I have seen the dark universe yawning
Where the black planets roll without aim,
Where they roll in their horror unheeded,
Without knowledge, or lustre, or name.” – H.P. Lovecraft

The canon ME-verse is a place of bright futures and hope, a place where evil is viewed with disgust and rejection, where the darkness beyond the stars boils down to incompetently coded AI’s and oversized fish with ego problems.  The only true horror is that of the sorrowful disgust we experience at seeing the Reaper mockeries of existing races, a horror put paid to easily enough by fire and sword.

Evil sits in nicely defined packages, and Garrus’ complaints about shades of gray are manifest only to the clean-arrow view of the universe a turian would hold. Likewise, the terror invoked by Nazara and the visceral horror of the fate and plans of the Collectors is derailed by their cartoonishly-bad execution, ending with the fate of the galaxy being decided by if you can beat a space ninja or not.

I am afraid, gentle readers, that the Premiseverse is altogether a much nastier place. I had a PM asking me why I made my AU so dark, and why change it from the way it was.

My answer is simple: because in horror there is a chance to explore meaning. Drama for the sake of drama and action for the sake of action is what canon ME explores. And despite the plot holes, it does so very well. That does not mean that every interpretation must merely reshuffle events with that narrow framework.

There are three basis points for horror in the Premiseverse:

  1. the reality that sentient life, and all it’s goals, dreams and hopes, is little more than fuel for things fighting on another level of existence, one so vast and terrifying that even with all the answers the questions are still incomprehensible. Nine million years of fighting between the Ascended and the Darkness, in a war where entire galaxies were weapons and whole races were evolved, born, lived, and died as battle thralls for both sides? Millions upon millions of years of harvests by the Reapers?  The ugly knowledge that the very technology used by the races is slowly converting our reality to dark energy and matter, and one day it will pop like a soap bubble? These things make the concerns of any group seem small and pointless.
  2. the knowledge that all of the races are willing to embrace evil, disgusting acts in the pursuit of power, or safety, or knowledge, or dominance. Unlike in ME, where it seems like humans (and a lesser degree, salarians)  are the only people doing really horrible things, in the Premiseverse everyone is in on it with the exception of the quarians and elcor. Rather than turn from such in disgust, the powers of the galaxy blackmail each other in a dance of shadow operations, each one framed in the struggle of other wetwork groups — the Shadow Broker, P., Cerberus, the STG, and the Nightwind — doing their own horrible things. There very simply are no good guys, and instead much of what the average person thinks about their government is flat out wrong.
  3. the critical concept that science and advancement also bring dangers and corruption along with knowledge and enlightenment. We only get to really see this in canon ME with Cerberus experimentation always going horribly wrong, but that misses the larger point — that the singularity and increasingly advanced technologies only further increase the damage and danger of what a race can do. Mad science should have ugly fallout, and reckless crash programs to try to even up the technological edge between the races of the Galaxy and the Reapers should blow up badly, and for multiple races.

Too many choices in ME can be factored down to doing things the Paragon or Renegade way. It is, I suppose, meant to provide the illusion of choice, but instead all it does is cheapen the meaning of such choices. The reality of life is that we are often forced not to pick between good and evil, but from a selection of various evils. The triumph is in getting the job done without corrupting the soul of your species at the end of it all.

There are those who claim making everything dark is ‘unrealistic’, yet I do not think these people have any idea of what reality is like. I assure you, neither my country nor yours in real life is a “good guy”. Every government on earth has done things that would make you ashamed. To suggest that for some reason humans are the only people to descend to this level is more Star-Trekesque bullshit, which I reject utterly.

A second (perhaps more valid) objection to the darkening of the ME verse is that so much decency remains. That is because the darkening is due to those in power, not any sort of magical change in people or aliens themselves.

The big alteration in the Premiseverse is that the old levers of power (asari Thirty, salarian Six Families, Turian Palavanus, Human nobility, etc) did NOT lose power and fade to insignificance as they did in canon ME — instead they retained their power, and plan to keep it.

What happens in the fullness of ME2 and ME3 hasn’t been planned yet, but by ME4 in the Premiseverse, much of this old guard had been removed, allowing peace and calmness to settle on the races.

The style of horror I prefer is the slow reveal and the philosophical horror, rather than slasher style or shock style. I am still in the process of developing this style, as seen in Fear Unrelenting.

 

5 thoughts on “On the nature of horror in the Premiseverse”

  1. This is a fascinating idea. I have never been one for slasher or shock horror, but philosophical horror in the style you write it is fascinating. I am a Warhammer 40K fan (at least the literature of Warhammer 40K) and your writing has similar mental weight that I feel when I read certain Warhammer books.

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