Are We a Wave?

Recently the Canadian author Simon Strantzas issued his Weird Manifesto, see below, I would like to string a few words together to contribute to the discussion. Some, or all, of these words may be utter baloney and I look forward to hearing why.

Simon Strantzas Manifesto

I posit that if ‘The Weird’ is indeed a thing which is a part of, but distinguishable within, the wider horror literature it has grown from Nicolay’s ‘Weird Renaissance’ which we have seen unfolding over the last decade or so and that it has emerged as a reaction to the malaise which currently infects the world. The anglophone world at least.

If there is a New Wave of Horror called The Weird then it has emerged from the long in the tooth tradition of Weird Fiction; which dates back over a century to the works of Arthur Machen and Robert W. Chambers and continues on to the modern works of people like W.H. Pugmire, Laird Barron, and Joseph Pulver Sr. What would this New Wave be, where has it come from, and what is it that differentiates it from both Weird Fiction and the wider Horror milieu?

Before I begin this, what is sure to be, rambling and malt fuelled exegesis I should point out that to imply that a work is a part of this New Wave is no judgement of quality of the work nor is a condemnation of work which may not fall within the definition I am about to try and eke out. Texts may fulfill many and varied functions, some of which may place them within The Weird/New Wave and some of which may not.

Sometimes the function of a text may be seemingly contradictory such as the role Homer’s Odyssey plays in both reinforcing the Greek masculine heroic tradition whilst also lampooning it. Or like Spenser’s Fairy Queen which is both an fantastical poem of adventure and an expression of courtly love from Spenser towards Queen Elizabeth I and therefore both an exercise in myth making and a piece of political maneuvering. A story that is New Wave can be both a horror story and something aside from a horror story. It can be this consciously, as in the case of Spenser’s political maneuvering, or perhaps unconsciously, as in Homer’s ridiculing of Athenian machismo.

The Weird/New Wave of Horror(WNW) is a current within the Horror field that flows from the Weird Renaissance and is notable for being socially conscious. By that I don’t necessarily mean that it a social conscience but that it is aware of, and consciously influenced by, social issues. It is concerned not only with telling terrifying tales but with imbuing them with something more. In the same way that New Wave Science Fiction was about more than dazzling space adventures and fantastic technological marvels so WNW is weird fiction plus…

I would like to forward a few points that I think may be able to help identify WNW.

  • WNW tends towards literary experimentation and draws influence from across the literary spectrum as well as the other, not literary, arts.
  • WNW revels in genre convention as much as it  rejects them.
    There may be a vampire in this story but it lives in the upper atmosphere and is a comment on PTSD in veterans.
    This woman may be fleeing from a terrible sea creature but her struggle also reflects the experiences of survivors, and victims, of domestic violence and abuse.
  • WNW is both Modernist and Postmodernist.
  • WNW waxes philosophical. It can be metaphysical or phenomenological, nihilistic or antinatal, epistemological and maybe even esthetic.

Of course many texts that were written before this WNW will feature many of these elements but it is the amount of them that are now being released by authors who talk to one another than I feel may make Stantzas claim true.

 

Why is the Weird Waving Now?

Here I can only speak of the anglophone world as that is the extent of my, albeit limited, knowledge on this subject. I would however be extremely interested in finding out whether anything that I say here rings true elsewhere.

The New Wave of Science Fiction emerged in the 1960s at the height of the long drawn out existential threat that was the Cold War. It was an age of generalised fear but it was also a time of wonder and potential. The space race was in full swing with its attendant technological and engineering wonders, revolutions were erupting across the globe, the civil rights movement was at its peak, new feminisms were emerging. The world was changing amid the threat from the insanity of nuclear war. There was hope as well as fear.

