‘after’ by Scott Nicolay

Scott Nicolay‘s novella ‘after’ was released by Dim Shores a couple of months ago at the same time as they published ‘Rangel’ by Matthew M. Bartlett which I discussed briefly here. I have only just, shame on me, managed to find the time to read Scott’s story and, as ever with both Scott’s work and the stories put out by Dim Shores, I was impressed. This review contains some spoilers so feel free to skip to the tl;dr by clicking here or scroll past the image below to read on.

Still here?
Good.

‘after’ is set in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy which was a hurricane, don’t know why American’s would want to call it a ‘superstorm’ when it already has a perfectly good name. It also shows something of a lack of imagination. Seriously, if you’re going to rename something at last be a bit witty about it: see here. A lack of imagination however is not something one could accuse Scott Nicolay of and, my bad taste quips aside, Hurrican Sandy devastated parts of the north-east American coast and caused immense suffering and hardship to those caught in its path. In fact Nicolay dedicates his story thus

With compassion toward all those who suffered in the path of Superstorm Sandy and contempt toward all those who sought to profit from their suffering.

Cards on the table eh Scott?

‘after’ follows the experiences of Colleen, a middle aged woman whose holiday home on the Jersey Shore was in an area that suffered the attentions of Sandy and who is being allowed, along with some of her neighbours, to return to the area in order to ascertain the damage done to her property and to recover anything that she can. The area is under curfew and so she will have to return on the bus provided by the authorities at the end of the day.
One thing that I have noticed with the writing of Scott Nicolay is that he is never in a hurry for his story to get where it is going. He prefers instead to take his time, building both character, setting and, in the case of ‘after’, a sense of grim claustrophobia.

As Colleen travels back to Jersey Shore and walks through the unfamiliar familiar landscape of her neighbourhood we go on a much longer journey through her life and the events that led her to where we meet her. To the point where she is travelling, without her husband, into an situation of uncertainty and, potential, danger. The husband, and the reason for his absence, is the dark centre around which this story revolves. He is a drunk who has, in the past, assaulted her and from whom there is always the threat of violence making Colleen’s home life one of tension and fear. This is why she has chosen to travel to the holiday home alone and why, on the spur of the moment when waiting to return on the bus, she decides that she is going to remain in her house which has no power and no gas.

At its most basic level ‘after’ is a monster story. Colleen, whilst exploring the town turned upside down in search of supplies, encounters an immense creature which, upon noticing her, gives chase. Colleen manages to outrun it only to discover that it has set up home in the basement of her house. So begins the ‘meat’ of the story as Colleen attempts to fit her time in what should have been a sanctuary around this monster’s presence.

Of course, this being Scott Nicolay, ‘after’ isn’t just a monster story. There are two monsters present in the work; both of whom instil conflicting dreads in Colleen as she weighs up the threat from the monster that she knows against that from the monster she doesn’t. It is here that we get the real meat of the story. Not in the threat from the creeper, as Colleen refers to the creature, but in the sense of hemmed in isolation that she experiences. The fear of the beast in the basement and the regularity, at first, of its movements are bleakly similar the fear of her husband; though the apparent randomness of his alcohol fuelled abuse is why the monster wins out as a choice of housemate.

This is the strength of Scott’s work with ‘after’; his unflinching look at domestic abuse and the survival mechanisms which a person living in such a situation develops in order to survive and his graphic illustration of the feeling that the person doing the abuse is actually protecting the victim from something much worse: when the creature consumes a would be rapist. ‘after’ is definitely the strongest work that I’ve read by Nicolay and continues on the trajectory of exploring the effects of masculinity through the medium of the weird as hinted at in his debut collection ‘Ana Kai Tangata’. I am now thoroughly looking forward to reading Scott’s next collection.
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tl;dr
This is a great monster story but it’s also about domestic abuse and survival.
Unfortunately the Dim Shores edition of ‘after’ sold out extremely quickly however I believe that ‘after’ will be in Nicolay’s next collection which should be out in 2017.

Scott Nicolay hosts The Outer Dark podcast (now with added Justin Steele) and is currently highlighting on his blog classic weird fiction stories that do not receive the attention they deserve. He is doing this in conjunction with Michael Bukowski who provided the illustration for ‘after’.

