Laird Barron and Michael Kelly (eds) – Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 1 (2014)
So we all love weird fiction now, right? The Weird got a lot of attention, True Detective(and, by extension, Chambers and Ligotti) was everywhere, the Southern Reach trilogy (which are weird, genre-specific books, marketing be damned) is huge, and now we have the first-ever annual year’s best series devoted to the field. I think that an argument could probably be made tracing this explosion back to the success of Lost… but actually making that argument would require a re-engagement with Lost, which I’m not willing to do.
Of course, a helpful part of this renaissance is the fact that basically anything can be classified as weird if you squint and look at it from the right angle. In the foreword here, for example, Series Editor Michael Kelly tells us that the weird “includes ghost stories, the strange and macabre, the supernatural, fantasy, myth, philosophical ontology, ambiguity, and featuring a helping of the outré. Weird fiction, at its best, is an intersecting of themes and ideas that explore and subvert the laws of Nature.” While that first sentence supports the idea that pretty much anything goes (and it doesn’t even mention science fiction, which is nonetheless present in this anthology), that second sentence seems more useful in delineating what’s going on here. Along those same lines, Laird Barron, the Guest Editor for this volume (there will be a new one every year, with Kathe Koja taking up the reigns for the imminent Volume 2), writes in his introduction that a weird tale “contravenes reality in some essential manner; that it possesses at least a hint of the alien; and that it emanates disquiet or disorientation.” I wouldn’t disagree with any of that, but I think it has to be possible to pin down the genre a bit more.
In trying to think about this, I scrounged up some other definitions:
One from China Mieville that is broad to the point of uselessness: “I use the term ‘weird fiction’ for all fantastic literature – fantasy, SF, horror and all the stuff that won’t fit neatly into slots.” I imagine he was tailoring this to the venue (the Guardian) and that he would have expressed himself differently in a more niche environment?
The definition from Wikipedia is similarly unhelpful, making a bizarre logical leap from the market-driven basis of genres to some kind of definition-by-omission: “Weird fiction is a subgenre of speculative fiction originating in the late 19th and early 20th century. It can be said to encompass the ghost story and other tales of the macabre. Weird fiction is distinguished from horror and fantasy in that it predates the niche marketing of genre fiction. Because genre or stylistic conventions had not been established, weird tales often blend the supernatural, mythical, and even scientific. British authors who have embraced this style have often published their work in mainstream literary magazines even after American pulp magazines became popular… Although “weird fiction” has been chiefly used as a historical description for works through the 1930s, the term has also been increasingly used since the 1980s, sometimes to describe slipstream fiction that blends horror, fantasy, and science fiction.”
Contrast with Lovecraft’s definition, applicable basically only to Lovecraftian cosmic horror: “The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain–a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.”
From a small press that seems to release collections of Weird stories that have entered the public domain: it’s fitting to have two definitions for weird fiction — one critical and one artistic.
CRITICAL DEFINITION: Weird fiction is a brand of speculative fiction that combines a variety of literary aesthetics from a variety of genres, including horror, fantasy, science fiction, supernatural fiction, mystery, mythology, the ghost story, and Gothic fiction.
ARTISTIC DEFINITION: Weird fiction is a form of story which upends human concepts of logic, rationality, and regulations — including cliches of horror fiction — resulting in a discombobulating feeling which threatens the security of human culture by posing otherworldly forces in malignant opposition to our conventions, expectations, and values.
And I might add a third of my own:
MICHAEL’S DEFINITION: Weird fiction is a type of literature that — upon a first read — causes the reader to ask themself “What the **** was that!?!?!?”
Here’s a flowchart made by Stephen Graham Jones at Weird Fiction Review, clearly not meant to be taken entirely seriously, but making the point nonetheless that Weird fiction involves the curiosity of the protagonist, an unbeatable/unknowable antagonist, and a destabilization of the reader’s worldview.
From a blog that seems intended to focus on Weird fiction once it gets going:
First and foremost, What is Weird Fiction? Weird Fiction is a sub-genre of fiction that often combines elements of horror, fantasy, and action into a tale which explores odd, strange, horrifying, or generally out of the ordinary circumstances. The most common of which is the horror weird tale, in which the protagonist in caught up in a series of events that fall outside the normal laws of nature. The strangeness of the circumstances is what creates the drama in most weird tales. How the protagonist deals with things that are outside of normal existence. In most cases the events are to strange or horrifying and the whole ordeal leaves them destroyed or damaged in some way.
At the end of most weird tales you will only have glimpse or vague outline of what occurred but never a finite answer. This to me is what makes the genre so enjoyable, it leaves you with a sense of what happened but also leaves so many things open ended enough that your mind is free to speculate and run wild with strange thoughts.
This popped up last week, and kind of epitomizes the idea that “weird fiction” is a vaguely genre-less genre that appeals to those whose tastes run more toward the literary than the pulp. It includes the phrase “weird literature”, is subtitled “On the Heirs of Kafka and Borges,” and situates those two as the authors who “loom particularly large in weird fiction’s history.” It also uses “bizarro fiction” as a touchstone without ever defining what bizarro is or what the similarities or differences between the two are.
And then there’s the rabbit hole of Clute and Grant’s Fantasy Encyclopedia, wherein Weird Fiction is a “Term used loosely to describe Fantasy, Supernatural Fiction and Horror tales embodying transgressive material: tales where motifs of Thinning and the Uncanny predominate, and where subject matters like Occultism or Satanism may be central, and Doppelgängers thrive.”
These motifs being:
Uncanny: “Though often used to describe anything strange and unusual, the word strictly means something outside our knowledge, the same as “beyond our ken”, and thus not necessarily supernatural… because the uncanny is beyond our understanding it brings with it obvious connotations of fear, and the term is thus frequently used in relation to both Horror and Supernatural Fiction.”
The entry for Thinning, in true Cluteian fashion, is less of a definition than a rhetorical labyrinth that spirals around examples of what he is talking about without giving a single, easily-pinned-down definition. The most relevant bits are that the world of the narrative “is almost constantly under some threat of lessening, a threat frequently accompanied by mourning and/or a sense of Wrongness” caused by the “passing away of a higher and more intense Reality.”
Speaking of Wrongness: A term most vividly associated with Supernatural Fiction and Horror, but inherent to fantasy as well. Supernatural fictions are stories in which the real world is impinged upon or violated by supernatural elements…The central moments in many supernatural fictions take place in an Edifice or Bad Place that somehow does not add up, and whose architectural disproportions generate – as in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1841), or in much of H P Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos – a sense that a Portal into moral abyss – a lesion or wrongness which must eventually be purged – has invaded. Consequently, though central to supernatural fiction, wrongness’s intrusion is not generally sensed as signalling a profound or inherent illness in the circumambient world. It comes from abroad, and in most instances – even after it has dug itself in – it can be deported.
It is otherwise with “pure” Fantasy. A central premise of the Secondary World or Otherworld is that it cannot ultimately be understood in terms of real versus wrong, mundane versus contingent. This is not to claim that fantasies exclude supernatural fiction or horror – for the movement of a fantasy tends to co-opt any passing elements of these two genres of the fantastic. Fantasy Realities, in other words, incorporate the dichotomies that define and generate supernatural fictions. A sense of wrongness, therefore, when it bears in upon the protagonist of a fantasy text, generally signals not a threat from abroad but the apprehension of some profound change in the essence of things, though perhaps initially signalled in terms that evoke supernatural fiction. The sense of wrongness, in fantasy, is a recognition that the world is – or is about to become – no longer right, that the world has been subject to, or soon will be subject to, a process of Thinning.
So those are the motifs, the genres subsumed into weird fiction are as follows:
- We’ll accept that Fantasy is easy enough to understand for the purposes of this essay (an earlier draft tried to get into Clute’s definition, which revolves around Story, but we’ll save that for another day).
- Supernatural fiction:In SF the natural world is the base reality, and SFs take their argument from that base reality, even when they end by contradicting, transcending or teaching lessons to the base reality. SF is, therefore, more closely allied to science fiction than to fantasy. The supernatural world is other than the real world, and is generally seen as signalling Wrongness… Usually narrated from a vantage-point situated in the real world, rather than from the vantage-point of the invading entity or influence, SFs generally reflect an initial disbelief in the incursion (or belief as a form of blasphemy), resistance to the violating supernatural element (or surrender to it, often sexual) or horror (or loathly wedlock)… [in SF] wrongness accompanies threats to the real world from elsewhere, through incursions or wellings up of the supernatural. E F Bleiler, in The Guide to Supernatural Fiction (1983), prefers the term “contranatural” to supernatural; it is a term which clearly conveys this essential quality of violation.
- Horror: Unlike Fantasy, Supernatural Fiction and Science Fiction – terms which describe generic structures – horror is a term which describes an affect. A horror story makes its readers feel horror. There are two important distinctions to make, however.
