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.
- An essential 2008 interview at the Agony Podcast with Jeff and Ann Vandermeer on the history of the new weird.
- The “New Weird” anthology, great primer of the actual stories.
- Read from one of the originals, H. P. Lovecraft, at The H.P. Lovecraft Archive.
- Algernon Blackwood’s classic story, “The Willows.”
- China Mieville, who is cited as one of the new novelists who revived the genre with his weird take on London (New Crobuzon) in “Perdido Street Station” is another fave of mine. Here is Mieville’s wiki entry with links to his books.
- Author Caitlin Kiernan not only writes some of the weird, she often blogs about her influences, new voices in the genre and even films and video games that touch on it.
- The Compendium of New Weird
- Author Jay Lake
- China Mieville’s top 10 weird books
- The Wiki Entry on Weird
- Clive Barker, who sometimes is placed in the category and sometimes taken out, mentions the weird in an archive interview. Does anyone remember the term splatterpunk? Heh.
- Barnes and Noble Review also digs into the new weird and “The New Weird”
- The Innsmouth Free Press, which provides great coverage of the genre.
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.