Ana Kai Tangata by Scott Nicolay

Ana Kai Tangata: Tales of the outer, the Other, the Damned, and the Doomed is the début collection of short stories and novellas from American author Scott Nicolay. The title means ‘The Cave that Devoured Man’ in Pascuan, the language of Rapa Nui. Whilst there are only eight stories in this collection (alligators, The Bad Outer Space, Ana Kai Tangata, Eyes Exchange Bank, Phragmites, The Soft Frogs, Geschäfte, and Tuckahoe) this by no means implies that this volume is slim pickings -not by any means at all. Scott Nicolay’s stories are a slow burn that take exactly as long as they need to steer you gently off the map and into territories that are familiar yet strange -strange and terrifying. In this Nicolay reminds me another modern great in the world of weird fiction: John Langan; whose tales are also slow burning explorations of the weird.

I had read a couple of these stories before reading this collection: ‘alligators’, the opening tale of the collection, was published on the Lovecraft Ezine (LINK), and ‘Eyes Exchange Bank’ featured in Joe Pulver’s Shirley Jackson Award winning tribute to Thomas Ligotti The Grimscribe’s Puppets; and so I was really looking forward to getting stuck into this collection. My excitement at the thought of this collection was exacerbated by the way that Nicolay seems to have a similar approach to the concept of the weird as I do myself. I found his Dogme 2011 for Weird Fiction (LINK) to be both a humorous and creative approach to ensuring that weird tales don’t stray into the realms of traditional horror and that they can break free of the shackles of the earlier manifestations of the weird.

You should probably go and read ‘alligators’ now and then I can carry on talking about the book without you being in a state of complete and utter ignorance. On you go now, it’s fine -I’ll wait, I’m not busy or anything. No, no, I insist, here’s the link again (LINK) and I’ll see you when you get back.

Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.

Ah, there you are. No, no, no, it’s fine. I kept myself amused with my friend Estragon here. Anyway, what did you think? Do you see what I mean about it being a slow burn as the story swings gently between the past and present, between dreams and reality, between the world of the Reservation and the world of new Jersey, as it slowly and inexorably draws you away from the well worn track and into the the undergrowth that scratches and claws at your exposed skin, that pulls at your hair and clothes -warning you that there are reasons most people stay on the track.

Kids are fucking odd aren’t they? (Nice segue there Andy) Anyone who has spent much time with little kids can testify to this; their imaginations are far far bigger than their minuscule, imp like, forms would suggest is possible. ‘The Bad Outer Space’, originally published as a limited edition chapbook from Dunham’s Manor Press in 2013, is told entirely from the perspective of a very small child -I’m not sure of the way that American schools work but I would guess the child to be around four or five years old, and the story is rendered all the stranger for that. It seems to me to be quite a brave move to tell a horror story entirely from the perspective of someone so very young but Nicolay manages to pull it off with ease.

These two opening tales couldn’t be more different but they both bear the indelible mark of an author who is confident in their ability to craft unsettling tales that strip away that which we find familiar about the world; replacing it with something both new and old, monstrous and sublime. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. If you’re interested in what is happening with the ongoing development of the renaissance of weird fiction then you have to get this book. If you’re wanting to read dark and disturbing fiction that is free of all of the tropes which we have come to expect from mainstream horror literature then you have to get this book. Basically, if you’re the sort of person that reads this blog then you absolutely have to get this book.

You can read another story of Scott’s, ‘In the Tank’, over at the Lovecraft Ezine (LINK) and there’s a really cool panel discussion with Scott on the Ezine’s web show from 2014 which you can watch below. Ana Kai Tangata is available from Fedogan and Bremer in a limited edition hardback (LINK), as well as in regular hardback and as an ebook from all the usual places.

[Edit] There is a great piece by Brittany Lloyd ‘”As if the Earth Under Our Feet Were an Excrement of Some Sky:” an Ecofeminist Readng of Cave Symbolism in Scott Nicolay’s Ana Kai Tangata and Isabel Allende’s Zorro” over on The Patron Saint of Superheroes (LINK)

post scriptum

Sorry for the somewhat truncated form of this review; I’m writing in between customers at work due to the somewhat sorry state of my home computing affairs. I’m definitely going to come back to write more about this book -the titular tale in particular, as well as Nicolay’s Ligottian ‘Eyes Exchange Bank’.

