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Notes on The New Weird

I’ve been reading The New Weird lately, Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s recent Tachyon collection of the sort of bizarre, visceral, urban fantasy that’s had the placard card reading “New Weird” hung about its neck for the past few years.

If anything, this collection seems a younger sibling to the 2004 Thunder’s Mouth Press anthology New Worlds. New Weird certainly owes a debt to the New Wave (the inclusion of M. John Harrison’s “The Luck in the Head” makes this undeniably clear), and it is M. John Harrison himself, in the included Web discourse “New Weird Discussions: The Creation of a Term” who suggests “New Weird” as “a better slogan than The Next Wave.” But whereas the New Wave SF that appeared in New Worlds was unified by publication in a single magazine, The New Weird draws from the wide world of SF publications, including stories that appeared in Flytrap, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Interzone, among others.

The stories included in The New Weird comprise a grand, audacious mix, as is its arrangement. The book strives wildly to create a definition for the subgenre. From the first section, “Stimuli,” which includes the aforementioned M. John Harrison story, Clive Barker’s “In the Hills, the Cities,” Simon D. Ings’ “The Braining of Mother Lampry,” and Thomas Ligotti’s “A Soft Voice Whispers Nothing,” the bar is set high, though Kathe Koja’s “The Neglected Garden” seems more lit-fic “weird” than “New Weird” and Michael Moorcock’s “Crossing into Cambodia” seems an odd choice considering its Cold War-era post-apocalyptic setting. In my opinion, Moocock’s “London Bone” would have been a far better choice to represent the postpagan sensibilities of the New Weird.

Beyond that, the next three sections, “Evidence,” “Symposium,” and “Laboratory” offer mixed results. China Méiville’s “Jack” is every bit as good as it was in Looking for Jake. Jeffrey Thomas’ “Immolation” seamlessly joins the standard SF tropes of clones and offworld colonies to the urban grotesqueries of the New Weird. And K. J. Bishop’s “The Art of Dying” connects elegantly to the fin de siècle grace of her 2004 novel, The Etched City. Any of these stories alone would be worth the price of admission. Jay Lake’s “The Lizard of Ooze,” like many of his Dark Towns stories, seems a punny and punishing one-joke punch (though that joke is a reversal of Swiftian proportions) in search of a purpose. Perhaps a tale set in his City Imperishable would have better suited the collection.

The gathering of criticism comprising the “Symposium” is perhaps the most valuable element of the The New Weird, inviting repeated readings and critical analysis for years to come. The “Laboratory,” on the other hand, is best described as forty pages of filler. Reminiscent of “The Challenge from Beyond,” a round-robin Weird tale by H. P. Lovecraft, C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long, “Festival Lights” is a rambling mess with plenty of star power, but little cohesion. Missing from the collection is anything from Jeff VanderMeer’s Ambergis, an editorial decision which makes me wonder if perhaps another editor could have assembled a more comprehensive collection.

For many, perhaps even most, Science Fiction is robots, rockets, and rayguns; movies and television programs with the word “Star” in the title (Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica); or conventions where comic-book caricatures of comic-book geeks run rampant in Dr. Who and Klingon costumes. But for those who dare to look a little bit deeper, Science Fiction is a literature of ideas, in fact, a continuum of ideas, blending philosophy and a sense of wonder. It is the intersection of the fantastic and the human. As Damon Knight once asserted, “Science Fiction is what we point to when we say it.” As a SF subgenre, New Weird bears the same characteristic DNA. What is New Weird? Why, it’s what we point to when we say “New Weird.”

In short, The New Weird is an attractive volume examining a burgeoning SF subset. Though it attempts to be a definitive word on the subject, it falls a bit shy of such lofty ideals by declaring the movement over, though its best may still be yet to come. “New Weird is dead,” writes Jeff VanderMeer in the introduction. “Long live the Next Weird.” Bollocks. Long live the New Weird.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Feb. 25th, 2008 05:02 am (UTC)
The Stimuli section is not composed of New Weird stories. I don't know how we could have labeled it more clearly than the way we did, reinforced in the introduction.

I generally do not include my own work in anthologies I edit, to address the other point. This in no way constrains me, or my wife, from compiling a comprehensive collection.

Glad you enjoyed it.

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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