Uncanny Conversations: Eric Schaller and Matthew Cheney Stop by WFR

meetme5Eric Schaller and Matthew Cheney are two of the most interesting voices in weird fiction today.  Together, they co-edit The Revelator, an online magazine that has featured work from the likes of Laird Baron, Sofia Samatar, John Chu, Mikki Kendall, Jeffrey Ford, and a diverse array of other material that includes nonfiction, poetry, and comics.  This week, instead of WFR posing questions to Schaller and Cheney individually, we’re hosting a conversation between these two voices of the contemporary Weird in which they untangle their complex history with each other’s work, the weirdness of New Hampshire, the role of the visual arts in their careers, and a variety of other topics.

In addition to this conversation, we’ll have a story from each so we can observe the dialogue from more figurative directions.  “Voices Carry” by Eric Schaller was originally published in Shadows & Tall Trees #2 and has not previously appeared online.  Matthew Cheney’s “The Lake” previously appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #21 and his recent collection, Blood: Stories, from Black Lawrence.  “The Lake” also makes its online debut this week with WFR.

Blood cover mediumWe’ve spoken with Schaller and featured his artwork for numerous publications before.  His fiction has appeared in other vital outlets like The Dark and Postscripts, and his debut collection, Meet Me in the Middle of the Air, appeared earlier this year from Undertow.  Matthew Cheney’s meditations on Tainaron by Leena Krohn previously appeared on WFR, and his fiction has been published in many important outlets as well, such as Weird Tales and Conjunctions.  We’re looking forward to getting better acquainted with these two authors and editors currently shaping the landscape of the Weird.

“The Lost Machine” Recap

lost_machine_coverLast week we finished our serialization of all eleven chapters of The Lost Machine, an illustrated novel by author and artist Richard K. Kirk.

The Lost Machine follows Lumsden Moss’s journey from the plague-ridden Brickscold Prison to the City of Steps to find the killer of the children he once taught and was sentenced for murdering. Along the way, he meets up with Irridis, a mysterious traveler who wields strange glass projectiles who eventually proves invaluable to Moss’ quest. It’s a dark and imaginative novel that should appeal to weird fiction fans.

To accompany the serialization of The Lost Machine, we also published an interview with Kirk along with a gallery of Kirk’s illustrations and artwork. Below are also links to each chapter of The Lost Machine for anyone that missed it.

Weird Writers Recap

Weird-1_B2Today we’re publishing the 38th entry in our 101 Weird Writers series. It’s the final entry of 2015 for the Weird Writers series and we’re almost halfway through the list. We created the Weird Writers series as a companion to The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories in which each article in the series focuses on a particular story and author from The Weird. So far we’ve seen an incredible and diverse list of writers from all over the globe–from German to Finland, Benin to Italy, from 1907 to 2007.

We’ve got an eclectic list of writers lined up for 2016 and beyond but for now we thought we should recap by compiling a list of the first 38 entries so that readers could peruse them at their leisure. These articles contain fantastic tidbits of knowledge about the Weird along with great insights and analyses so be sure to check them out.