The last fifteen years have been filled with anything but hope. The abject failure of the movement to prevent the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan marks a shift in consciousness for many of the millions involved. If that failed then what can we do? The years since the economic crash of 2008 have been even bleaker as the ongoing assault against our quality of life has been relentless, even when faced with all the resistance people can muster. Suicide rates in the UK are increasing at a terrifying rate amongst those hundreds of thousands forced deeper and deeper into despair as they are forced down in greater and greater poverty. Unemployment is rising as unemployment support is cut to ribbons. Children go to school hungry despite their parents skipping meals in order to feed them. The media is relentless in its demonisation of the poorest in society whilst also equating those poor souls fleeing terror with the very horror from which they run. The far right grows in confidence as the left finds itself unable to become a force of opposition. What left that there is.

Many pin their hopes on the likes of Corbyn or Sanders whilst many more remember the betrayals of supposedly left wing parties. Even those hopeful few must feel the nagging doubt that they are setting themselves up for disappointment. The trade unions are toothless and more concerned with maintaining amicable relationships with the bosses than building a brighter tomorrow for workers.

There is no hope.

Into this malaise, this generalised anxiety, comes The Weird.

Science Fiction, as already mentioned, experienced its New Wave in the 1960s. Horror has never experienced such an event. There was the Horror Boom of the 1980s that saw horror authors such as Clive Barker and Ramsey Campbell become household names and there was a surge of interest in the field. There was however no gestalt shift in relation to the social turmoil of the period. From SF we saw Cyberpunk emerge and from horror there was… Splatterpunk. There was, so far as I’m aware, no current, no scene, within horror casting a wry eye over the excesses and catastrophes of the day.

Now though there is most definitely a trend emerging within the Horror, and Weird Fiction, scene that is most certainly conscious of the social context in which it is operating. In his essay, ‘Why Weird, Why Now?: On the Rationale for Weird Fiction’s Resurgence’, Kurt Fawver says that:

[…]the weird has, at least in part, experienced a renaissance in the early 21st Century due to its reflection of globalization’s impact upon cultural interchange and connectedness as well as its ability to play an oppositional role to the Information Age’s deluge of explanations and connectedness.

I would add to this that The Weird is also uniquely able to unpick and interrogate the bleakness that surrounds us on a daily basis. Unlike the SF New Wave however The Weird isn’t born in an age of hope and so it offers no promises of escape. Something that, for all the fantastical and often magical events of the stories, offers something of a weird verisimilitude to the reader.

We know that, as things stand, there is little hope in the world. Perhaps The Weird, by throwing its strange light onto the tribulations of the early 21st Century can help us understand the horrors with which we are presently faced.
Of course, it is also highly likely that Strantzas was taking the piss a bit and I’ve just made myself look like a complete twonk. 😀

As much as I enjoy people commenting on my blog I think that, should people wish to discuss this, it would be great if they did so on the Thinking Horror Facebook group. (LINK) Please feel free to pop on by and find this posted there to tell me how wrong I am. 🙂

Kurt Fawver’s essay appeared in Volume One of Thinking Horror: A Journal of Horror Philosophy available in print and as an ebook from Amazon.

New Tiny Story

I’ve been under the weather recently (coughs and splutters to the tune of a tiny violin) and so I’ve not been doing that writing thing which I’m supposed to be doing so much of at the moment. So, in order to get myself wording properly once more I set myself a silly little writing challenge. To write a story with an arbitrary number of words. For my arbitrary number I selected 0605 which is the unlock code for my phone (yeah, like anyone who reads this is going to steal my phone) and decided to write ten paragraphs of 60.5 words each. Fun times.

Here’s 0605 for your amusement.

‘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’.

Oops

I really have been neglecting this blog haven’t I? It’s been nearly two months since I’ve posted anything, sorry about that. Things have been rather interesting, in a Chinese curse kind of a way, of late and I have found myself saying sayonara Scotland and have moved back to South Wales onto a traveller site. It’s been nearly ten years since I lived on site last and it’s soooooo bloody nice to be back in a community. It also helps that the weather has been absolutely gorgeous. Which, after more than a decade in Scotland, is a rather pleasant change: seriously, it’s October and it’s still t-shirt weather. What the hell? 😀

I'm missing Scotland less and less every day.
I’m missing Scotland less and less every day.

