The (New) Weird.

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.

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China Miéville, The Scar (2003)

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I don’t believe we need to introduce China Miéville on our Reenchantment blog… After all, we’ve already reviewed a number of Miéville’s works to date, from Kraken and Railsea, through Perdido Street Station and Un Lun Dun to This Census Taker. A published academic in the field of international law and Marxism, a socialist, and an awards-winning fantasy author, Miéville is something of a celebrity. But before you shun him as not being geeky enough, read something he wrote. It’s really worth it.

The Scar, winner of 2003 British Fantasy Award and Locus Award, is Miéville’s  second novel set in the Bas-Lag universe, depicting events only slightly related to what had happened in Perdido Street Station. At 717 pages it can be safely called a really long novel, and that length is tangible, almost palpable, even if you read it on Kindle ;). It is a hefty book, starting slowly and slowly gaining momentum – or, more precisely, several momentums – an equivalent of Cameron’s Aliens with its strange cascade of climaxes.

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China Miéville, Un Lun Dun (2007)

Another Miéville, this time – YA. Well, if YA is 15 and up, then I’d say – this is middle grade. A highly enjoyable one, though. I’ve read it recently and it was great fun, but I’d happily recommend it to a smart 8 year old.

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UnLondon, is, well, a place, a distorted version of London, a crazy Wonderland (Lewis Carroll is the most obvious inspiration here) hidden underneath one of world’s greatest cities. And there is a crisis. The Big Bad wants to conquer and subjugate UnLondon, and only the Chosen One can stop him. Only not this time. This time, it will be (it’s for kids, of course it ends relatively well, so it’s not really a spoilter) Chosen One’s sidekick that saves the day. And a pretty opinionated one:

I know you’re not a sidekick.’
‘No one is!’ Deeba shouted. ‘That’s no way to talk about anyone! To say they’re just hangers-on to someone more important.

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China Miéville, This Census-Taker (2016)

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A brand-new, fresh from the press Miéville, this time a novella. Don’t be mislead; it’s coming up to over 220 pages and at that page-count is nearly a full-fledged novel for other authors – but for Miéville it’s almost a short story ;).

The story is very simple. One is tempted to use the word “deceptively”, but it would not be true. It’s just plain simple, the bare story arc would fit no more than half a page. I would venture an opinion that it’s a form of literary experiment: to tell the story from a perspective of a traumatized insider who relives the events he witnessed as a boy. The perspective of a child is key to understanding this little work of Miéville. It colors the story; it gives the story its character, its peculiar form, its premeditated, not entirely intuitive imagery.

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China Miéville, Perdido Street Station (2000)

perdido_street_stationJanuary is a somewhat tough month for me – preparing exams, checking them, the paperwork related… It takes a lot of time and, in consequence, much less is left for reading. And so it took me a while to finish Perdido Street Station – not because it was boring, but because I didn’t have time to read it. But here I am, the book finished, exams waiting to be checked, and a review due today ;).

Perdido Street Station is Miéville’s second novel, first set in the Bas-Lag world, and a mammoth of a book (880 pages). It’s urban fantasy/steam punk/alternative reality something born from a really wickedly bright, and/or stoned, mind. It won several awards, Arthur C. Clarke Award for 2001 being the most prominent. It is the perfect example of New Weird. New – to some extent, but Weird – all the way.

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Introduction to China Miéville – Railsea (2012), Kraken (2010)

China Miéville is a writer whose books I’ve noticed only recently. Author of Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law (true story!), on photos he tends to show off his earrings and his musculature. I was discouraged by both, for different reasons 😉 But one Audible credit has to be spent each month, and one month I’ve chosen his Railsea, favourably mentioned on some podcast I’ve listened to not so long before.

Well, I’m not the one to judge Miéville’s manly charms, and I don’t agree with him on politics, but I’ll happily acknowledge him as a damn good writer. One book could be a lucky shot, but Kraken was also tasty.

He represents the 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.

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