Horror stories can be set in entirely mundane worlds and be simple exercises in sadism; this category of horror does not concern us. They can also be set in any of the regions of the Fantastic, though usually in the one we think of as the supernatural.
Second, what we are calling “pure” horror can be distinguished from stories which convey a sense of horror while continuing to fulfil other genre requirements. Fantasies which convey a sense of horror are better called Dark Fantasy, and supernatural fictions with a horror “feel” are better called Weird Fiction. Sf horror stories, which are relatively rare, boast no label in particular.
The shape of horror. A “pure” horror tale may occupy the same region as a supernatural fiction – this world is being encroached upon by another – but is shaped primarily to convey the affect of horror. Thus the “pure” horror story is normally structured so that its protagonist and its readers share the same reactions. This shared horror is evoked in the text through the joining of two simultaneous elements: the recognition of a threat to one’s body and/or culture and/or world; and a sense that there is something inherently monstrous and wrong in the invasive presence.
Both are necessary for the affect of horror. It is not enough for the mundane world to be invaded, assaulted, seduced, taught or inveigled from another sphere, as generally happens in supernatural fiction; nor is it enough for Monsters to exist – as they often do in fantasy without threatening the fabric of the Otherworld. What generates the frisson of horror is an overwhelming sense that the invaders are obscenely, transgressively impure. The monsters of horror are befoulers of the boundaries that mark us off from the Other. Like Frankenstein’s Monster, they may be neither one thing or another, so that they violate the decorum of species, of role, of fitness to place. They may be either suffocatingly too full of rotten being, like a fallen Angel or Dorian Gray; or they may represent a haemorrhage of joining, like Jekyll and Hyde, two distinct beings who are, as though by virtue of Trompe-L’oeil, obscenely one; or they may be manifestly incomplete, like the great majority of monsters in horror tales and Horror Movies. Especially when incomplete, they are ravenous, and will eat anything: the body and the Soul; the City and the state; the Fertility of the Land.
- Tonally dark, often increasingly-so as the work progresses
- Brings about an epistemological shift in the protagonist and/or narrator (and reader?) that decenters humanity, and perhaps especially reveals the modern/rational worldview to be fundamentally flawed.
- I wrote elsewhere that this liminality makes sense “both in its larger sense of a threshold, and its more esoteric/academic sense: the middle stage of a ritual, after the previous relationship with the world has been dissolved but before the new one has been put into place.”
- An intrusion of supernatural/uncanny/irrational/Wrongness
- This is the opposite of Clute’s thinning – the larger, richer reality is intruding rather than receding, and its absence would not be mourned.
- At the end of the story, the status quo remains upended
- Lacks a good/evil binary
- Curiosity lands the protagonist in hot water (so the binary tends toward knowledge/ignorance)
- Narrated from within our world
- Not sure about this one, but: rarely weird (unusual/innovative/outlandish) in a narrative or structural sense?
I have to confess that it seems to me that what Clute calls “horror” is basically what the rest of us call “weird fiction” (I wonder how these terms would differ were a new edition of the Encyclopedia to be produced post-weird-fiction-renaissance, but that seems unlikely). It’s a given that the Encyclopedia is focused on the fantastic, but horror fiction does nonetheless include realist thrillers in the contes cruel tradition even despite Clute’s off-hand dismissal. Further, I’ve never been convinced by arguments that horror is not a genre – there is a prominent author of weird fiction who always bristles at being described as an author of horror, and I’ve rolled my eyes every time I’ve seen that point come up. Even if the bedrock of genre is an affect, there are still generic genealogies/tools/tropes evident – this might be further evidence for the uselessness of genre as a critical tool, I don’t know. Perhaps it would be fruitful to think of weird fiction as supernatural fiction more closely aligned with fantasy than science fiction – ie where the “real world” is revealed to be a fantasy world?
Anyway, most of those definitions tend to focus on the weird affect and/or the thinning of genre delineations. Both are true to one degree or another, but I think both are overstated in most discussions of the genre. The latter, in particular, I am not really buying at all as a useful way to think about the tradition (although of course plenty of weird stories combine aspects of the other speculative genres.). First, I think we can dismiss outright the bizarre idea that weird fiction is not a genre because it predates genre – no one insists fantasy isn’t a genre even though plenty of fantastic stories predate the idea of genre. Second, I worry that this definition-by-omission (the genre without genre) reifies strict genre lines between others, and besides, we already have a term for genre-fiction-without-genre.
