New Weird 101

We live in America, a country obsessed with genre, category and brand. We love categorization and tags, genres, slots, labels  and subgenres that can be marketed to the masses. It’s part of what makes America such a massive capitalist engine, but it’s also what makes certain kinds of art hard slippery, like a bar of wet soap. I make no assumptions about my work. I write what I like and what I know, and it is driven by a wide speculative force, meaning I like to dream of the impossible, the future that can be, and the past universes that never were. In the land of genre, you would say I write fantasy, science fiction, maybe horror.

The land of genre being America. In other countries, some of my fiction might just be labeled as…fiction. Works of the imagination, as it were.

I’m not a big fan of these labels. My father’s bookshelf growing up contained Borges, Nietzsche, Kafka, and other writers, without regard to genre. I wish our own marketplace were this way. Add to these genres the whole spectrum of subgenres, like cyberpunk, chick lit, steampunk, and well, it makes you want to pop an Advil or five.

I do, however, have a soft spot in my heart for the weird. This might also be called the absurd, the surreal, the strange. Sprung from the days of the pulp stories of H.P. Lovecraft and Algernon Blackwood and revived into a full genre in the 20th century, it’s experiencing a revival now, thanks to writers like China Mieville, Caitlin Kiernan and Jeff Vandermeer, writers whom I write about often. You can also find it in current film language, in films like “Cloverfield,” “Hellboy” and “Delicatessen.” The fantastique, the absurd, they all blend into a moody mix of fear, the supernatural, or in some cases, something cosmic and spooky.

The excellent anthology “The New Weird” defines it as such:

New Weird is a type of urban, secondary-world fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping off point for creation of settings that may combine elements of both science fiction and fantasy. New Weird has a visceral, in-the-moment quality that often uses elements of surreal or transgressive horror for its tone, style, and effects — in combination with the stimulus of influence from New Wave writers or their proxies (including also such forebears as Mervyn Peake and the French/English Decadents). New Weird fictions are acutely aware of the modern world, even if in disguise, but not always overtly political. As part of this awareness of the modern world, New Weird relies for its visionary power on a “surrender to the weird” that isn’t, for example, hermetically sealed in a haunted house on the moors or in a cave in Antarctica. The “surrender” (or “belief”) of the writer can take many forms, some of them even involving the use of postmodern techniques that do not undermine the surface reality of the text.

I would like to think that the stories I wrote in my own book, “The 12 Burning Wheels,” could fit in that genre. My stories include stories about intercosmic dread, a serial killer borne from sinewave lemons and the odd, truncated history of beings called worm queens. When I describe the book, I feel most at ease explaining they are weird stories.

And thus, I’d like to post a few key links to understand the new weird, and the writers who are crafting it.

So there you have it. Enjoy. Read and be delighted in the strangeness of it all. If you have any other writers you’d like to add to this list, leave a comment below.

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