  1. Bob Leman: A Window into the Work of an Underrated Story Writer
  2. Augusto Monterroso: A Journey Into the Weird World of “Mister Taylor”
  3. Julio Cortázar: Examining the Strange Transformation of “Axolotl”
  4. Dino Buzzati: Interpretations of Buzzati and “The Colomber”
  5. Eric Basso: The Dissolving World of “The Beak Doctor”
  6. Brian Evenson: Strange Salvation in “The Brotherhood of Mutilation”
  7. Georg Heym: The Expressionistic Power of Heym and “The Dissection”
  8. Mercè Rodoreda: The Weirdness and Estrangement in “The Salamander”
  9. Margaret Irwin: The Monstrous Allure of “The Book”
  10. Tanith Lee: The Triumph of the Unseen in “Yellow and Red”
  11. Luigi Ugolini: Uncanny Nature in “The Vegetable Man”
  12. Mervyn Peake: Umbrageous Legacy — Mervyn Peake’s Portrait Gallery
  13. Jerome Bixby: Strange Survival in “It’s a Good Life”
  14. Charles Beaumont: The Nature of Evil in “The Howling Man”
  15. Elizabeth Hand: Trauma and Connection in “The Boy in the Tree”
  16. Kathe Koja: Weird Bodies, Weird Language of “Angels in Love”
  17. William Gibson and John Shirley: Strange Tribes in “The Belonging Kind”
  18. Leena Krohn: Change and Transformation in Tainaron
  19. Algernon Blackwood: Strange Wilderness in “The Willows”
  20. Jamaica Kincaid: The Weird, Realism & Intensities of Language in “My Mother”
  21. Caitlín R. Kiernan: The Slippery Reality of “A Redress for Andromeda”
  22. George R.R. Martin: The Colonial Nightmare in “Sandkings”
  23. Laird Barron: Stages of Horrific Vision in “The Forest”
  24. Olympe Bhêly-Quénum: Dreams, Death & the African Weird in “A Child in the Bush of Ghosts”
  25. Bruno Schulz: The Fragile Reality of “Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass”
  26. Octavia Butler: Strange Symbiosis in “Bloodchild”
  27. Joanna Russ: Female Identity in “The Little Dirty Girl”
  28. Gahan Wilson: Hearts Like Oysters in “The Sea Was Wet As Wet Could Be”
  29. Michael Cisco: Elements of Degeneration in “The Genius of Assassins”
  30. Margo Lanagan: Spectacle and Shame in “Singing My Sister Down”
  31. Fritz Leiber: Grit and Social Dynamics in “Smoke Ghost”
  32. Marc Laidlaw: Art, Death, and Strangeness in “The Diane Arbus Suicide Portfolio”
  33. Stephen Graham Jones: The Metaphysical Prisons of “Little Lambs”
  34. Amos Tutuola: “A Nightmare of Indescribable Adventures”: Style and “The Complete Gentleman”
  35. Robert Aickman: May Bury You (On Robert Aickman’s “The Hospice”)
  36. Saki: What the Weird Knows — Conradin’s Secret Arts
  37. Kelly Link: Sex, Death and the Man-Omelet in “The Specialist’s Hat”
  38. Leonora Carrington: Seeing Rabbits and Falling Fingers

Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Volume 2

YBWF-2-1

Cover art by Tomasz Alen Kopera. Design by Vince Haig.

If there was any doubt about the resurgence of interest in weird fiction, they should be assuaged by the October publication of Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Volume 2 from Undertow Books. Looking back to last year’s debut of the series, it might have seemed perilous to risk launching such an endeavor with so many other popular “Best Of…” anthologies in the fields of horror, dark fiction, and related genres that intersect with the weird. However, the release of this second annual volume would seem to indicate that the series is finding its own unique space and an audience that is hungry for more.

For Volume 2, series editor Michael Kelly and guest editor Kathe Koje have pulled together a remarkable table of contents, with authors ranging from the well-known (Julio Cortázar, Karen Joy Fowler, Caitlín R. Kiernan, etc) to the new and promising (Usman T. Malik, Isabel Yap, etc ) and everywhere in between. The stories have been selected from publications as diverse as Granta, Lightspeed Magazine, Tor.com, Crossed Genres, and even WeirdFictionReview.com itself. These are only a few of the primary sources from which these pieces have been curated, and it may serve as an excellent indicator of the health of the field that there are so many venues for high-quality work in the weird.

We caught up with guest editor Kathe Koja to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the second entry in this anthology series.

WFR: Give us an idea of how this volume came together. Also, why did you decide to edit it?

Mike Kelly asked if I was interested, and I was! Simple as that.

WFR: What sort of criteria did you look for in your weird fiction stories when deciding whether to put it in the anthology? What makes a weird fiction story successful?

All pleasure in reading is idiosyncratic. So what makes a story – whether weird fiction or not – successful, is subjective, beyond the writer’s ability to write well, to make “characters” become individuals, to create and present a narrative – that’s a given, that’s the price of admission.The rest, for me, came down to each story’s sensibility, to authorial voice: Was the story one that spoke to me? If it did, it went onto my list.

WFR: I’m interested to know how you think your volume compares or contracts to the first volume (edited by Laird Barron). Do you think there were some stories you chose that Barron wouldn’t have?

I wanted to come to the task without any guideposts or editorial presence, however subtle, from the first YBWF, so I scrupulously did not read it. With YBWF2 finished, I can be a civilian reader again!

WFR: Were there any stories you felt deserved inclusion but for one reason or another you were unable—maybe copyrights prevented you or you felt the story didn’t fit in some way?

I was able to include all my choices, thanks to Mike hunting down permissions and doing all the editorial heavy lifting.

WFR: Do you feel like you’ve gained anything from editing YBWF2, and would you ever consider being an editor again?

It’s a tremendous amount of work. When I received the stories from Mike, I read seriously, and tried to keep my mental palate cleared between stories, which meant not gulping them down, letting the stories sit, then rereading. All this takes time, which was by far the hardest aspect of the job.

WFR: What projects are you currently working on, or what have you worked on since YBWF2?

I finished a new YA novel; and the third book of the UNDER THE POPPY trilogy, THE BASTARDS’ PARADISE, is about to come out (November) from Roadswell Editions, so I’m planning launch events in NY and elsewhere, as well as being a special guest at this year’s World Fantasy Convention. And I’ve adapted, and am directing and producing, DRACULA with my performative fiction ensemble, nerve, for a Janaury 2016 debut. Whew …

WFR: What advice would you give to writers of the Weird who may be seeking to be included in future volumes?

Make sure Mike Kelly gets your stories! Mike was diligent and sent many, many calls for submissions, through many different channels of communication: writers, make sure you keep your ears open. No editor can love and choose what s/he doesn’t get to read.

It’s a Weird Summer at WFR

Haralambi MarkovHello weird readers. I hope you’re having a good summer. New content this summer has been quite sporadic at Weird Fiction Review due to vacations, workshops, and other events. Despite the lack of pieces we’ve posted this summer, we’ve had some tremendous works. We’ve featured some great stories including “When Raspberries Bloom in August” by Haralambi Markov, “A Hard Truth About Waste Management” by Sumanth Prabhaker, and “Mutation Planet” by Barrington J. Bayley. Also, we continued our 101 Weird Writers series with an excellent piece on Saki by Leif Schenstead-Harris.

Be sure to check those out and we’ll be back in September. We have some new fiction stories and new nonfiction pieces by weird writers who have contributed articles about some of their favorite authors and works. So stay tuned!

Our Journey Through Strange Ornithology Continues

Wilson's_Bird_of_Paradise_BestDear beloved weird fiction fans, we will be continuing our exploration of birds for the next week. In typical Weird Fiction Review fashion though, these aren’t be normal, run-of-the-mill sparrows, bluejays, and robins. No sir/madame! These are very curious creatures from ghost birds with bizarre calls to legends of spirits that have taken the form of birds.

Weird Bird Fortnight is our second special this year after weird seas/voyages week. Originally, we had intended to do a week of birds as well but we ended up with a total of six stories–five of which are new to WFR and most of which have not been published online. This week, we’ll be wrapping up with three more stories. They include:

  • “Bird Walks in New England” by Michael Blumlein
  • “The Hide” by Liz Williams
  • “The Din of Celestial Birds” by Brian Evenson

Birds have occupied a rather interesting role in weird fiction which in part mirrors their place in real life. They tend to be nonthreatening, although sometimes this is only by appearance; so they aren’t the monsters like we find in certain strange stories. Despite this, they tend to be strange and perhaps even a bit unsettling: they are descended from dinosaurs, have a odd presentation compared to other animals, and are one of the few creatures that can fly. Thus, it’s not surprising to find them frequently in dark fiction starting as far back as Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”

We’re very excited to bring you these stories. Each is unique and original. We hope you join us as we continue our journey into strange ornithology and as we explore the uncanny feathered fliers of the Weird!

WFR’s Weird Birds Fortnight

Just yesterday, I had what I’d call a mysterious bird moment. Which is to say, observing bird behavior carries its own intrinsic value and, as an amateur naturalist, I’m continually re-inventing the wheel in a way that’s useful to the imagination and also just fun. What I saw, down at San Luis Park, was a wood stork wading through the water by the lake’s shore, with one wing extended. For a moment, I had no idea what I was looking at—both the form of the creature, which at that angle I didn’t immediately identify as a bird, and then the purpose. A moment later, I realized: bird, wood stork, wing extended. The wing, of course, was shielding the water as the bird searched out small fish or frogs. At least part of our fascination with birds is the way in which they are not mammals and yet not so estranged from us that we cannot identify with them in some way.

