Looking for stories where humans are the monsters.
August 23, 2013 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Many monsters in fiction are scary in large part because of their inherent, biological abilities: acid blood, teeth, claws, wings, etc. Inspired by this tumblr thread (via this Omni article), I'm looking for stories in any genre that avoid or (preferably) subvert this trope, making humans out to be inherently frightening, gross or dangerous.
posted by Skorgu to Writing & Language (38 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
The Twilight Zone's famous Eye of the Beholder?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:14 AM on August 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

I Am Legend comes to mind.
posted by jquinby at 8:16 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Fungus the Bogeyman, by Raymond Briggs. The initially gross bogeymen end up being seen as more philosophical and gentler than the loud, scary, dry humans.
posted by scruss at 8:18 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

"The Things" by Peter Watts, which I originally found through MeFi.
posted by gone2croatan at 8:19 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

"They're Made out of Meat," by Terry Bisson.
posted by asperity at 8:21 AM on August 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

"I Am The Doorway" by Stephen King.
posted by Jairus at 8:26 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

A few variations from TVTropes: Humans Through Alien Eyes, Humans are Ugly, Humans are the Real Monsters, Humans are Cthulhu
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:26 AM on August 23, 2013

Oblique fit: "Uncle Joshua and the Grooglemen," by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald.
posted by Iridic at 8:28 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Why Weeps the Brogan, a children's novel by Hugh Scott.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:31 AM on August 23, 2013

Tailchaser's Song includes some interactions with humans as seen through the eyes of a feral cat.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:33 AM on August 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's been a while since I've read it, but I think Alan Dean Foster's "Quozl" has the soft cuddly aliens very wary of the violent, war-loving humans. Oh, and of course The Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Pratchett has the little nomes afraid of the humans. So does The Borrowers by Norton, and almost any of those "tiny people" type stories (fairies, etc) and of course many or most talking-animal books like Watership Down will have humans = bad.
posted by The otter lady at 8:39 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe The Inheritors by William Golding (of Lord of the Flies fame)? The protagonists are neanderthals and they cope with the arrival of man---they're more fascinated by man at first, but come to realize how dangerous man is or can be. Pretty great book, really, especially if you're into paleoanthropology, etc.
posted by resurrexit at 8:46 AM on August 23, 2013

Inasmuch as the main characters are all animals, Watership Down gets close, but the main antagonists tend to be other animals. Humans are still distant, mysterious and scary, if not the souce of everything that is bad:

“There's terrible evil in the world."

It comes from men," said Holly. "All other elil do what they have to do and Frith moves them as he moves us. They live on the earth and they need food. Men will never rest till they've spoiled the earth and destroyed the animals.”

posted by jquinby at 8:50 AM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Gulliver's Travels, part 4.
posted by Beardman at 8:55 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

It doesn't portray humans as monsters, but Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep and Children of the Sky has POV aliens who regard humans as weird and creepy and, while technologically advanced, kinda stupid.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:00 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks to this question and TvTropes for reminding me of Alan Dean Foster's Nor Crystal Tears! Bearing in mind that I was 12 when I read it, I think it had some good "my God what is that horrible monster?!?" scenes from the POV of an insect-type alien.

Seconding Gullivers Travels-- the whole book is versions of this, really.
posted by Erasmouse at 9:05 AM on August 23, 2013

Ender's Game
posted by Mr. X at 9:07 AM on August 23, 2013

John Clute's Appleseed has humans as part of a galactic civilisation who collectively view them as dangerous, terrifying, alien, ideologically and physically toxic, and also seem to pretty commonly fetishise weird human sex and behaviour (early on there's a sex show where a couple of robotic motor cortex homunculi fuck and then devour each other, which seems to be somewhere between a satire and porn for the alien audience, but it's the two human representations making eye contact and telling jokes beforehand that's almost scandalously risqué). Communal spaces on planets and stations are separated between bilateral and non-bilateral, but there's a third section specifically for humans because they're considered so alien.
posted by emmtee at 9:25 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ursula LeGuinn liked to play with a version of this trope. Almost all her characters are human or humanoid; but the ones that most closely resemble actual 20th-century Terran humans tend to be cast as freaks or aliens from the other characters' point of view.

