Literary movements. Linchpins of lit classes from primary schools to universities. Teachers glue together a couple of authors, usually dead and unable to defend themselves, provide a few examples and test pupils on how precisely they can recite the definitions learned.
I did not mind it that much and it’s probably necessary. It provides lessons with a structure and maybe at least a little something will stay in empty heads of the uninterested majority of students.
One curious thing… the closer we get to our times, it gets more and more difficult to cover entire era with one label. And the question is, is literature getting more complex, or maybe we know so little about the far past, that we’re unable to uncover all the nuances. A bit of both, probably, because the literature is getting more complex, or at least exponentially more numerous. Can we identify coherent movements in a world with millions of books per year (literally!)?
Algorithms show us, if we go to places like Goodreads, which books are similar to the ones we like. But are there some groups of authors in the genre literature that consciously create works similar in style and message? I don’t mean a marketing category, like grimdark.
The last one I’m aware of is The New Weird. And it has the lack of not only being defined by some of the most interesting authors out there, but also of having a convenient short story anthology (with a few essays providing theoretical background) that defines what it is and what is stands for.
It was nice. I constantly feel guilty I don’t read enough non-fiction, and here I had cool short stories with the addition of some smart essays 🙂
So I’ve learned that New Weird is not only Miéville 😉
New Weird, an interesting and fresh (even if not so new any more, it started in the late 1990s) literary movement that takes inspiration from the Weird Fiction of early and mid XX cent., the likes of Lovecraft and Peake. Definitely not mainstream fantasy, new weird is, in my limited experience, an aesthetic that leads to unorthodox works in many subgenres, most often urban fantasy, horror or steampunk. In a way, I see it as an analogue of what grimdark did to epic fantasy. It plays with clichés, takes reader out of their comfort zones, and kills a larger percentage of protagonists that used to be the norm.
Ok, a quote, from Jeff VanderMeer, from the introduction:
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
It is a sign of our times that a significant part of a serious theoretical discussion was taken from internet forums… or rather, it’s a sign of the previous decade, forums are de mode…
For me two dimensions matter most. One is political, new weird tends to be a bit leftist (or a lot – Miéville), and I don’t mind. I would have, a decade or so ago, but people change. I even think we need some politics in genre fiction from time to time, as long as writers don’t forget to write good books, and not only well-meaning ones. Although the political message is more visible in British examples of the new weird among Americans.
Another dimension – aesthetics. I like Lovecraft, one of the patron saints, I have Peake on my shelf waiting to be read (and I will, one day after my Witcher craze goes away… so maybe this very Autumn 🙂 ). I’ve always enjoyed little weird short stories from various authors.Ultimately though, the question is – is there any more good stuff here beside Miéville? Because he is good, we’ve proven it enough here on Re-Enchantment.
His story is one of the best here, an addition to the New Crobuzon cycle, a little gem with a nice twist near the end.
The theoretical part is also very interesting. Other stories… Moorcock was decent, his story a tribute to Isaac Babel (Jewish-Russian writer from early Soviet period), but clearly inferior to Babel’s stories (not genre, but powerful & highly recommended). M. John Harrison was very interesting, surreal and well, weird. One of the most kafkaesque stories in the collection.
The award for the best title goes to Jay Lake for The Lizard of Oooze, a post-apocalyptic story also well worth reading.
Favourite quote is from K.J. Bishop, The Art of Dying (more a swashbuckling story than a weird one, but I liked it a lot):
If the putative divine claimed all territories of sense and significance for itself, it fell to comedy, with its bifurcations, reversals and annulments of sense, to destroy that claim. The existence of the comic viewpoint, even if it was only an interpretation placed upon the tragedy of a world where death was king of kings, might prove the absence of an absolute divine authority.
But my personal favourite is At Reparata by Jeffrey Ford, a beautiful, bittersweet story with a melancholic but warm happy-end. I need more stories like that.
And that’s it. I don’t want to review each of the stories. The collection is highly recommended with its ratio of good-to-not-so-good stories better than in most anthologies I’ve read. If you feel a need for something unorthodox and don’t want to risk a novel, it’s a great choice.
Score: 7,5/10 (overall, individual stories range from 6 to 9).
There is one author I really like who excels in that kind of aesthetic, without having anything to to with the actual movement. Marek S. Huberath is a Polish writer who’s bizarre, often brutal novels are truly unique and I’m very happy that one of them got translated, my personal favourite of his, Nest of Worlds. His fantasy has a powerful imaginary, verges on grotesque in its graphic depiction of violence, is full of despair; I’d say that there is a good bit of Kafka, inspiration he share with most of the New Weird writers. Maybe it’s time for a re-read and a review…
Now – back to Skellige and traditional fantasy. Witcher visits a Viking-style part of his world. And wreaks havoc, as usual. But when can I go back to killing Nilfgaardians…