Hinterland Ebook Out Tomorrow

Whilst I was visiting my good friend Paolo(Linky) on Sunday he asked whether my stories were available on Kindle. I hummed and hawed and then eventually today thought: what the hell? Why not? So I spent a wee while this afternoon compiling the stories from this blog together into the correct format for Amazon, designed a cover, and now I’m just waiting for the review process to complete and my first wee ebook will be for sale. Scary spiders! 😀

HINTERLAND-A5

Year’s Best Weird Fiction: Volume One

Last year saw two major publishing events in the field of Weird Fiction. The first, and the one that garnered the most mainstream column inches, was the publication of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy –Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance, which saw The Weird being thrust into the mainstream as it never has before. The second major event was the publishing of Michael Kelly and Laird Barron’s ‘The Year’s Best Weird Fiction’. This is the first, to my knowledge, explicitly Weird Fiction anthology* to be released since the Vandermeer’s tome ‘The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories’ was released in 2011 (following on from their 2008 anthology ‘The New Weird’). The reason that this release is so important is that it pushes the literary experimentation with the weird to the forefront without focussing on the work of any particular author. We have seen a glut of anthologies of work based on the Cthulhu mythos over the last 10 years or so, with their number increasing seemingly exponentially as time goes on, and anthologies based on the work of weird writers R.W. Chambers, Arthur Machen, Thomas Ligotti, Laird Barorn, and a forthcoming collection based on the work of Robert Aickman. All of which is utterly fantastic but can not expose the reader to the wild experimental creativity that defines(?) the weird. This anthology does just that and it does it brilliantly. Another reason that this publication is so important is that a book that contains a wide variety of works, some of which are at the very edges of the weird, has sold enough copies within but a few short months of release that volume two has already been put together. Viva la weird!

*There is of course the wonderful ‘Women Writing the Weird’ anthology from Deb Hoag, also released in 2011, but that -as the name implies, only featured female authors and therefore couldn’t represent all of the best weird writing of that year.

Of particular note in this collection are Livia Llewellyn’s Furnace, Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? by Damien Angelica Walters, and The Girl in the Blue Coat by Anna Taborska.

‘The Year’s Best Weird Fiction’ is published by Undertow Press in paperback and for e-readers things like that there Kindle device.

Table of Contents(Titles link to reviews)

The Nineteenth Step – Simon Strantzas

Swim Wants to Know If It’s As Bad As Swim Thinks -Paul Tremblay

Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron – A.C. Wise

Year of the Rat – Chen Qiufan

Olimpia’s Ghost – Sofia Samatar

Furnace -Livia Llewellyn

Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? Damien Angelica Walters

Bor Urus – John Langan

A Quest of Dream – W.H. Pugmire

The Krakatoan – Maria Dahvana Headley

The Girl in the Blue Coat – Anna Taborska

(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror – Joseph S. Pulver Sr.

In Limbo – Jeffrey Thomas

A Cavern of Redbrick – Richard Gavin

Eyes Exchange Bank – Scott Nicolay

Fox into Lady – Anne-Sylvie Salzman

Like Feather, Like Bone – Kristi DeMeester

A Terror – Jeffrey Ford

Success – Michael Blumlein

Moonstruck – Karin Tidbeck

The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass – John R. Fultz

No Breather in the World But Thee – Jeff Vandermeer

The Nineteenth Step by Simon Strantzas

The opening salvo in this volume comes from Canada’s Simon Strantzas. It is a fitting opener for this volume as it exemplifies perfectly, and succinctly what is, to me, one of the defining thrusts of Weird Fiction -that our understanding of the world in which we live is limited and fragile. A young couple, Mallory and Alex, just setting foot on the bottom rung of the housing ladder, have their perception of The Real splintered by something so simple that it probably would have remained unnoticed by most. By the lucky ones.
The final line of this story also makes want to both slug Mr Strantzas and buy him a pint at the same time. Well played sir, well played.

Swim Wants to Know If It’s As Bad As Swim Thinks by Paul Tremblay

Next we have Paul Tremblay’s look at drug addiction and self perpetuating cycles of abuse through the lens of meth addiction, motherhood and kaiju.  Following the nameless protagonist, who is also the titular Swim, as she endures the pressures of being a small town pariah and drug addict and the longing to be with the daughter denied her by the courts and circumstance.

This is very much a stream of consciousness/modernist story that draws the reader directly into the confused mind of Swim.

Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron – A.C. Wise

A bizarro tale of a squadron of interplanetary trans action heroes sent to chew gum, smash gender norms, and high kick trans-fetishism in the teeth. All whilst looking utterly fabulous.

Not really sure what more there is to say about this other than it actually had me laughing out loud at points. Completely unsubtle metaphors are used, abused, and then glammed up. This is a fabulous feminist tale that would horrify TERFS and MRAs in equal measure.

Brilliant. 🙂

Year of the Rat by Chen Qiufan

 

Translated by Ken Liu this military SF story has more than a passing similarity to Catch 22 in its examination of the futility and absurdity of military organisation. It also has some rather scathing things to say about the relationship of the average proletarian to global capital.

I’m definitely going to be looking out for more of Chen’s work.

Olimpia’s Ghost – Sofia Samatar

An masterfully crafted faux 19th Century homage to E.T.A. Hoffman told through a series of letters from a young woman sent to a young man with whom she was once infatuated. It speaks of the madness of art, of poetry, and the arrogance and proprietariness of the ‘man of science’ who eschews the lustiness of youth and of life for a pursuit that he will one day regret.

Furnace – Livia Llewellyn

This is one of the stories I was really looking forward to as I absolutely adore Llewellyn’s sensual prose and I’m a huge fan of Thomas Ligotti and as this tale comes from Joe Pulver’s Ligotti tribute anthology -The Grimscribe’s Puppets, I was highly anticipating something magical. I wasn’t disappointed. This tale of the strange degradation of a small town as rot and decay sets in captures Ligotti’s corporate horror period work perfectly yet still retains Llewellyn’s voice. Anyone living in a town facing the ravages of austerity capitalism will find this story set unsettlingly close to home.

Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? – Damien Angelica Walters

“Inside each grief is a lonely ghost of silence, and inside each silence are the words we didn’t say.” The opening lines of this piece of experimental prose perfectly encapsulate the sense of loss and longing that permeates this short tale. Walters’ story is disjointed and disorienting and disturbing. Fabulous.

Bor Urus – John Langan


John Langan’s stories are always a slow burn and Bor Urus is no exception. In this story youthful fancy develops into startling obsession and realisation which fuel a potentially devastating mid-life crisis in the narrator. As ever with Langan’s work this is a superbly crafted weird tale and that’s no bullshit.

A Quest of Dream by W.H. Pugmire

Wilum H Pugmire is very much the person who carries the Lovecraftian torch into the 21st Century and one of his other stories, Inhabitants of Wraithwood, is one of my all time favourite weird fiction stories. This story is set in Wilum’s Sesqua Valley and, indeed, was first published in his Bohemians of Sesqua Valley collection. Unfortunately I’ve not read any of Wilum’s Sesqua stories and so I was rather unfamiliar with the setting. Still; I think this added to the strangeness of this story which deals with the overlapping of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands and our world. This is a sumptuous story that displays well the finesse with which Wilum writes.

The Krakatoan by Maria Dahvana Headley

A many motherless girl, her astronomer father and a former astronomer neighbour who has turned his gaze towards the stars within the Earth. Both the prose style and the subject matter of this story reminded me heavily of the work of manga artist Juni Ito, which is high praise if you ask me.

The Girl in the Blue Coat by Anna Taborska

That night I had a terrible nightmare. Mindla was standing by the marsh at the bottom of the field. She was only in her underwear. She reached out to me and at first I thought she had that same sadness in her eyes, but as I drew closer, I saw that her eyes were gone.” This is definitely the saddest of the stories that I have come across so far. An investigative journalist discovers that there are those who seek to ensure that those with the power to do so bear witness for those who can not. This story is soaked in sadness, from the setting, to the subject matter, to the prose which simply and clearly depicts a world scarred by its past and haunted by its ghosts.

