Get Ready to be Scared

They warn of Armageddon, they warn us of apocalypse

The future's as a fool's invention

Of choking skies and computer chips

These lyrics to The Horsemen Arrive were written by John Shirley and recorded by legendary New York metal heads Blue Oyster Cult. Over the years Shirley has written whole albums for the band and more lyrics than they know how to make use of. One of the original cyber punk authors, (William Gibson credits his work publicly as an inspiration for Neuromancer) John Shirley has been pushing the frontiers of body horror, splatter punk and apocalyptic terror fiction for more than thirty years.

He's unashamedly prolific, publishing novels, short stories, screenplays, song lyrics and non-fiction in an endless stream of subversive invention and twisted surrealism. He fought his way back from a battle with drugs and depression and some of the darkness of that time saturates his vision of the world. He's William Burroughs with a punk band, a seer of the underground collision between the babbling street folk, the prick of the syringe and the space ship. Shirley writes about how we've designed society to be more anxious, how nervous disorders are on the rise, how the future looks like the kind of mass hypnosis the beat generation wrote about and early Cronenberg visualised so well.

Of course there's a long history of this thinking and sinister visions abound in science fiction literature from Frankenstein and Nosferatu to A Clockwork Orange and 1984. It's no accident Shirley is a Bram Stoker award winner. Dracula has long been thought of as an example early science fiction. On the horror side, Shirley's Bleak History, Crawlers, and Demons are excellent, while works such as City Come A-Walkin', and the A Song Called Youth trilogy of Eclipse, Eclipse Penumbra, and Eclipse Corona stand out as his best of cyberpunk. A recent work BioShock Rapture is a game tie in (he also wrote a novelisation of the Keanu Reeves film Constantine). Shirley was an early screenwriter on The Crow and Deep Space Nine, revealing his skill at hiding political allegory in apocalyptic storytelling.

It is something of a testament to the resilience of the American underground voice that his work has been published so widely and remains successfully popular. Science fiction at its best manages to exploit the form to illuminate the present.

John Shirley specialises in pitch black humour and trippy future shock taken to the very limit of acceptability. Clive Barker and Bruce Sterling are fans, prepare to be scared...

John Shirley will be at TEDx Brussels on November 22

John Fass