The whole ‘interesting’ nature of the last couple of months has meant that, as I’ve been somewhat distracted, I’ve not been writing anywhere near as much as I should have been. I’ve also been without a computer for the last couple of months which doesn’t help. Yeah, yeah, I know I could have been hand writing things, or carving stories in the bleached bones of my enemies or something but a) that takes forever -I type much faster than I carve, b) I really can’t get into writing by hand, I need to be able to delete, retype, re-delete constantly, and finally c) I don’t wanna. :p

Thankfully however a pal of mine, take a bow Mr Mcherpes, has sorted me out with a laptop that I can now use to vomit forth words. So thanks for that man. 🙂 I owe you a Brew or two so I do.

The one positive of not being able to write is that I’ve spent a lot more time reading new stuff. It has to be new as all of my books are presently in boxes in Scotland and so I’ve only had the odd thing to read which I’ve picked up since leaving the land of the leal. Thanks to this I’ve now discovered the amazingly strange and creepy work of Matthew M. Bartlett and the weird goings on in Leeds, Massachusetts.

Bartlett Books

His first two books Gateways to Abomination and The Witch-Cult in Western Massachusetts were both self published and really do trash the notion that all self published material is garbage. Gateways is probably one of the most interesting works to have been released over the last year or so as part of this weird renaissance that we are currently experiencing. Comprised of a number of vignettes and short stories loosely tied together by the bizarre occult radio station WXXT it reads more like a novel composed of disjointed fragments than a collection of short fiction. I really can’t recommend this highly enough and at some point I’m going to write a little something looking at the story ‘path’ which has some really nice feminist things going on.

Bartlett’s second collection, The Witch-Cult in Western Massachusetts, is a who’s who of the devilry and macabre shenanigans of Leeds and the wider area. This wee chapbook is a blackly humorous read and makes for a nice and funny companion piece to the, at times bleakly disturbing, fictions of Gateways.

The third work of Matthew’s that I’ve read recently is the utterly fantastic Rangel. A novella length piece concerning a young girl who disappeared decades ago, her brother who has never been able to get over his sister’s disappearance and -as ever- the dark goings on in Leeds. As with all of Bartlett’s writing this is a wonderful piece to read and he makes great use of the extra space a novella allows in order to build both character and setting with a skill that reinforces him as a WR author to keep a keen eye on. If I have any misgivings about Rangel it’s that t felt like it could have done with being longer. I would have been more than happy if this story were at least twice the length.

Rangel, unlike Gateways and Witch-Cult, was not self published and was released via Sam Cowan’s new publishing house Dim Shores. Dim Shores has been putting out some stellar fiction since its inception just a few months ago. The first piece released was Ghosts in Amber by Jeffrey Thomas (an author who deserves far more recognition and exposure than he has so far received) which, like Rangel, is novella length. Ghosts explores the existential horror of a life wasted through the medium of a middle aged man looking for life outside the one which he has made for himself. It’s a beautifully depressing story -well, it was for me- which unfortunately you will be unlikely to be able to read as it has well and truly sold out as Dim Shores publications are so far limited print runs.

Dim Shores have also published a long novella by Scott Nicolay entitled after which I haven’t read yet but will be doing so shortly. after is set in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into it. One thing that I already like about the novella, before even starting to read it, is the dedication on the opening page.

 

 

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

Seriously, how can anyone not love Nicolay? 😀

All of the Dim Shores releases are illustrated with Ghosts in Amber featuring work by Serhiy Krykun, best known perhaps for his portrait of horror master Thomas LigottiRangel by Aeron Alfrey, and after by Michael Bukowski. As with the writing the illustrations are top notch and all add a great deal to the work.

So, yeah, I’ve not vanished completely. I’ve been doing stuff and reading stuff but I’ve just not been writing stuff. This is something that is now changing. I’m going to try and get back into updating this here blog on a more regular basis and will hopefully have some more fiction heading your way soon.

See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya. ;

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