(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror by Joseph S. Pulver Sr

This is a beautiful tribute to the Lovecraftian author Wilum H Pugmire. Written in Pulver’s distinctive, fractured, prose style this piece of flash fiction gives us a look at a mythical Pugmire’s life and writing process.

In Limbo by Jeffrey Thomas

Horrible, horrible, horrible. This story is wonderful. An ageing man experiences loss, hope, and resignation as the lights go out. Maybe the lights are just going out for him or maybe for all of humanity, would either of these be bad things? I did love this story in its Ligottian darkness.

A Cavern of Redbrick by Richard Gavin

 

There is something about this story, of a young boy’s summer and the horrible discoveries he makes, that reminds me of Stephen King in both its setting and execution. The tale is rather open to interpretation in that whilst it’s a ghost story the other forces at play could be either supernatural or mere human madness.

Eyes Exchange Bank by Scott Nicolay

I keep on hearing great things about Scott Nicolay and going by this story every bit of praise that has been heaped upon him is warranted. Like Livia Llewellyn’s story this is set amid the deterioration of an economic collapse -though this time it is the recession of the late 1980s/early 1990s. The narrator of this story is brought by circumstance to a town that is decaying and is forced to confront the untruths upon which his life has been based. Nicolay really is a master of the weird and I can’t wait to read his collection Ana Kai Tangata.

Fox into Lady by Ann-Sylvie Salzman

 

Wow, this is a special story. It reminds me, in part, of Bruno Schulz or Stefan Grabinski though it is also very, very different to those authors’ work. This is a psychically discombobulating story of anxiety, fear, and resignation. I really want to read more by Salzman. (This piece was translated from the French by William Charlton)

Like Feather, Like Bone by Kristi DeMeester

demeester

Another lovely/horrible piece of flash fiction here. A story of mourning, sorrow, and what we do when we try to escape the inevitable process that comes with grief.

A Terror by Jeffrey Ford

Normally stories that feature historical characters make me wince somewhat. Jeffrey Ford’s strange adventure with the 19th Century poet Emily Dickinson and her brush with death was however thoroughly enjoyable. I get the feeling that I may have enjoyed it more had I known more about the poet herself. Still, even without this knowledge this is a startlingly good, and weird, ghost story of sorts.

Success by Michael Blumlein

The longest piece in this collection -a novelette rather than a short story I suppose, Blumlein’s story explores academic obsession, madness, and love at the interstices of the natural sciences and how one person’s approach to their obsession can drive them to madness where another’s can drive them to success and how the two approaches are not that different at the end of the day.

Moonstruck by Karin Tidbeck

Moonstruck is an utterly beautiful and masterful fairy tale, a modern myth. An allegorical tale of a young girl’s emergence into womanhood and a mother’s fear that she is now being replaced by her offspring set against an impossible backdrop of a moon that is rapidly approaching the Earth and the home of the story’s protagonist. Beautiful.

The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass by John R. Fultz

This is a bewildering tale set in a post-human steampunk world where we see a member of the ruling, beatific, class being blackmailed. The vacuity of ruling class culture and the illusions of money and status are here exposed in a fantastical world that I would love to explore in greater detail. Hopefully Fultz will expand on this setting in the future.

No Breather in the World But Thee by Jeff Vandermeer

I don’t think it would be possible to have a collection of the best Weird Fiction at the moment without featuring a piece by Jeff Vandermeer. This is an extremely strange story of ‘it‘ happening again ‘like last year‘ and told as a series of vignettes merged into a single narrative. Each one told from the perspective of the occupants of a mansion that has come under attack from a huge monster which has plummeted from the sky. A fitting end to the anthology this rather post-modern piece is a fine example of both some of the excellent work that is being done in the field of the Weird and of the sheer imagination of Jeff Vandermeer himself.

~fini~

Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume Two ToC and Cover Reveal

Undertow Press have revealed the table of contents and the cover of volume two of The Year’s Best Weird Fiction; and here’s me not having even finished my review of volume one! Yet again it looks like a fantastic roster has been put together -this time by guest editor Kathe Koja, who was interviewed recently on the Lovecraft Ezine, and who is a fine author in her own right.