This idea leads me to one of the points that started me down this path: the claiming of Kafka as an author of weird fiction, “seizing the genreless in the name of genre” (a complaint stolen from up-and-coming critic Ethan Robinson). It seems to me that problem lies in a conflation between weird fiction – firmly genre fiction in a pulpy tradition – and the uncanny, the tactic of mixing the familiar and the off-kilter, certainly not a genre in and of itself (and the strongest argument, I think, for a class of fiction that relies on an affect more than a set of generic tools or tropes). Let’s consider Franz Kafka and Shirley Jackson (outside of tHoHH) as preeminent examples of the latter.
[Borges, the other non-genre(?) writer most often claimed by the weird, seems to be a stronger candidate given that he was more clearly in conversation with genre at times (eg the contents of The Book of Fantasy and his Lovecraft homage), but this is a subject best saved for another time.]
I feel confident that most of the authors collected here in YBWF have read and internalized Kafka and Jackson. I feel much less confident that Kafka and Jackson read (or at least, that they relied much on) Lovecraft or Howard or, for that matter, Blackwood or Machen. In other words, the two separate genealogies are both contributors to the modern weird tale, but I’m not sure it’s fair to combine them into one taxonomy. This collection, for all of the uncanny roots of some of its stories, lies firmly on the pulpy/genre side – none of these stories would be out of place in a horror anthology.
[As a counterpoint to this, maybe it’s worth thinking about weird fiction as a liminal example of genre much like that of post-apocalyptic fiction? No one would claim Cormac McCarthy as a writer of science fiction, and yet The Road is most certainly a post-apocalyptic work, even if it isn’t in conversation with other, “merely generic” works.]
So then what is weird fiction? I’m not entirely sure anymore that that is a question that is worth answering, but it’s hardly fair to critique other people’s definitions without offering one of my own, so:
Stories wherein an irruption (the two definitions of which I’m kind of mushing together here: “to rush in forcibly or violently” and “to undergo a sudden upsurge in numbers especially when natural ecological balances and checks are disturbed“) of otherworldly/supernatural/contranatural/uncanny Weirdness provides a liminal threshold between the rational world and wherever else the protagonist finds herself.
Unpacking that a bit gives us some tendencies, at least some of which must be present but not necessarily all (weird fiction being a fuzzy set, of course):
Where that leaves me, I’m afraid, is more and more convinced that weird fiction is simply fantastic/supernatural horror that is perhaps just a bit more intellectually-inclined. Horror is, with the possible exception of romance, probably the most reviled of the lowbrow genre world, and weird fiction is now, I think, possibly a just way to recapture some cultural capital for its exponents – which means we’ve come a long way from its roots in the pulps. This would account for the subsuming of the uncanny and for the claim that it is genre-fiction-without-genre.
I know most weird fiction partisans will disagree with me here, but it’s where I’ve ended up. It’s also entirely likely that all I’ve accomplished here is defining the brand of weird fiction that I personally find most enjoyable. So be it.
[Note: the below was written months before the “introduction” above, and while I wish the two sections were more integrated more effectively… they aren’t.]
As for the stories here: unusually for a generic anthology, almost all are well-written and effectively structured and paced, and we even have a (relatively) even gender spread, although it could have used more selections from non-white and non-Anglo authors.
The standouts, for me, were the four that seemed most Ligottian in flavor – “Furnace,” “Eyes Exchange Bank” (both of which first appeared in a Ligotti tribute collection), “Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks,” and “In Limbo” – in which down-on-their-luck protagonists in down-on-their-luck communities suffer under an encroaching and unknowable weirdness. I need to read more from those four authors, but I also need to read more Ligotti.
Also of note were the Samatar and Ford stories, both authors whose work I consistently enjoy but whose stories here were in conversation with previous works I don’t know (Hoffmann’s “The Sandman” and the poetry of Emily Dickinson, respectively). The Pugmire and Pulver stories also explicitly engage with previous Weird works, although less successfully, and all of the stories here reflect and converse with their generic predecessors to some degree or another. There was a surprising lack of cosmic horror, but I suppose that’s an accurate reflection of the state of the field today – these stories tend more toward the insular (families are a recurring theme), and the evil/indifference of the universe isn’t even personified in the form of Old Ones or somesuch.
The Nineteenth Step by Simon Strantzas
A couple find that sometimes there’s an extra stair in a house they’re renovating. Spatial impossibilities and epistemological collapse echoing House of Leaves and Madeline Yale Wynn’s “The Little Room” (1895). I’m not sure that the ending is entirely earned – like Jack Ketchum’s “The Box” (1994), it takes the irruption (inexplicable, as in most weird stories) and makes it a winking, glaringly explicit hole in the story. This might be an intentional “fuck you” to the reader.
Swim Wants to Know If It’s as Bad as Swim Thinks by Paul G. Tremblay
Swim, from Someone Who Isn’t Me, from the nomenclature of an online User Forum (ha ha) frequented by our meth-addicted narrator. Swim has lost custody of her daughter, who has been sent to live with Swim’s own abusive mother. Her attempt to rescue the daughter from the mother’s house while some sort of monsters invade from the sea is interspersed with flashbacks to a previous time she kidnapped said daughter and farther back to her own childhood suffering at her mother’s hands. A fractured and masterfully dissociative fugue.
Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron by A. C. Wise
Hedwig and the Angry Inch in space – glamorous genderbending Buck Rodgers types take on a supervillain on Mars. Short and vaguely metafictional (mockingly generic plot/setting, names like Philip Howard Craft the Third, Richard Carnacki Utley, etc). Because I am the way that I am, it is very frustrating that I’ve only managed to piece together some of the name references, and at some point I’ll probably try to sit down and work out the others. I’m not sure that I would have classified this as Weird.
The Year of the Rat by Chen Qiufan
Science fiction – young, underemployed college graduates in a future China are given work hunting down genetically engineered rats. I’ve wavered in the past on how appropriate SF is for weird fiction because of the doubled layer of removal from the real world, but it works here because the shift from rational to irrational is so pronounced and shocking as hallucinations or irruptions enter the narrative and the line between human and rat becomes increasingly fluid.
Olimpia’s Ghost by Sofia Samatar
Epistolary riffing on Hoffman’s “The Sandman” – which I haven’t read. Beautifully written, of course, but like the Wise story, I’m haunted by the knowledge that I’m missing something. This story never exploded with weirdness the way I expected (hoped?), because her novel has one of the all-time great mind-melting irruption scenes, but that’s a feature, not a bug – this is a slow creep of a story. Some day I will read “The Sandman” and then I will reread this story (hopefully once Samatar has a collection of her short work published).
Furnace by Livia Llewellyn
A weird place story about a mother and daughter in a rotting, rust belt town. The association between family relations and a disintegrating world is a well-worn one (see Joyce Carol Oate’s “Family” (1989) and particularly Blake Butler’s Scorch Atlas (2009), where this story would have been right at home and also a standout), and Llewellyn does it one better by tossing in elements of a bildungsroman and somehow still makes it work. One could also relate it to Peter Straub’s “A Short Guide to the City” (1990), but peopled with actual characters, and there’s something of Anna Kavan’s Ice (1967), too, but people with relatable characters.
Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? by Damien Walters Grintalis
The narrator’s partner has died of cancer, and is now a ghost whose haunting takes the form of strewing around photographs of herself (himself?). I liked the combination of 1st and 2nd person, but did not like the incredibly flowery language, which tried very hard to impress but just did not connect for me.
Bor Urus by John Langan
Weird as midlife crisis. During intense thunderstorms, a man has recurring visions of a monstrous entity. Like “The Willows,” this relies on the more-alike-than-you-expect casting of natural weirdness and the weird supernatural. Feels like a typical Lovecraftian declensional confession of a descent into madness, but pulls back at the last minute and veers off into more optimistic territory. The reveal of the monster was a little underwhelming, but overall I did enjoy this one. My notes tell me that it reminds me of Gene Wolfe’s “Procreation” (1985), but I can’t remember why off the top of my head.
As far as I can tell “bos urus” means auroch, but I have yet to figure out the switch to “bor” instead. Something to do with the north?
A Quest of Dream by W. H. Pugmire
Even more directly Lovecraft pastiche (the Dreamlands, this time, focusing on nightgaunts), but revisioned through a rather twee, foppish kind of lens. Seems more like dark fantasy than weird to me, but I guess if it’s Lovecraft pastiche we all just have to accept it.
The Krakatoan by Maria Dahvana Headley
An ambiguously-gendered child who has lost several mothers falls in with a local malcontent who has lost his wife, and they use the local observatory to look down instead of up, hoping to find their missing loved ones under the Earth. This one never clicked for me, although I can’t put my finger on exactly why that was.
