To say that I am a devotee of The Weird would be to understate the facts to a rather large degree. I have, since being a young teenager at least, been a fan of all manner of speculative fiction. Never content to focus on a single genre as some of my school mates seemed to I would, age 11 or 12, skip happily from reading the Hickman/Weiss Dragonlance fantasy novels to Clive Barker’s Books of Blood to William Gibson’s Sprawl novels. I never really discovered weird fiction however until my return to reading voraciously around seven years ago. Of course I read Lovecraft as a teenager, to have a diverse taste in genre fiction as a teenager makes it somewhat unavoidable, but I never came across any other writers of the weird.
Upon my return to reading(I lived out of a rucksack for many years, a state of affairs that makes reading a somewhat difficult task and one that is rather low on the priorities when weighed against finding somewhere dry to stay and food to eat) in around 2006/7 I dove straight back into genre fiction and before long inevitably found myself at Lovecraft’s door once more. After reacquainting myself with the old racist from Providence I immediately set about trying to find work of a similar bent and discovered for the first time the wider world of Lovecraftian mythos writing.
I discovered the works of people like Willum Pugmire, Laird Barron and many, many others. I delved into writers who had influenced HPL such as Robert W Chambers and Arthur Machen. I have yet to read Lord Dunsany but he is most definitely on my ‘to read’ list for the next few years. It was around this time that I first of a literary movement describing itself as the New Weird. A literature that seemed to take elements of all the genre’s I loved growing up and infected them with grotesqueries and body horror. That took genre tropes and turned them on their head whilst dipping them in decay and existential angst. Literature that takes the surreal and the monstrous by the hand and leads it to pastures strange and new. How could I not love this fiction and why was I only discovering it now? Years after it had apparently achieved its peak? Why only now do I find the works of Ligotti(THE modern master of horror and the weird), Kiernan, Mieville, Cisco and co.? It seems that I am, as ever, late to the party.
woe is me
Regardless of my late arrival to the party of the weird I have wasted little time in exploring this new, to me, territory. This literary landscape of dreamlike confusion, tortured and twisted horror and screaming despair. Being somewhat new to this weird world I have spent nearly as much time reading about the field as I have done reading the actual works and authors discussed. I’ve devoured the writings of ST Joshi, Jeff VanderMeer et. al. as I’ve enjoyed interviews with the likes of Ligotti or talks by Mieville or the essays by publishers, critics, authors, bloggers and anyone with an interest in the fields of weird fiction writing.
What is it about the weird that kindles such a fire within? That makes me feel like the clichéd stranger in a strange land?
For me what makes a story weird is not the inevitability of the horror presented, the vast unknowable of Lovecraft’s mythos, not the centrality of the city, of urbanism, to the story that many new weird writers claim. What truly defines a story as weird for me is that it leaves the reader discombobulated when they are done with the story.There should be no neat explanation of why a horror has occurred. The perceived real world should not remain intact when the story has unfolded. It should be made askew, unhinged. It is a simple enough affair for a human mind to adapt to the existence of creatures of myth and legend. For ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and bogeys to be accepted into our world view. We have, after all, been raised on such creatures. They are as much a part of our psychic world as the myths of nationalism and the stories that we tell ourselves to create the shared world we all inhabit. A weird tales does not necessarily tear down these edifices of society, though some do, it instead ruptures them. It tears at the ragged hem of what our perceived reality exposing something else. Some equally, or even more, real than the supposedly real world around us.
That is of course when the weird fiction tale is set in a world that is either ostensibly our own, as in the works of Lovecraft, Machen and so on, or is so like our own that one need not distinguish it as being secondary world fiction as in the works of Ligotti. What then of the secondary world weird tale? When an author is set upon setting the world askew why only concentrate upon a world like the one in which we live when we have, as a species, created countless worlds in which to set stories. We can take these worlds of fantasy and science fiction and set them spinning to see what happens. What happens is, of course, authors like Jay Lake and China Mieville and Michael Cisco. These authors take the worlds created by speculative fiction authors and do for these fictional worlds what Ligotti et al. do for the one in which we live.
This is why I am a devotee of the weird. Because it is always new(hackeyed pastiches of Lovecraft notwithstanding) and always unexpected. It forces the reader to move beyond the comfort zone of familiar tropes and idioms. Because it uses these tropes and idioms to subvert themselves and the society that created them.
So here’s to discombobulation and the rupturing of the real to expose the real.