This article is part of an ongoing series in which we ask contributors to anthologies to weigh in on the collection’s theme.
The new anthology Other Terrors sets out to examine the fear of the other in society and turn that fear into understanding. What does “other” mean to you?
Holly Lyn Walrath: My story “The Asylum” is about women living in an 1800s asylum and the horrors they endure. Every detail in the story is drawn from real events. I think society has long “othered” people who are “different” and categorized them as “insane”. Others are those who are “other than”—often people normative society has failed. This reality has been particularly horrific for women historically, resulting in forced sterilization, incarceration, and a loss of bodily agency. The other is liminal, but it is also political. My writing explores this otherness with empathy and attempts to showcase that being othered is about survival.
Eugen Bacon: As an African-Australian author who is black, female, migrant and a single mother, I have struggled with identity and being ‘different’. I think, as humans, intrinsically, we want to belong, to be integral to the worlds we live in.
‘Other’ is anyone who looks different, feels different, thinks different, acts different, lives different, owns different (possessions), is perceived different—there’s a whole spectrum of othering, which is what makes the theme of Other Terrors very relatable and easy to respond to. More so in the safe space that speculative fiction offers for engaging with difference, even in acts of subversive activism.
Michael H. Hanson: In my short story “Night Shopper,” I feel that the concept of ‘other’ holds a two-fold meaning. First, to me it means an outlier, someone who feels they are on the outskirts of so-called societal norms and as such must ever be on alert for potential dangers, whether they be subtle prejudice, or outright violence. Secondly, I wanted the concept of ‘other’ to show supernatural beings (traditionally viewed as evil) in a new light. They are non-human, but in the end, are nobler and more compassionate toward the protagonist than most human beings. ‘Other’ is any person or persons who feel for any reason they are not accepted as “normal” by society as a whole.
Usman T. Malik: For the longest time Horror relied on xenophobia, or a fear of the other, whether ‘the other’ be a black wizard in Conan the Barbarian’s sword and sorcery world, the distrusted yet sexualized midwife/witch of Salem, or the ‘brown dog’ of colonial writing. Blackness of skin often equaled horror. Yet as the world shrinks thanks to easier and faster travel and we move away from the segregation and eugenics, we realize that the other was and always will be the uneasy half of the human heart, the Hyde of the soul’s midnight.
Hailey Piper: While technically “other” can mean anyone who isn’t like you, on a societal scale “other” tends to mean anyone not like a certain expected group, be that based on ability, ethnicity, sexuality, gender spectrum, nationality, and so on. It creates a blurry yet small bubble of who is central in society’s eye, with someone existing as other and treated more othered the further they deviate from that center, as if you could chart a graph of who’s most normal, or most human, on the myriad differences between us.
My story “The Turning” takes this to the extreme of children leaving their human forms behind, leaving the safety of the perceived normal, and becoming othered by their friends, families, and society at large.
Denise Dumars: While Covid-19 has changed our lives in many ways, one way it changed life here in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County was totally unexpected. Generations of Asian-Americans live here and have done so for well over 100 years. So imagine my shock when a woman verbally abused an Asian-American woman in a park in the city in which I live, a city that is of 39% Asian heritage. At first it seemed like an isolated incident…until it happened again, this time at a local beach. And then it happened at the mall, and then there was a well-publicized case of an Olympic athlete being harassed and told to go back to Asia! While it’s not as though prejudice against Asian people hadn’t happened before—after all, there was a WWII Japanese internment camp at nearby Terminal Island in the 1940’s—in the 21st century no one expected this. I was at a complete loss as to why it was happening, until I learned that some right-wing news outlets (and our right-wing president at the time) were blaming the Chinese for the Covid-19 virus. What did that have to do with my South Bay neighbors? Absolutely nothing! Some of the attacks became physical, and I suddenly felt like I was living in another universe. That provided the germ—if you’ll pardon the pun—of the idea for my story. How the usual and normal suddenly becomes “othered” is truly frightening, especially because it could happen to any one of us.
Nathan Carson: The narrator of “Help, I’m A Cop” is experiencing the repercussions of a lifetime of poor American social programming. He continually makes cowardly choices that run counter to himself and his own nature. As a result, he finds himself playing a role in order to satisfy the traditional expectations of his family and peers. So his true self is an unknown (hidden) “other” to them, and his outward persona is “other” (counter) to himself and his own truth. This is why things go so badly for him. The story illustrates many of the life junctures at which points he had the opportunity to take a stand, and failed to do so.
Michael Thomas Ford: As a queer person living in the United States in the present time, to me “other” has come to represent anyone who doesn’t fit into the narrowly defined vision of society that the portion of our country represented by the political right would like to impose upon us due to their own fears that they are rapidly becoming the minority. At the same time, I realize that they also probably feel as if they are the other and are under threat from those who disagree with them. This divide continues to widen, and where I think the true terror lies is in the fact that finding a way to close it and coexist seems less and less likely.
My story in Other Terrors is about what happens when a family is divided by their ideas of what is acceptable. While the gay son in the story appears to bear the brunt of his parents’ choices, they too are victims of the horror they’ve chosen to welcome into their lives, as their vision of the perfect family exists only so long as they refuse to accept their real child for who he is. This is, of course, a not uncommon reality for many queer people, as are the devastating effects on those who fail to escape such situations.
