technology and gothic horror, in Leech

I recently finished reading Leech by Hiron Ennes. In my book club guide for this novel, I noted how it’s a bit tough to pigeon-hole Leech into a specific genre, with its blend of technology and gothic horror. It’s certainly horror. Definitely gothic. Also undeniable steampunk technology vibes. Folk, sci-fi, historical fiction? Yes, yes, and sorta.

Regardless of genre, this novel is packed with messages, metaphors, warnings, and themes that are super relevant in the here and now, and will probably continue being relevant a thousand years from now.

image of Leech by Hiron Ennes book cover


The most critical theme that I picked up on in my reading of Leech by Hiron Ennes was that of the nature of identity. Gender, authenticity, individuality, and what it means to be free. Seriously, this book should be at the top of school book lists for study and analysis. Leech isn’t necessarily an easy book to read and follow, but it’s worth the effort and communicates this theme through engaging narrative and imagery.


Modern societies rely SO MUCH on technology. In Leech, even though the story takes place centuries beyond our current time, some technology persists, and efforts are underway to rebuild what was lost. Today, we are incorporating tech into everything – entertainment, medicine, business, manufacturing, and even art.

We use technology to prolong life, when sometimes we should arguably be using it to facilitate the end of life. We use it to create “art”, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes when I read a book that invokes particularly strong imagery for me, I think about how much I’d like to do some fan art to memorialize that scene. Sadly, I have no talent. None. I thought I’d never be able to recreate what I see in my mind, and then AI tools like DALL-e and Chat GPT arrived on the scene. I thought, this is it! My big chance to translate my imagination from a book into an actual image!?

image generated with AI of a woman and a man with both wearing parkas, boots, hoods, and pants, and carrying lanterns at the entrance of a dark cave, where the walls and ceiling are covered in black mold, and there is dry grass on the floor of the cave

So yeah. Here is my lame attempt at creating my idea of what it was like when the doctor and Émile in Leech entered the wheatrock mine to search for evidence of what killed the old doctor. It’s not great. It’s also leaps and bounds better than anything I could have hoped to create by hand. I’m not sure if I’ll continue to attempt these AI image creations, because they seem a bit stale. Or maybe I just fucking suck at it, I’m not sure.

The good old world wide interwebs is so integral to our life today, it almost goes without saying. Committing all of human knowledge to technology, however, is noted as part of humanity’s downfall in Leech. Yikes! I guess if the lights go out for good, we will be well and truly fucked. If I’ve learned anything from dystopian films, it’s that most people will try to scavenge and defend stockpiles of food. I think in that situation I might be inclined to loot a well-stocked library’s “how-to” section, along with a complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica from 1998. Also, I’ll need a lifetime supply of battery-powered book lamps, and an extra wagon to haul around all the horror books I can scrounge. ANYWAY. In Leech, the Institute is basically a biological substitute for the internet. All of human medical knowledge hoarded and accessible only for the benefit of the Institute… seems like that may be a risky prospect for all of us non-Institute humans, yeah?

scientific vs traditional worldviews

Many (maybe all?) cultures have origin stories and mythologies surrounding creation. Some African cultures have stories about a powerful creator and spirits who sent the first people down from the sky. Inuit have a myth about the Raven just going about its business, when it inadvertently created a vine where a man happened to spring out of a peapod. Norse mythology says that Odin and his bros used a dead giant to make the earth, then took some driftwood and turned it into people.

In Leech, there are three origin stories:

  1. Humans recognize that there is a long history behind them. Their ideas about how the current environment came to be are a twisted retelling of their re-emergence following some great catastrophe. The apocalypse is explained to be a result of collapsing machinery, predatory capitalism, overpopulation, and industry gone wild. Everything they know in the book’s present day has been cobbled together from ancient textbooks, and scavenged materials.
  2. Montish people knew who they were thanks to a tradition of oral storytelling, with harrowing tales where it was difficult to sort out whether they contained hidden meanings, cautionary messages, or something deeper. They apparently evolved and survived the apocalypse by hiding in caves where they were safe from destructive dog eyes and dog noses falling from the sky. But somehow they also shared attributes with the dogs they survived alongside for all those generations? Who were they before the apocalypse, that’s what I want to know.
  3. The Institute has no fucking clue where it came from. This hive minded symbiote needs humans to exist, but it seems to have limited self-awareness. It has spent hundreds of years learning from humans, figuring out how to survive by incorporating more and more host bodies, and studying the remnants of human civilization from before the apocalypse. It desperately wants to know where it came from. Since it can only learn by studying human resources (get it? human resources? because it consumes their bodies and their knowledge?? OMG), and since the parasite survived by remaining undetected until well beyond the time when anyone was conducting scientific investigations anymore, it couldn’t just access information about its own origins from the body of human knowledge the way it did with everything else it knew. The Institute saw itself as investing centuries in becoming human, and saw its purpose as rebuilding all that humanity had lost. But did it really ever come close? The answer is no, my friends, it most certainly did not.

In Leech, scientific and traditional knowledge both fall short of the truth. Just like real life! What is truth, anyway? Does it exist outside of the moment? Can anyone really know a truth that existed a thousand years ago? Oh shit, I should have put that question in the book club guide. Ha!

gothic horror

What makes a book “gothic horror”? Well, ghosts and supernatural beings help. Leech has ghosts. You don’t know it right away, but they’re definitely there. Old, decrepit mansions are a staple of the gothic horror genre, and the château is pretty perfect in that regard. Gloom? Leech has gloom in spades. Overall I felt like the entire tale was dim, cold, gritty… all great hallmarks of a gloomy gothic setting. The archaic medical and scientific tools, mechanical replacement parts for bodies, lanterns and fireplaces. Gah!! Honestly.

Leech is brilliant, and knowing that a young author like Hiron Ennes created this complex piece of literature gives me hope. As long as people are insightful and aware, and use their voices to say the important things, we’re probably going to be ok. I fully recognize that there is a lot of messed up shit in the world, and novels like Leech help shine a light into some of those dark corners.

go ahead, whistle past the graveyard

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