Birding, too, can be a great social activity for many people, even those who spend time alone in blinds or behind giant scopes, waiting for a flicker of movement. You’re still performing this activity within the greater context of something called “birding,” or maybe even a “big year.” As a child, I kept a birding journal in which I would list every bird I saw on our travels. This started in the last year of living in Fiji and continued on through coming to Florida.

These lists were full of mystery to me because when I started them I didn’t know much about birds. To some extent, too, each line with a different bird listed was a secret code for something larger and more forthcoming. Certain moments recorded tersely in my journal open up even today to form my earliest memories: A unique kind of kingfisher in Fiji, a silhouette of a heron in Australia, and, most horrifically, a lolling lump tossed up above the reeds in Kenya, then disappearing again—tossed up, disappearing. It turned out to be a baby ostrich in the clutches of a lion. It’s hard to forget that image.

Birds can be both sympathetic and sinister in fiction because of their quality of seeming both like and unlike us. A person described in fiction as “birdlike” can embody the creepy movement of a Maribou Stork stalking prey or the frothy stillness, the feathered turbulence, of a Great Horned Owl on a tree branch. A birdlike person can be frail or powerful, friendly or menacing. Even a casual question on Facebook about favorite bird stories can elicit dozens of responses, evoke dozens of moods.

beakdoctorWhen it comes to weird fiction, you might assume that the sinister aspect of birds would be most prevalent, and it’s true that evocative imagery of this nature lies at the heart of stories like Eric Basso’s “The Beak Doctor” and classics like Du Maurier’s “The Birds.” But for the next fortnight, you’ll find evocations of birds that are more complex, and reflect, I think, the ways in which we revere and admire birds.

The stories we’ve chosen for our celebration of birds in fiction range from originals to classic reprints. Our showcase original is Leena Likitalo’s “Ocelia, Ocelia,” which plays with our perceptions of both birds and human beings. The story has an exuberance buttressed by sadness that I find refreshing. It also displays a wild imagination and a wisdom in knowing that imagination requires grounding in something real at times. The details about the birds, the reprise of the opening lines, the way the meaning changes—all of these things make “Ocelia, Ocelia” a unique story that I find hard to classify or to compare to other fiction.

A similar exuberance in a completely different register brings to life Greer Gilman’s “Down the Wall,” which to me dives down into the recesses of language and detail to create another unique approach that succeeds, like Likitalo’s story, in part by the boldness of its rhetoric. “Stilt-legs scissoring, snip-snap! the bird gods dance.  Old craneycrows, a skulk of powers.  How they strut and ogle with their long eyes, knowing.” Is there any possibility of a crane-crow after this not informed by those words?

The pirouetting dance begun by Gilman turns into a rough downhill plunge in Brian Evenson’s “The Din of Celestial Birds,” a kind of surreal dream of a horror story that begins with an empty cage and a memory of a feathered body and becomes ever more concrete and yet diaphanous as the story progresses. The opening in some ways seems to evoke Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” and to respond to the strangeness of that story by creating an ever deepening abyss.

You’ll also discover more traditional chills and creepiness here, of course. Claude Seignolle’s surprising “The Ghoulbird,” translated by Gio Clairval, offers up not just sumptuous prose and an interesting narrator, but an ultimately complex and harrowing supernatural element. Seignolle is seriously underappreciated in the English-speaking world and “The Ghoulbird” was a translation specifically contracted for our The Weird anthology. We’re happy to offer it here to you online for the first time.

Liz Williams’ “The Hide,” also from The Weird, seems more like a birdwatcher’s approach to the weird, owing less to the Decadents than to contemporary mainstream fiction. With its precise characterization and the way the uncanny is layered into the story, Williams’ evokes the English landscape in a masterful way and leaves the reader feeling extremely unsettled.

Some stories have less of an uncanny element. Michael Blumlein’s tale of love and loneliness. “Bird Walks of New England,” another never before available online, contains at its core a possible mis-sighting or wrong-sighting of a strange bird. This element, almost akin to the heart of M. John Harrison’s classic “Egnaro,” tells us the world we live in is odd and driven by rhythms and seasons we only see the edges of.

I hope you immerse yourself in these stories over the next fortnight, and that you appreciate their range and the different kinds of treasures on offer. And the different views of birds.

Khalida Asghar’s “The Wagon” and Fiction in Urdu

Today we are pleased to bring you Khalida Asghar’s “The Wagon,” originally published in Urdu in 1963 and translated into English by Muhammad Umar Memon. Although the story has appeared in printed textbooks and anthologies before, it has not previously appeared online. The tale can entertain several interpretations, from the uncanny to the more science-fictional or even the mundane.

As noted in the Annual of Urdu Studies, v. 4, 1984 (p. 112.), edited by Memon, “[The author] thinks that the so-called modern modes of literary expression, like surrealism, symbolism and the absurd, and ideas like existential freedom, have always been present in a very positive manner in our mystical literature. Therefore, as she says, the debate on whether these literary styles have been borrowed from the West or are basically indigenous is mostly irrelevant. The point, as she puts it, is to make use of these modes of expression in a creative way, to assimilate them, and not to take them up merely as a fashion or, worse still, as a matter of plain opportunism.” Asghar’s “short stories can be read as serialized crises of identity, as attempts to come to terms with one’s subconscious compulsions. It is more like trying to acknowledge and relate them to one’s outward, day-to-day existence.”

According to further information in the Annual, Asghar, born in 1938, disappeared from the literary scene for many years after getting married, re-emerging much later writing under her married name, Khalida Husain. Her work has appeared in many anthologies of Urdu and Eastern literature from Oxford University Press, Penguin, and others. I, for one, will be seeking out more of her work.

As for the translator, Muhammad Umar Memon has long been active in writing and translating fiction from Urdu. He also had a distinguished career as a scholar at the University of Wisconsin. You can find out more about him from this fascinating interview at The Short Form. Also, this in-depth review provides more context about Urdu literature, in the context of an anthology edited by Memon.

Many thanks to Anil Menon for bringing this story to our attention and to Memon for allowing us to reprint it.

***

UsmanstandardpicFor further context on fiction in Urdu, I interviewed Usman T. Malik, a Pakistani writer of weird fiction who lives Florida. His novella The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn is forthcoming at Tor.com in April of this year and he is currently a finalist for the Nebula Award.

Weird Fiction Review: Urdu exists primarily in Pakistan and parts of India. Are there regional differences?

Usman T. Malik: Yes. Several regional dialects exist because of seepage of vocabulary from local languages such as Punjabi, Bengali, Sindhi, Seraiki, Balochi et cetera. Spoken Urdu in India is called Hindi and has more Sanskrit words than Urdu spoken in Pakistan. Hindi is written in a different script, however, than Urdu, which is written in a Persio-Arabic style called Nastaliq.

WFR: Are there specific (Pakistani) literary traditions in terms of Urdu?

UTM: Historically, Urdu literature was dominated by poetry, whose early proponent was the great writer and musical genius Amir Khusro. Khusro was a mystic polymath credited with having systematized northern Indian classical music. He is also said to have invented the sitar and tabla, while at the same time produced massive amount of Urdu poetry. His influence was on both the language and its literature, and his couplets have influenced later Urdu writers tremendously.

Early prose in Urdu was mostly epics (daastan) and literary memoirs (tazkara). Short story (afsaana) and the novel came later. Mirat-al-aroos, The Bride’s Mirror (1868) by Deputy Nazeer Ahmad is usually considered the first Urdu novel.

WFR: What would you imagine are the main difficulties or issues in translating Urdu to English?

UTM: It depends on the age of the manuscript, I’d say. The farther back in time we go, the more ornate and contextual the writing becomes. For example, certain maxims that were commonplace in the seventeenth and eighteenth century don’t make much sense now. With time and misspeaking, they’ve changed–much like in English where a misspoken word used at large slowly becomes part of the linguistic canon.

Realistically and generally speaking, the two big hindrances might be deficiency of skilled translators proficient in both English and Urdu, and money. In Pakistan at least we’ve been watching a class divide wherein because of lack of standardization of education in the country, rich and upper middle class kids go to English medium schools while poor kids go to Urdu medium schools. This is problematic on several levels but in terms of literary loss, we’re losing the urbane literary ‘moderate’ who feels at home in both literatures and cultures.

