Sunday, June 14, 2009
The New Weird - Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (ed)
This book should make a great hat. It has the right dimensions, deep and wide enough to keep good balance, and the cover and pages have a good consistency of flop. It sat perfectly on my head while I was messing around with crap on my desk and opening programs, and as soon as I froze for the camera, the damn thing fell off, knocked over my bottle and sent water all over Eddie.
I think this is one of those hats with poison pins. It's out to get me.
This is an interesting anthology to go through, as it isn't simply a collection of stories that resonate with a theme or each other. You can flip it open and dip in and out, but doing so would probably lessen the impact of the argument put forth, which concerns itself with the literary movement the New Weird. And whether or not it exists. Or what it does. Or how it's defined.
Reading this put my head in a time machine and sent it back to my Honours year at university. Fuck. FUCK. WHY WASN'T THIS PUBLISHED WHEN I WAS WRITING MY EXEGESIS. I NEEDED THIS BOOK. The table of contents reads like my bibliography. A fair number of the stories contained I'd already read, and the majority of writers I was well familiar with as well.
The book is broken into sections dealing with various facets of the genre; the writers/stories that started the infection, the writers/stories that are the result of the infection, a collection of essays analysing the infection, and a round robin of kooky shit just for the hell of it. Being as I had a very angry and spiteful relationship with my exegesis, I was not as concerned with the essays as with the fiction. Probably because I've already made such arguments against my examiners and the memory still gets my back up. KJ Bishop's article has stayed with me the longest, probably because the point it makes is not restricted to the genre in question, but should apply to all writing (see, I even used the word 'should', I'm a bad person).
All the fiction contained, I love.
I honestly don't care if such a literary movement, reaction or genre exists. I can't claim to be overly interested in the discussions that attempt to identify it or define it - the only reason my exegesis strayed into such territory is because I had to write something (I passed. My fiction, on the other hand, set fire to the university with its magnificence (no really)). Something happened. Enough time passed. Enough people wanted something different in their reading and thinking. Something happened. It doesn't matter what, just that it happened, and the stories produced make me sick with glee. I love these surprising, odd, unsettling, subtle and unexpected stories. I love these textures and obfuscations and everything that makes me work for the narrative. I love being left with a larger mystery. I love the flavour. I love this, and if this is to be called New Weird, then so be it.
So, there's no point in my getting into details, because anything I say can be summarised as "ZOMG WOW!!!!one!!1!" It will only be rabid excitement and gushing. I'm getting incoherent with delight just looking at the names of the cover again. Is there any point me writing about something I love? Clearly not. Love makes me tongue-tied and shy. I am inarticulate with joy.
If you like Clive Barker, China Miéville, Jeffery Ford, Steph Swainston, Thomas Ligotti, Conrad Williams, if you like the names in the table of contents, then you know you'll get a kick out of the collection. If you're looking for something that lies outside the genre mainstream, you might not like the collection, but it will be what you're looking for. It will surprise you. It will challenge you.
One thing I will say; rereading Barker's In the Hills, the Cities was just breath-stealing. It is an incredibly powerful story. The first time I read it, it affected me so much that I riffed on the title for my dissertation. Of all the short stories I've ever read, this story has stayed with me the longest, the strongest, remained the most vivid and visceral in my memory. Even knowing the outcome, reading it again was no less of thought-nova. It is available in other collections, but in this book especially, it is home.
Verdict: This made me want to go back and read all the books I read for my dissertation, and remember why I choose such a subject when I knew my supervisors and examiners were highbrow Literary Academics who Did Not Get It. This book made me excited to read again, excited to write again, excited, just plain excited. That's what being in love feels like.
But don't trust it as a hat.
Thus ends probably the most useless verdict I've ever written.