2014 was a year of grad exams, with their attendant reading lists, and merciless work, so I virtually read nothing I wasn’t assigned or paid to. That said, at least some of my reading overlapped with the Weird corner of my personal interests. As we head into winter a year later, I can still recall the few quiet, precious weeks of last January when all was calm, and I was sunken thick covers, exploring Robert Aickman’s more obscure back catalogue, thanks to Tartarus Press’ generous reprint of his entire short fiction in the original collections. In Intrusions, I’d like to single out “Hand in Glove” and “No Time is Passing” for providing moments of that creepy, coy cognitive disconnect he does so well. In the same collection “The Next Glade,” which I’d earlier encountered in Peter Straub’s Aickman anthology The Wine-Dark Sea, remains one of my favorite Aickman stories.
Fall 2013 saw the release of the latest collection by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, Jeune vieillard assis sur une pierre en bois (Young Codger Seated on a Wooden Rock). I was familiar with some but not all of the stories, having come across some in French literary magazines. Other, longer pieces in this book had appeared as their own standalone chapbooks already, including “An Occasional Icarus,” which I translated for Kate Bernheimer’s myth-inspired anthology XO Orpheus. But it was the final story in this volume that blew me away, “Une route poudreuse mène d’Argos à Mycènes” [“A Dusty Road Runs from Argos to Mycenae”]. With its pair of lionesses chasing a hapless classicist around a curiously deserted down, the tale is like a de Chirico painting come to life, and to my mind at least points a few way forward for the author’s short fiction, at once like and unlike his past work.
There’s probably a genealogy to be explored concerning “big cats” in the fantastic: H.G. Wells’ Edenic panthers in “The Door in the Wall”; Blake’s fearful tyger; Aslan, of course; Rilke’s pacing panther; and if expansions are in order, the French word fauve, which extends the category to art that may have inspired certain writers. Aimee Bender’s collection The Color Master, features a well-received and sensitively observed tale of a triangle between two sisters and the nothingness from which selfhood springs, inspired by (and titled after) Amy Cutler’s painting “Tiger Mending.” Bender spans the emotional gamut in her use of everyday objects, from the fast-moving “Americca” to “Bad Return,” almost magically kind yet tinged with loss, which reminded me of Miyazaki.
What makes nature Weird? The question has been raised here before, and with Book 2 of Aama, a far-future SF saga equal parts Stanisław Lem and Stefan Wul, Swiss artist Frédérik Peeters lets loose with lush depictions of an alien planet, doing psychedelic 70s animation classics from Topor, Moebius, and René Laloux one better. This award-winning series revolves around the encounters of two estranged siblings with evolution-mimicking nanotech quickly remaking a fringe planet, and an autistic daughter. One of Peeters’ early works, Miettes, scripted by Ibn Al Rabin, was recently re-released: a fanciful train hijacking that begins in medias res and never lets up. Basically one long chase scene, it contains such imaginative figures as a railroad charmer (like a snake charmer, but for switching tracks), and a pair of fraternal twins, born defective, who were later surgically joined so that they could share a gall bladder. Undergirding the increasingly surreal events is also an element of political parable.
Speaking of elaborate, even byzantine political parables, among noteworthy but less recently published reads was Ismail Kadare’s, The Palace of Dreams, about the government ministry assigned to collect and interpret dreams in a distant dictatorship. And staying in the surreal vein, Vitesse moderne [Modern Velocity], the first color graphic novel by the protean contemporary master Blutch, flits across a single night of bizarre encounters in a deserted nightmare Paris to end on an image I find inexplicably moving. Finally in comics, Fatale, that mash-up of noir femmes and otherworldly Lovecraftian conspiracy by Ed Brubaker & Sean Williams is taut, well-told, and thoroughly enjoyable.