The OF Blog: It's odd seeing late comers to a party trying to refine that party, no?

Monday, August 30, 2010

It's odd seeing late comers to a party trying to refine that party, no?

I pose that question in my title because that perhaps best explains my puzzlement at seeing several blog articles over the past week or so trying to define what is/was the "New Weird" and trying to identify who writes that.  I suppose I should just supply links to the offending blogs before commencing with a dressdown, so here are the offenders:

Sensawunda (parts one and two)

The World in the Satin Bag

Literary Musings

Now onto the eviscerations.

After reading these four posts, I was left wondering "are these three blind men grabbing elephant parts and trying to make sense of it?" and "why the hell are they talking about an informal "movement" that mostly died off a half-decade or so ago?"  I remember when the actual term "New Weird" began to be discussed wildly, way back in 2002/2003.  It never was a formal movement; just try to name any of the particulars associated with it who ever had a full definition for the work.  If anything, such a term deals as much with conflicts and arguments rather than anything that could be ascertained with any sort of definitive stance.  Some people formerly associated with it pretty much despise the term today, while others have gone from outright objection to being placed under that shredded umbrella to being resigned to being associated with the term.  It seems to me that it is ridiculous for those who didn't witness those arguments or at least researched what was going down during the turn of the century to proclaim with any degree of certainty that authors X and/or Y are parts of the New Weird without at least acknowledging the controversies surrounding their association.

Added to that is the inclusion of some rather odd choices, such as writers (Mervyn Peake in particular) who had been dead for three decades before ever the term "New Weird" was bandied about.  The historical inaccuracies are a bit odd, to say the least.  Just wish more time, care, and research had been taken before some of the assertions made in those linked articles had been made.

That's not to say there aren't some interesting postulations there.  Discussing elements that may be common in the associated New Weird acts is something that is worthwhile.  I just don't know if this is anything more than placing a cart before a horse, considering that the very term "New Weird" perhaps needs to be defined better than what I have seen in those articles.  As someone who is ambivalent to the very term (I often put it in scare quotes) due to the lack of anything common about them in a way that perhaps the chronologically-oriented American Golden Age SF or the Anglo-American New Wave scenes are, I just don't know if there is anything that really can be said other than "the New Weird was a term loosely tied to several American and British writers around the turn of the 21st centuries whose multivariate influences shared a few commonalities in terms of interaction with previous literary and cultural movements."  I am hesitant to call it a "movement," much less a coherent one.  I certainly do not think it is a valid term for the new writers of the past five years or so; too many variations in story, theme, and literary style and influence.

Perhaps others will disagree.  Maybe some will come up with something more than hastily tossed-together authors whose associations lack much in the way of either rhyme or reason.  But until more cogent arguments can be made for the "New Weird" being anything more than an informal series of connections that never coalesced into anything resembling a real literary "movement," I just can't help but to reject the arguments presented in the linked posts above.

Edit:  It was kindly pointed to me that in discussing this, that I failed to mention the anthology The New Weird, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer.  Although I had mentioned it in the Twitter discussion that preceded this post, it is a major, major brain fart on my part that I did not note that this anthology does contain not just samples of what usually is accepted as being NW, but it contains an introduction, found online, that discusses the term itself.  So perhaps I should be ready to accept what I might dish out as well?

As for my thoughts on the anthology, I did review it a couple of years ago.  Enjoyed it, agreed with most of the points made, just hesitant on a few others.  But yeah, leaving that out is rather bad and I'd rather just tack on an addendum/mea culpa than edit it in and pretend nothing had been left out unintentionally.


Anonymous said...

You bring up a lot of good points. New Weird was never, and will never be, formalized. I wasn't trying to define it so much as distinguish stories that have aspects of New Weird from stories that have aspects of SF Strange.

Jacques Barcia said...

Yes, New Weird was a loose "movement". Yes, many of its "members" find the term silly today. But don't you think the novels under the New Weird label, or its intentions (non or less-escapist fantasy, for example) left a permanent mark in fantasy fiction? I do. Besides, the group was very conscious of what they were doing, with clear aesthetic similarities/objectives. And for that, I think that NW, although not easy to define, is/was an authentic artistic school of thought in speculative fiction.

Is it dead? Yes and no.

Like you said (and I agree) original NW authors (China, JeffV, etc) don't call themselves part of NW anymore. Actually, JeffV despised the term from the start but, curiously, added his Ambergris novels as an example of NW in the New Weird anthology. Other authors' production have been so sparse that, yeah, it seems the "movement" is dead.

But there's a whole new generation of authors influenced by the original NW. Mark Newton, Felix Gilman, to name a few. And then, yet another generation of still unpublished novelists also deeply influenced by NW (me included). Also, China and JeffV keep writing their novels in the same spirit they used to. Finch is as NW as Veniss Underground. The City & The City and Kraken have the same feel of Perdido Street Station. So how can it be dead if it's still published?

But I guess none of these newer authors call their novels, or themselves, part of the NW. Why? Because, I think (and that's my reason), they were not part of the first generation. They were not there. In the Y2K, NW was a movement. It belongs to that period of time. It's represented by a group of authors and novels in a moment in history. So how can it be alive if no one, even influenced authors, feel the right to call themselves part of the New Weird?

But that doesn't mean NW can't be reprocessed, blended with other influences, become part of other authors' literary repertoire. This makes these newer authors/novels not part of *that* old New Weird, but part of *this* new New Weird. Or post-weird. Or simply weird fiction.

So, New Weird is dead. Long live New Weird.

And yeah, I had no intention of answering anything. Ha!

Larry Nolen said...

Ha! You really want a verbal evisceration from me, don't you, Jacques? ;)

I understand where you're coming from, especially in regards to influences (both those who influenced those writers and those, such as yourself, who are influenced in turn by them), but I still am uncertain if there is anything definable about those tales, outside of some borrowing from the grotesque/horror of a half-generation before or the "old" weird of the previous century. Perhaps a better word for this would be a French one: Mentalité (unless you want to use the related but not exact analogue German word Weltanschauung).

There may be a commonality in certain approaches to story crafting and execution, but the differences between how say a Miéville or Jeffrey Thomas or a VanderMeer approach their stories is sometimes striking. That is why I go back and forth between viewing the New Weird as something kin to the New Wave and seeing it as more of a Zeitgeist moment that never coalesced into anything definable.

As for the newer writers, maybe it's more of a case of something else being created, something that is more united in scope and feel than what was produced between 1996 and 2005? Something to be tested, probed, and perhaps scoffed at by professional scoffers such as myself ;)

Jacques Barcia said...

Didn't even scratch me. ;)

I think the mentalidade of those authors was pretty much aligned. They had/have common influences, common themes (the body, the city, grotesquerie, pulp approach). Maybe it was a Zeitgeist. But I still think that can be used to define New Weird as a distinct "movement".

Larry Nolen said...

I was nice...for once ;)

Yeah, I think that debate on the movement/non-movement will rage for a while. I'll take a wait-and-see to see if it becomes anything like the various -punk literatures.

Jacques Barcia said...

Yeah. I guess we'll need a bigger historical distance to say what NW was, IF it was something. Labels just die off after some time.

The important thing is that there're awesome books under that label. Classics, I dare say. (there are some mediocre books too, but that happens).

The important thing is that literature stays.

Larry Nolen said...

I can agreed with all that, even if you might deny that equilos ninjas are awesome ;)

Paul said...

Also useful (and found in the antho) I think:

Larry Nolen said...

Agreed. Yet another thing I forgot about in writing this post in 15 minutes :P

Anonymous said...

I usually just use "weird" or "weird city" where I think it's appropriate. Some of Erikson's Malazan volumes (Midnight Tides, Toll the Hounds), for example, give me more of a Mieville/VanderMeer vibe than a Martin/Abercrombie one.

- Zach

Larry Nolen said...


I had thought something like that on a few occasions in years past and wondered if I might be the only one who thought that as well. Needless to say, I agree with you and perhaps I'll elaborate in the new future.

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