Here’s the table of contents, which isn’t 100% finalised as Kathe is still waiting to secure rights to one last story, and the beautiful cover with art by Tomasz Alen Kopera.

“The Atlas of Hell” by Nathan Ballingrud (Fearful Symmetries, ed. Ellen Datlow, ChiZine Publications)

“Wendigo Nights” by Siobhan Carroll (Fearful Symmetries, ed. Ellen Datlow, ChiZine Publications)

“Headache” by Julio Cortázar. English-language translation by Michael Cisco (Tor.com, September 2014)

“Loving Armageddon” by Amanda C. Davis (Crossed Genres Magazine #19, July 2014)

“The Earth and Everything Under” by K.M. Ferebee (Shimmer Magazine #19, May 2014)

“Nanny Anne and the Christmas Story” by Karen Joy Fowler (Subterranean Press Magazine, Winter 2014)

“The Girls Who Go Below” by Cat Hellisen (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2014)

“Nine” by Kima Jones (Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History, eds. Rose Fox & Daniel José Older, Crossed Genres Publications)

“Bus Fare” by Caitlín R. Kiernan (Subterranean Press Magazine, Spring 2014)

“The Air We Breathe Is Stormy, Stormy” by Rich Larson (Strange Horizons Magazine, August 2014)

“The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado (Granta Magazine, October 2014)

“Observations About Eggs From the Man Sitting Next to Me on a Flight from Chicago, Illinois to Cedar Rapids, Iowa” by Carmen Maria Machado (Lightspeed Magazine #47, April 2014)

“Resurrection Points” by Usman T. Usman T. Malik (Strange Horizons Magazine, August 2014)

“Exit Through the Gift Shop” by Nick Mamatas (Searchers After Horror: New Tales of the Weird and Fantastic, ed. S.T. Joshi, Fedogan & Bremer)

“So Sharp That Blood Must Flow” by Sunny Moraine (Lightspeed Magazine #45, February 2014)

“A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide” by Sarah Pinsker (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2014)

“Migration” by Karin Tidbeck (Fearsome Magics: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy, ed. Jonathan Strahan, Solaris)

“Hidden in the Alphabet” by Charles Wilkinson (Shadows & Tall Trees 2014, ed. Michael Kelly, Undertow Publications)

“A Cup of Salt Tears” by Isabel Yap (Tor.com, August 2014)

Edited to add: Undertow just announced that they have now acquired the rights to reprint The Ghoul by Jean Munro (translated by Edward Gauvin) which was previously published in Weird Fiction Review.

New Wave of the Weird?

A bit of a stream of consciousness ramble in response to a really interesting piece on Teleread:

Writer Paul StJohn Mackintosh has a fantastic little article on Teleread contrasting the New Weird with the New Wave of Fantasy/Science Fiction that emerged in the 1960/70s. The New Wave of Fantasy/SF was politically aware, experimental, and pushed at the boundaries of genre that were just then beginning to solidify into the forms in which we know them today. A phenomenon that appeared to have had its last gasp in the cyberpunk explosion of the 1980s. He lays some of the blame for this seeming stagnation in the realm of F/SF at the feet of Hollywood and its attendant marketing machine. The explosion that was Star Wars and the ensuing product branding and marketing acted as a barrier in genre, ‘sentries on the walls of the sci-fi ghetto‘ as StJohn Mackintosh puts it, serving to brush aside and exclude those who would seek to push at those genre defining walls.

It is the opinion of StJohn Mackintosh that Dark/Weird Fiction and Cosmic Horror have stepped up to fill in the gap left yawing by Science Fiction. That it is now the Weird that is the playground for imagination that Science Fiction once was. I do believe that he is right in this. As Science Fiction and Fantasy have become ever more mainstream over the last 30+ years they have become more strictly defined. The Weird, on the other hand, defies such strict definition. Stories of the Weird can sit squat on the outskirts of any of the readily existing genres or outside of genre conventions all together.

What does it say about our society and our time that the genre best suited to it, which is producing the most striking and imaginative writers, is rank with despair, nihilism, terror, cosmic doubt and anomie, and pure and simple horror? Well, try putting a Gernsback– or even a Kurzweil-style spin on 9/11, Iraq, the GFC, Wikileaks, ebola, etc. What kind of faith can even the lay public retain in progress, science and technology that not only have failed to stop Al Qaeda and ISIS, but have even produced climate change and global warming? Let alone an America that has ceased to believe that progress is its ally.

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that much of the Weird is shot through with nihilism, terror, and despair I think that there is more to the reason for the Weird’s ascendancy as the playground for the literary imagination. 

I have written before about how the First World War was a point of cultural rupture that inspired the modernists, both high and low, and which ushered in an age of great ideological conflict. An all pervasive dichotomy  defined as capitalism/communism or east/west. We see a similar dichotomy in the work of HP Lovecraft with his horror being about both the rupture as the world changes and the dichotomies of known/unknown, natural/unnatural, civilised/non-civilised, human/non-human, WASP/non-WASP. These early works of the Weird, of Cosmic Horror, are rather illustrative of the emergence of, what would become, the global stalemate of the ‘cold’ conflict between the USSR and the USA. Over the course of the 20th Century the conflict changed from being an ideological one, as the USSR evolved into a state-capitalist mode of production, into being a conflict between two competing forms of the same economic model. It was capitalism fighting with itself about how it worked best. 

It was in this context that the New Wave emerged as artists reacted to the potential ‘hot’ conflict between these two monolithic entities. They had to find new ways to express this cultural paradigm. 

The world has again changed dramatically over the last two and a half decades. The fall of the Eastern Bloc, the events of 9/11 and the various conflicts around the world which have come in its wake -Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria etc- and the increasingly apparent effects of man made climate change(me from the 1990s says “I bloody well told you so”) have reshaped how we perceive our world. No longer is the threat to our civilisation an easily understandable conflict between two powers. Now there are so many factors at play it can be difficult to keep track of them all.

In Syria we have the rise of the, initially US backed, Islamic State who we are told are bad guys, and they most definitely are, yet those who are doing the best job of resisting them are the PKK who are also, we are told, bad guys. (Incidentally there have been some extremely interesting developments with the PKK and their move towards libertarian municipalism and away from left leaning nationalism) We have the increase in natural disasters caused by climate change, the resulting increase in migration. We have the rise of right wing racist organisations capitalising on the increase in migration. We have the economic cluster-fuck that is being exploited by the various ruling classes of the world to tighten their grip on their respective societies through the implementation of austerity measures. We have the increasing frequency of revelations of corruption and outright bastardry in the establishment. Chaos rather than simple conflict is the order of the day. 

It is because of this emergent obviousness of the chaos that is the world that the Weird has become the playground for those wishing to play in the literary laboratory. Science Fiction and Fantasy have become so constrained by their marketing that it becomes near impossible to use these forms to explore the constant flux and rupture of life in late capitalism. The Weird allows for near complete freedom in the artist’s approach to interpreting and presenting the world to itself. A freedom that was once enjoyed by F/SF in the time of the New Wave writers.

It isn’t simply the despair and nihilism that runs through the Weird that allows it to act as such a powerful tool for authors in the present age. It is the wild abandon with which authors can approach a theme that mirrors the chaos and turmoil in which we find ourselves. We no longer see the progress of humanity as being anywhere evidenced; perhaps this is because so much recent technological development of late has been personal -the mobile phone/pc, the internet, medicines. These things are all subtle and hidden from view. They may have changed the world but they haven’t put people on the Moon. Now we see chaos and disorder – The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere | The ceremony of innocence is drowned | The best lack all conviction, while the worst | Are full of passionate intensity – where once we saw ourselves as part of a grand narrative.

This doesn’t, however, necessitate despair or nihilism. It does however necessitate the need for an approach that is free of the constraints of genre which have developed over the last half a century or so. The new paradigm needs a new literary tool kit. The Weird is that tool kit.

Free Weird Story – Men of the City

On Deviant Art the renowned Liverpuddlian author and artist Clive Barker is reading short fiction based on a painting of his – Men of the City – and so I submitted a short piece which I’ve also posted here.

Enjoy 🙂

Well, hopefully you will. 😀

©2014 CliveBarker
©2014 CliveBarker