Sunday, June 15, 2008

The "New Weird"

I'll never buy anything with Fantasy in the title. I have an irrational near-allergic reaction to the genre. I start seeing elves everywhere, and then I have to kill a puppy just to feel normal again.
--Warren Ellis

So I just finished reading/slogging my way through Ann & Jeff VanderMeer's The New Weird , a collection of stories attempting to define... uh... The New Weird.

I may have to kill a puppy.

The problem with being a fan of genre fiction is that certain practitioners feel a periodic and overwhelming need to establish their own little fuckclaves. I've watched "Horror" spawn "Dark Fantasy" and "Splatterpunk"; I've seen Science Fiction go from hard to soft to social and then get hard again. I've silently screamed as it masturbated and spewed forth "Speculative Fiction," "New Wave," "Cyberpunk," "Steampunk," "Slipstream," and an entire slew of other sub-sub-categories of which I'm simply unable to keep track.

In the immortal words of Butters, "Ow. That made my brain hurt."

And now there's The New Weird.

It's not a bad book...for people of a certain disposition. The introductory material flops and dances around whether there really is such a thing as "New Weird " and whether anyone cares, then refuses to settle the issue beyond "here's an anthology of similar stories; make of it what you will." Included is an entire online message board's worth of discussion, but, I dunno; it's not that "Weird" and it's not that "New." It seems to me that it's magical realism made palatable for people who can't or won't commit to (or be seen reading) more traditional fantasy but would rather not struggle with the MR Gang of Four (Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Laura Esquivel, and Carlos Fuentes).

All the stories seem to require a joyless neo-medieval urban setting with some form of alternate technology, possibly magic-based, and Chimeric characters who go out stuff, usually while some sort of Festival is occurring (I got really, really tired of seeing the word "festival") and usually to no good end.

Again, yeah, it ain't all that new and it ain't all that weird. Go read Blindness by Jose Saramago instead. Or, even better, Cordwainer Smith/Paul Linebarger, especially "A Planet Named Shayol."

No comments: