It is always the new weird


August 30, 2013 by Laird

I don’t recognize the New Weird as a distinct or living movement. I believe in weird fiction, period. Certainly there have been shifts within the culture and these will continue to occur. Lovecraft and Smith deviated from that which Poe and Bierce popularized in their time. Vance, Aickman, Wolfe, and Jackson innovated and redefined when it came their turn. Shea and Wagner took the bit in their teeth, and later Mieville and Harrison. These days, writers such as Jeff Ford, Dan Chaon, Joe Pulver, and Livia Llewellyn are carving their initials in the canon. New Weird is a misnomer, a moving target. For those practicing in this region of the territory, it is always the New Weird.

By now it is no secret that I’m reading for Michael Kelly’s Year’s Best Weird Fiction20130701070040-spiderjo1

If you have a love of the weird tale, I urge you to contribute to the campaign to fund this inaugural edition. What am I looking for in a year’s best weird story?

I mentioned in a recent interview that any sort of concrete definition of what constitutes a weird tale is fraught with peril. Perilous or not, it’s the task I am charged with in regard to assembling this year’s best volume. To an extent, I am informed by the cynosure of my own taste and experience, my own instinct. However, there is also the tradition and scholarly evaluation of the tradition as a redoubt.

Richard Gavin and John Langan, two of the most erudite speakers and practitioners in the genre, have intimated that the weird is properly a subset of horror, that it is an ingredient, or an element, that may exist to greater or lesser degrees within the framework of a horror narrative. It is an intriguing notion and one that illuminates at least a fragment of the rubric I’ve assigned myself for assessment and selection of weird stories this winter. A weird tale may or may not possess aspects of horror or terror. However, a weird tale, insofar as regards the variety that interests me, is embedded with the fantastic. It produces a sensation of rising unease or incongruity. The laws of physics are mutable, the landscapes alien, explicitly or by implication, and there is no assurance that the path of the protagonist leads anywhere but deeper and deeper into the unknown, and perhaps, the unknowable.

If you would care for a taste of what I consider exemplars of contemporary weird fiction, read Conrad Williams and Brian Evenson; Kaaron Warren and Karen Russell. Read Nathan Ballingrud and Stephen Graham Jones. Aimee Bender, Paul Tremblay, Michael Cisco, and Steve Duffy. That’s only a taste, but one that comes as close as I can articulate when speaking of what I look for in literature of the strange, the peculiar, the weird.

9 thoughts on “It is always the new weird

  1. lilthundercloud says:

    There isn’t a “new”. It’s all been done before…
    The real question is, can an author do it as well as or better than their predecessors?

  2. lilthundercloud says:

    I just read “Slave Arm”. Phenonimal, bizarre, brilliant!
    Creepiest scene was the dad beneath the bed…

  3. beakripped says:

    I picked up Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters and Ford’s Crackpot Palace yesterday and managed to read a few selections from each book… holy crap can these two write! I’ve also got some Langan and Gavin coming in the mail – only read the latter in an occult journal.

    Thanks for the recommendations. I’ve now got much to read, and more to ponder.

    • Laird says:

      Those are four tremendously talented authors.

      • beakripped says:

        Reading Gavin’s Sermon from a Haunted Cellar (published in Starfire Vol. II #4) makes me feel as though someone’s pouring honey all over my brain and down my spine.

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