WFR: Have you encountered fantastical or SF-nal works originally written in Urdu? Anything in particular you might recommend?

UTM: Urdu has a long history of fantastical literature. Two of the great epics are Daastan-e-Amir Hamza (translated into English as ‘The Adventures of Amir Hamza’ by Musharraf Ali Farooqi) and Talism Hoshruba (which Musharraf is in the process of translating). An incredible dark fiction/horror novel is Kaala Jadoo, Black Magic, by M.A. Rahat.

WFR: Do you have a favorite work in Urdu?

UTM: Several. Instead of one work, I’ll give you two poets and two short story writers: Mirza Ghalib and Allama Muhammad Iqbal (poets). Munshi Premchand and Saadat Hassan Manto (short story writers).

Weird Voyages and Strange Seas

Mysterious IslandToday marks the beginning of a week of weird voyages and strange seas here at WFR. The trope in which a plot pulls its characters to exotic locales has a long and rich history, both within Weird fiction and more mainstream traditions. It seems most often to be used for the purpose of displacing the characters and reader from the familiar, leaving open possibilities not previously available in order to reveal stranger (and often darker) truths. Joseph Conrad understood the potentially alienating power of place and used it with compelling effect in Heart of Darkness, and many Weird authors have used it in similar fashion, such as Lucius Shepard in his exotic tale Kalimantan, which appears to specifically invoke the classic Conrad piece.

Lovecraft sent geologist William Dyer on a famous Weird voyage to one of the strangest and most farflung places accessible to mankind, Antarctica, at which he discovered many profoundly unsettling truths in At the Mountains of Madness. Likewise, the sea provides one of the loneliest settings one can find, and it remains perhaps the least robustly understood part of the planet to this day. One might even consider the lack of stability beneath the feet of such voyagers as a figurative way of examining the instability of the world in a Weird tale. Perhaps this is why William Hope Hodgson set so many of his stories there, away from the hope that might be provided by civilization and the stability of known geography and dry land. Numerous tales in The Weird turn on similar premises: Jean Ray’s nautical tale of terror, “The Mainz Psalter,” Leena Krohn’s fantastical travelogue, “Tainaron,” and Michel Bernanos’s “The Other Side of the Mountain,” itself inspired by the author’s trips to Brazil.

The act of waking up under an unrecognizable sky holds the power to instill a sense of wonder in us all, and wonder (whether the disquieting kind or otherwise) is at the heart of Weird fiction. To examine just how rich the tradition of the weird voyage is, throughout the week we’ll be bringing you several of these tales, both classic and new:

Each of these pieces deftly examines the unfamiliar locales of the world and our place within it in masterful fashion. Next time you travel, travel Weird.

Celebrating Alfred Kubin’s 1908 Novel “The Other Side”

The Other Side Alfred KubinThis week on Weirdfictionreview.com, we’re revisiting our coverage of Alfred Kubin, and his masterpiece The Other Side (1908), about a strange city and the dream-like events that occur there.

I talked more about my enthusiasm for this novel on NPR’s To The Best of Our Knowledge this past weekend. The Dedalus edition of The Other Side was reprinted late last year.

There are several interesting facts about the book and the writer.

  • The Other Side has a cult status partly because it’s long been a favorite of a variety of writers and artists. It would be hard to believe, for example, that Mervyn Peake had not read Kubin prior to writing his Gormenghast novels. I would be willing to bet the great Angela Carter had also read Kubin, along with Leonora Carrington, before writing her novel The War of Dreams, also titled The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman.
  • Kubin had been commissioned to illustrate a book of Edgar Allen Poe novellas by a Munich publisher in 1907.
  • Not long after publication of The Other Side, Franz Kafka read and enjoyed it, and then later used elements from it in the creation of his own The Castle. (Kubin might have been aware of Kafka’s early work, as well.)
  • Kubin also created illustrations for the influential early German SF novel Lesabendio by Paul Scheerbart, among others.

Kubin was a wonderful example of a writer and artist who had very fine control of technique, but also allowed his subconscious to lead his creative expression. The result is unique in fiction—and in art.