Linda A. Addison: “Other” to me comes from humans, who because of their own insecurities are afraid of anyone that does not look or sound or behave like them. In order to handle this discomfort, they turn human beings into “Other”. There is no Other if you can see we are One on this planet and look at our differences with curiosity, rather than fear.“I am Other and so are you.” –Jonathan Lees
Tracy A. Cross: My story may not seem like an “other” but it is an “other” as I know it. The protagonist in my story is poor (impoverished?) She has to skip meals so others can eat, scavenge junkyards to finish school assignments and is bullied at school. Being an impoverished child, I didn’t understand what being poor was until I was taken out of my environment. In my early years of education, all my classmates and I were equally impoverished. No one made fun of anyone wearing hand me downs or shoes that weren’t the latest style because-regardless of race, we were all equally poor.
I didn’t know that I was seen as poor until I was transferred to another school, in the suburbs. At this school, and its precedents (Junior High and High School), I was always the “other” because I didn’t have the latest fashion or the nicest shoes. One never really knows they are an “other” until someone decides to label them as such.
Ann Dávila Cardinal: To me, “other” as a verb is the need to separate our species by often arbitrary differences, to create an enemy in the absence of natural ones out of fear, or desire for conflict…or, most often, both. As a noun, in my story “Invasive Species,” I looked at the perception of “other” as invader, or colonizer, and how that perception can shift depending on who is doing the perceiving, or who is in power.
Jonathan Lees: To me, how it seems to have been positioned over time, the Other is only the one you do not want to associate with. The one that disrupts your false sense of normalcy. The one you fear.
I attribute this thought pattern to why the horror villains from fable, film, or literature have become global icons. They have been deemed hideous, incapable, unapproachable, odd, dangerous: Other. They are cast out of society and, for that, they are relatable to nearly everyone who has felt that way in their life.
I am Other and so are you.
Who among us is really the other, after all?
Holly Lyn Walrath: I’d like to believe that we will one day have a society where we don’t segregate or treat as alien those who are different or who don’t fit into society’s rigid roles. Othering is about enforcing a power structure that serves those who are supposedly “like us” (like them). But the reality is, everyone is unique. The other is an illusion upheld by those who would like their worldview enforced.
Eugen Bacon: Sometimes the one who ‘others’ is the very ‘other’ to their core, wherein perhaps their own insecurity with themselves coughs up an intolerance of others in an egocentric superiority complex.‘Those people who look ordinary, but fester with prejudice and hate, they are the true “other.”’ –Michael H. Hanson
Michael H. Hanson: Many forms of prejudice are predicated upon seeming visual and public differences between individuals in a society. If a person is not the same race as you they can be seen as other. If they practice a different religion, they are other. If they speak a different language, they are other. But this is only, IMHO, the most superficial way of perceiving otherness in other people. Remember the old saying, beauty is only skin deep. Much can be said for what it really means to be “human.” I see the best in humanity and praise it. Tolerance, hope, patience, love… these are the standards that I consider the norm. Those people who look ordinary, but fester with prejudice and hate, they are the true “other.”
Usman T. Malik: We’re all ‘the other’: evil’s doppelgangers, biological puppets driven by the same torments.
Hailey Piper: I think which of us is the “other” depends on power dynamics. Pulled back, it looks ridiculous, but down here in our lives we’re all living in this big wonky Normalcy/Other Spectrum Machine. Whether some fight it or others choose to keep it running, we’re stuck amid these purposeless gears.
Nathan Carson: Central to the theme of my story, “otherness” tends to be the result of the limited viewpoint through which a society views its inhabitants. There should be no reason for this policeman to remain closeted, especially as an adult. Sadly there is not enough education, understanding, or love for universal acceptance. Endless, needless suffering will continue until society evolves. And I believe the first place to implement acceptance and understanding is as a parent. If you are truly loved for who you are at home, that can give an individual the strength to be proud in broader settings outside and beyond the nest.
Tracy A. Cross: It’s all about labels. No one is an “other” until someone decides that this group of people are different from the rest. You can be as rich as anyone, and someone will point and label you as an “other” because you have money and can’t relate to a different class of people. You can be poor and work hard for everything you own, and buy all the nicest, most expensive things, but can be an “other” because you aren’t ahead of the curb.
I believe at some point in life, we all have been the ones on both sides-the ones that decide who is the “other” and the ones that are the “other”.
Jonathan Lees: While people from a variety of races, beliefs, genders, and identities crowd around the feeling of Other, who are we to say one is Other and one is not?
If you feel there’s something about you is different, that isn’t something to fear. One of society’s biggest flaws is the quest for comfort out of conformity. Not standing out may create the appearance of the seams sewn shut in the effort keep things tidy. It is just an illusion.
People have created imaginary borders or forced their beliefs to keep us in line and to gain control because they fear the Other. They do not want to be different; they don’t want to struggle against another’s collective opinion. They would defy their own thoughts to just exist within a trap set by others.
Now, that is truly scary.
Linda A. Addison: There is no Other, only One set of humans, living on a planet called Earth.