The Weird: It’s Weird… And You’ll Like It!
Written by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, editors
Our latest book is The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, out from Tor this month, and it’s the only anthology we’ve ever edited that literally almost killed us. Imagine having nine months to put together a 750,000-word collection of weird fiction from literary and genre writers of the last 100 years, from over 20 countries, and commissioning several original translations. The process of just getting permissions for 116 stories is monumental—sometimes you can’t even easily contact the rights holder. One estate’s lawyer even told us that the rights holder was in a coma, and there were no provisions for that: the woman would have to regain consciousness or pass away for us to acquire the necessary rights. At another point, we could not track down the agent for the great surrealist painter who lived on the coast of Mexico. We hatched a plan to get the help of a friend in the Mexican circus who would travel by horse to the author’s house and deliver the contract and our offer in person.
Then there are the questions some of the estates and others asked, like “What is weird fiction?” This is the risk you run when mixing mainstream and genre. Robert Bloch’s estate and agent know what weird fiction is, but the agent of Ben Okri or even Angela Carter might indeed be curious. In the end, though, we persevered, and one of The Weird’s great accomplishments is the side-by-side publication of writers like H.P. Lovecraft and Jamaica Kincaid, Julio Cortazar and Fritz Leiber; writers from diverse backgrounds who nonetheless shared a common impulse in their fiction.
Indeed, by the end of our research phase, we discovered that “the weird” was much broader than we had thought. H.P. Lovecraft in his nonfiction writings may have defined a “weird tale” as a story that has a supernatural element but does not fall into the category of traditional ghost story or Gothic tale, both of which were popular in the 1800s. But we also found a strong strain of weird fiction emanating from Franz Kafka and his heirs. In these kinds of weird tales, the reader is often already within the nightmare of the weird at the story’s start, rather than encountering the weird later in the story. Between the Lovecraft and Kakfa strands, the weird can be transformative—sometimes literally—and it entertains monsters while not always seeing them as monstrous. We also found fiction allied with the supernatural that achieves the same effect without a supernatural element. Admittedly, this last distinction is going to be controversial, but we found weird SF stories and weird ritual stories that gave us the same feeling as supernatural weird. Certainly, George R.R. Martin’s “Sandkings” and Michael Shea’s “The Autopsy” are horrific, strange, and bizarre.
Regardless of where in the world they came from, the stories we thought of as part of “the weird” possessed a quality of something other, almost ghostly, that came through the pages—an almost visionary sense of a world beyond that science and religion cannot completely explain. In a sense, whereas fairy tales were a way of making sense of the world in past centuries, The Weird may be a more modern impulse to tell us instead that we can only make sense of part of it.
Our goal is to transport readers out of their comfort zones and into something new and different, where the world will change before their eyes as they are drawn into the stories, and where, we hope, they will be entertained. Now, did our friend in the Mexican circus really wind up having to ride out to Leonora Carrington’s house? It’d be tempting to tell you, but perhaps some things are actually too weird to share…
From the Tor/Forge May newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
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