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Utah sci-fi writers ask: Where have all the monsters gone?

Published: Saturday, May 28 2011 11:22 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Vampires suck. Werewolves have out-howled their welcome. And everyone's favorite undead — zombies — have been shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, stuck, blasted and exploded to smithereens so many times they are no longer undead, just dead.

That was the theme of a panel discussion Friday, the opening day of CONduit, which is Utah's largest and oldest sci-fi convention.

"Zombies are fun, vampires are fun and werewolves are fun," said Utah County author Dan Wells. "But this is speculative fiction. We should speculate a little bit more."

The pop culture wave of vampires and werewolves spawned by writers such as Stephenie Meyer, and zombies, awakened by such popular movies as "Zombieland," "Shaun of the Dead" and many others, may be cresting, Wells and four other authors said.

When it breaks, they hope to ride, or even create, the next big one.

So, where are the new monsters? We will find them in the darkness of our deepest fears, in the abyss of the unknowable, according to Wells.

"Horror comes from our attempts to understand the unknowable," he said. "We want to point to reasons for stuff we can't understand."

Tales of bloodsucking creatures emerging from coffins and stalking the living began in medieval times, noted Amber Argyle. "People began noticing what happened to dead bodies. The fingernails kept growing, blood came out of their lips."

In those times, stakes were literally driven through the hearts of the dead to make sure they were dead, she said. And vampires came to life — so to speak.

In medieval France, historian Gervase of Tilbury told of a village terrified when they occasionally found the bodies of young girls who had been partially consumed, Argyle said. To explain such a killer who only emerged now and then, they imagined an ordinary man who sometimes morphs into a beast. The werewolf was born.

Roger White writes techno-science fiction that sticks closely to legitimate science. In the 1930s, we began imagining life on other planets that might threaten ours, he said.

By the 1960s, though, "We've got the satellites around the Earth," White said, and little is left unknown. "This is the challenge," White said. "How to find the mysterious and unknown."

With global warming and threatened ecosystems, White suggested that future monsters might be found in nature.

Larry Correia is an experienced monster hunter. Or at least his characters are. The gun enthusiast and New York Times best-selling author writes the Monster Hunter series.

He, too, sees monstrosities emerging from nature. He recently watched a nature show about pelicans that "turned carnivorous" and began feasting on other birds rather than fish. Seeing the pelicans force a live, thrashing bird into their beaks was ghastly to watch, Correia said.

He also read a science article about a parasite that latches itself inside a fish's mouth, eating its tongue. When the tongue dies and falls off, the parasite "becomes" the tongue.

He pounds the table, facetiously, "This is real! Nature's out to kill you!"

Author Paul Genesse works as a nurse in his regular job. "Viruses and bacteria are scary to me," he said. "Anything that's creepy crawly." The robotic version of such tiny life forms is nanotechnology, Genesse said.

The miniscule devices, which can be placed within the human body, could mutate into their own life form and threaten humanity, Genesse imagined. He read another writer's draft of such a "nanite" story.

"That was scary!"

Future monsters can also be found ordinary, Wells said. In the age of terrorism, we don't know who may be loaded with explosives, planning to kill many of us.

It's like the popular TV series, "Battlestar Galactica," he said. "We don't know who the bad guys are."

Email: lbrubaker@desnews.com

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