The Girl in the Blue Coat by Anna Taborska
I remain unconvinced that the mere presence of a ghost necessarily makes a story Weird – perhaps especially if the ghost fails M. R. James’s “malevolent or odious” criteria. This opens and closes with a famous reporter giving his deathbed confession to a ghostwriter working on his autobiography. Within that frame is a rather straight-forward ghost story about a Jewish girl murdered by Polish collaborators during World War II. This idea of the weighing of history on the present is what makes the best horror fiction effective, but we’re missing the irruption that makes the best weird fiction effective. Plus, the ending frame is rather silly (“I’m not… that… strong…”).
(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror… by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
Fractured stream-of-consciousness metafiction about Pugmire writing his Lovecraftian pastiche; Pulver channeling the Beats to write about Pugmire channeling the Decadents. Good god.
In Limbo by Jeffrey Thomas
A member of the precariat has his social isolation literalized as an encroaching darkness devouring the rest of the world. Not particularly similar thematically, but the setting/irruption is similar to that of “The Mist” (1980), which in turn echoed “The Willows” (1907), which I am increasingly convinced is the ur-text of the Weird.
A Cavern of Redbrick by Richard Gavin
A Bradbury-ish tale where a kid staying with his grandparents for the summer encounters a ghost and stumbles on something that’s not quite right. Some unconvincing neologisms (summerland, redbrick), and while it’s weirder than the Taborska, I’m still not convinced it slips from “ghost story” territory into “weird tale.”
Eyes Exchange Bank by Scott Nicolay
An academic visits an old friend in a decaying Rust Belt town and finds himself in an exceptionally well-drawn oppressive and uncanny situation, increasingly alienated from both his friend and their surroundings. The explosion of horror that closes the story feels almost extraneous after the rest of the story. It’s striking how similar and yet how different this and the Llewellyn are.
Fox Into Lady by Anne-Sylvie Salzman
Weird as sexually-charged body horror as the fear/isolation/despair of a new mother. A Japanese woman gives birth to a fox-monster, which proceeds to terrorize her. What this has to do with David Garnett’s seemingly endless “Lady Into Fox” (1922, kind of a rural counterpoint to Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”) I haven’t worked out just yet.
Like Feather, Like Bone by Kristi DeMeester
The climax, but where’s the rest of the story? A woman whose child has drowned confronts a goblinish little girl under her porch who is eating birds. In some ways the obverse of the previous story, but flash fiction usually just leaves me wanting more. I am interested in seeing what DeMeester does in the future, though.
A Terror by Jeffrey Ford
Emily Dickinson, notorious weirdo, has an encounter with Death that emphasizes the power of words. I like Ford’s writing so much I can even enjoy him doing a story about a poet and the power of words.
Success by Michael Blumlein
A story about a mad scientist and his slightly-less-mad wife. A Weird synchronicity: I have a lot of unfinished reviews of Gene Wolfe books, both because I’m a lazy and slow writer and because they are very hard books to write about, but one of the odd themes of his that I was trying to pick out through all of them is his fixation on Lamarckism. Reborn and rebranded as epigenetics, the same theme pops up here, in a kind of inverted cosmic horror unveiling/mental-illness-as-body-horror story that seems indebted to Machen in some respects. Blumlein, a doctor, writes in a very detached, clinical manner that also brings J. G. Ballard to mind. I respected this story, but I’m not sure that I loved it.
Moonstruck by Karin Tidbeck
Weird as menstruation and as a vector for looking at the relationship between mothers and maturing daughters (this and the Llewellyn approach similar themes in completely disparate manners). Like a gloomier version of Cosmicomics (1965), this reads almost like science fiction ideas revisioned as folktale.
The Key to Your Heart is Made of Brass by John R. Fultz
An automaton, having lost the key necessary to wind his clockwork heart, finds himself stuck in a boilerplate blackmail scheme. Somewhere between good steampunk (industrial revolution in fantasyland) and bad steampunk (Victorianish mannerpunk). Great setting, good prose (in second person), unimpressive plot, bad gender politics (to the point that I fruitlessly expected some sort of last minute twist).
No Breather in the World But Thee by Jeff VanderMeer
Well, who knows about this one. Jettisons the anchor of normality entirely, which leaves us more in bizarro territory, I think. A much weirder (and Weirder) prefiguration of the Area X books – we have a fixation on repetitions of past intrusions and the Weird Place and reconstituted and weirded human bodies and even a Weird biological tower. It didn’t really work for me, but hey, it was definitely weird.
I look forward to Volume 2.