The World in the Satin Bag has moved to my new website.  If you want to see what I'm up to, head on over there!

Friday, August 14, 2009

New Weird Science Fiction?

I’ve heard the term “New Weird” before, but I have to admit that I am horribly unfamiliar with it as a subgenre, particularly in relation to science fiction. This topic comes up due to having received a copy of the Year’s Best SF 14 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, from Jason Sanford, one of the contributors. They call Mr. Sanford’s story, “The Ships Like Clouds, Risen By Their Rain,” a prime example of New Weird SF. If I were to call anything “New Weird SF,” it would be Mr. Sanford’s story, but I don’t think I can rightly define what “New Weird” even means. If you think about it, science fiction is already weird, and any discussion or attempt to quantify the genre as suddenly weirder, or newly weirded, falls quite short of the mark. How can a genre be more weird than its already weird self?

That’s not to say that “New Weird SF” isn’t small segment of particularly outrageous pieces, but I don’t see how something can be weird and yet magically new when the genre itself is full of similar styled pieces. This is not at all a slight on Mr. Sanford, because his story is quite good (I reviewed it here some time back), but while he is quite brilliant, I would not say he is particularly original. Claims to originality are always already flawed, because everything has already been done before, in some capacity or another. Originality now seems to apply only to pieces that make readers aware of their greatness to the extent that they no longer see where its influences arise from (and some obvious exceptions must be made for those people who make it their jobs to always be aware of the past, such as literary critics, etc.). Sanford’s piece does this quite effectively, but it would be unfair to say that his work does not reflect past writers (it should not be misconstrued here to mean that Sanford is obviously or intentionally allowing past writers or ideas to influence his work, or that such influences have been exposed to him; originality ceases to exist in the human construct primarily because we seem to be born with an overabundance of repetition, not just genetically, but psychologically, leaving a certain necessity constant renewal of old, ingrained ideas in all aspects of our creative lives).

But, I say all this with only a mediocre exposure to this subgenre called “New Weird SF,” and perhaps Sanford’s story is not necessarily representative of the movement, per se, but simply a good example of a kind of feeling or imaginative quality that makes up the subgenre. Perhaps “New Weird” is, in and of itself, a developing creature that has yet to break out of its mold, much as Cyberpunk arguably shattered the technological landscape in its predictions and visualized symbologies. Never underestimate science fiction for its unflinching ingenuity.

Having indicated my ignorance, perhaps someone who reads this blog who considers themselves far more versed in the subgenre to provide more adequate answers would be so kind as to leave me a comment refuting my claims. This would be me begging you all for your knowledge, whatever it may be.

P.S.: I should clarify that while I do not believe originality exists in a pure form, I do believe in the power of suggestion inherent in good writing. A good story, in its more pure, unarguable form, will always separate the reader from the genre experience, will remove the past from the reader and create anew the present or future or whatever. This assumes, of course, that an individual reads a piece of fiction as a reader, not a critic or eagle-eyed literary narcissist.

Related Posts by Categories

Widget by Hoctro | Jack Book


  1. Insofar as I understand the New-Weird genre, it's a reactionary movement, primarily against the "Worldbuilding" theories of fantastic structure,
    Much as Alfred Bester wrote The Demolished Man, and Tiger! Tiger! as reactionary works (imo) against the horrors of the second world war, and the hierarchical structures emerging in a business/war cultural climate, the New-Weird writers are rebelling against standard and possibly outdated storytelling techniques, as well as our unique cultural climate.
    Contrast this with other writers from the fifties, especially Phil Dick. Dick was not a reactionary author. I feel that he wrote (especially during the early-mid fifties) as some sort of way of categorising the world around him. Keenly aware of the paranoia and strangeness happening around him, he writes to make sense of the modern world, not to hold a distorted mirror to it.
    I think you will find that very few authors who are labeled New-Weird would call themselves such, and I know that China Mieville detests the tag.
    I have a thousand more things to say, but as yet have not formulated the thoughts. I'll put them up if they come.

  2. Is New Weird a conscious movement? Does it know that that is what it is doing, or are its players simply doing something for the heck of it and damned all to the deeper implications?

    On PKD: He was very much a reactionary author. Read his non-fiction. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was pretty much a direct reaction to consumer culture and the robotic nature of society. Seriously, read his essay on the android personality. A lot of things people don't know about Dick is that he was incredibly socially aware. He may have written a lot of "pulp" novels, and certainly done a lot of it to feed himself, but his work was by no means non-reactionary.

    But then, maybe you're only referring to his earlier years and giving exception to his later work, with Androids would certainly be.

  3. I would strongly suggest that you read The New Weird, an anthology by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer that touches upon the origins of the term, the debates surrounding the title, and the question of if that ship has passed.

    It's very much a cross-genre "moment" of literatures in the US, UK, and in some non-Anglophone regions where disparate elements are combined to create atmospheric stories that have some connections to the old Weird Tales pulps. I believe VanderMeer posted his introduction to the antho on his blog a few months ago, so perhaps you can start there?

  4. Larry: Thanks for the advice. I remember that anthology, but never read it. I'll see if I can't poke my head in there, and I'll look for the intro on Mr. VanderMeer's blog.

    Appreciate the comment.