The world of science fiction can be a magical place full of wonderful things we’ve never dreamed possible. It can also be a deeply terrifying place where seemingly innocuous objects are turned into instruments of untold horror and destruction.
The Harry Potter universe has a few examples.
Howlers. Imagine being away at boarding school and receiving a letter from mom and dad. Nice huh? Well imagine if that letter opens itself and starts shouting at you in your mom or dad’s voice right then and there in front of all your friends. Not so nice now, is it? I thank God every day that my mom can’t send howlers. I’d get a ton of them from my stand-up act alone.
Horcruxes. On the surface they’re just ordinary objects but inside there’s a piece of someone’s soul. Even worse is the way they’re made. To make a horcrux, you have to split your soul into pieces. How do you split your soul? Oh just by killing an innocent person in cold blood. Talk about off-putting.
Then there’s Doctor Who, or the Whoniverse if you will. There are several seemingly ordinary things I’m now terrified of because of Doctor Who. Statues, snowmen, people repeating everything someone says, and small black boxes to name a few.
The terror doesn’t end at ordinary objects. There are also the things that happen all the time that we never noticed before but now find deeply terrifying because of Sci-fi show X. Take Supernatural for example. Because of Supernatural, every time a light flickers in my apartment I go running to the kitchen to grab the salt. The same is true every time I hear the pipes make noises or really any time there’s a noise and I’m home by myself. For the record, hell no I don’t go investigating a noise. If some evil spirit wants me the bastard can come and get me. I sometimes wonder how the people at the beginning of the episodes can be so stupid. You never investigate a noise! That’s a rookie mistake!
Still you have to wonder if it scares us, why do we continue watching? And for that matter, why does it scare us so much? I ran a tabletop roleplaying game made by White Wolf as part of their World of Darkness universe called Vampire the Requiem. Something I read in the player’s guide has always stuck with me.
The main crux of the World of Darkness is the way it peels back the veil on the everyday world and shows us the darkness that lives underneath. It’s a universe where your next door neighbor could be a werewolf or your high school principle could be a demon. Even though the idea of your neighbor morphing into a huge, hair-covered beast is terrifying, it can also be fascinating to explore the darker reaches of our imaginations and our obsession with the things that go bump in the night.
The reason that we continue watching is then exactly the same as the reason we’re so afraid. There are things in this world that happen that we can’t explain. There are phenomena that we can’t even begin to understand. That’s what people fear the most: the unknown and science fiction has a way of tapping into that most basic fear that all human beings have. We fear what don’t know or can’t explain. At the same time, it’s human nature to be curious. We continue watching even though it scares us for the same reason that people climb into rockets to explore the farthest reaches of space. Even though it’s unknown and therefore terrifying to us, we still want to know what’s out there. We still seek to understand that which we cannot explain.
It’s a paradox worthy of an episode of Doctor Who. Even though science fiction plays into humanity’s most basic fear: fear of the unknown, we’re still curious about the unknown and strive to explore it. We keep pressing play because it’s just human nature. Now may we please have more episodes of Doctor Who? I need more ordinary stuff to be scared of.