So in The Left Hand of Darkness, Gethenians see standard-issue sexually-dimorphic humans as gross freaky sex perverts. In The Word for World is Forest, the Terrans are gigantic heavily-armed superstrong monsters from the locals' point of view, and in a few of the other Hainish books (including if I remember right The Dispossessed) there are POV characters who are physically indistinguishable from Terrans but who still look down on Terra as a culturally nasty and fucked-up place, sort of the Bad Neighborhood of the known universe. In Always Coming Home, 20th-century humans are cast in a role a little bit like fairies or titans — ancient, distantly-remembered, incredibly-powerful beings who built the world as "we" know it and then vanished in some kind of epic catastrophe.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:43 AM on August 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Not sure if this qualifies, but "The Power of Three" by Diana Wynne Jones? You realize part way through (spoilers!) that the main characters are actually tiny, like leprechaun or gnome size, and the terrifying giants they periodically encounter are actually regular sized humans.
posted by skycrashesdown at 9:43 AM on August 23, 2013

Also, John Gardner's Grendel, sort of.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:47 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

A musical version would be Genesis' Squonk.
posted by Eideteker at 10:03 AM on August 23, 2013

Sherri S. Tepper's The Family Tree. Humans as seen from the point of view of intelligent, time traveling animals from 3000 years in the future.
posted by lemerle at 10:17 AM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Day the Earth Stood Still.

The entire Universe is freaking out over the naturally violent humans' possession of nuclear weapons and the beginning of human space travel. Klaatu warns that the Earth will be destroyed if humans bring their violence into space. The whole time, humans (with a few exception) are generally violent.
posted by rocketpup at 10:22 AM on August 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Any Doctor Who episode dealing with conflict between Humans and Silurians.
posted by rocketpup at 10:37 AM on August 23, 2013

The Twilight Zone's famous The Invaders?
posted by Rob Rockets at 10:42 AM on August 23, 2013

The Life of Pi
posted by piyushnz at 11:22 AM on August 23, 2013

Well, heck, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:10 PM on August 23, 2013

Gulliver's Travels, part 4

And part 2 for that matter, since the Brobdingnagians are just oversize humans.
posted by zeri at 12:55 PM on August 23, 2013

Bambi (the book, not the Disney film)
posted by tardigrade at 1:17 PM on August 23, 2013

Flannery O'Connor's short story, "A Good Man is Hard to Find." In fact, a lot of O'Connor's work is about just how grotesque human beings can be.
posted by tully_monster at 2:06 PM on August 23, 2013

There's a funny children's book called "I Want My Light On!" about a little girl who's afraid of a ghost and a ghost who's afraid of a little girl.
posted by gerstle at 4:01 PM on August 23, 2013

The Fear of a Bot Planet episode of Futurama.
posted by chrisulonic at 4:10 PM on August 23, 2013

The Obscene Bird of Night by Jose Donoso.
posted by sevenofspades at 6:30 PM on August 23, 2013

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (called Re-Birth in the US, I just learned!). It's a futuristic sci-fi setting where "normal" humans punish (to varying degrees) humans who have some kind of deformity/abnormality.
posted by urbanlenny at 8:02 PM on August 23, 2013

I'm writin' one! And I'm totally cribbing from Alan Dean Foster's "A Call to Arms", where humans are like Predator meets Alien meets Klingon, as everyone else in the universe (except the hated invertebrate worlds) is just darn nice and kind of wimpy from a 20th C American perspective. It seems to be a favorite trope of his.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:08 PM on August 23, 2013

Monsters, Inc.
posted by notbuddha at 8:46 PM on August 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another Alan Dean Foster along those lines is his short story "With Friends Like These..."
posted by Chrysostom at 4:08 PM on August 27, 2013

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