End-of-Year Book List (2015 Edition)

91eqCq1hU2L._SL1500_After the amazing year we had in 2014, it was hard to believe that we’d have another one that was just as strong in 2015. However, this year managed to live up to the previous with great new fiction, continuing periodicals, and the reprinting of old classics. Perhaps the biggest news this year was the republishing of a trio of old favorites by Penguin Classics in October. The first release was Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe by the inimitable weird fiction author, Thomas Ligotti. This was followed by classics Perchance to Dream by Charles Beaumont and The Case Against Satan by Ray Russell — the latter of which featured a foreword by weird writer Laird Barron.

Readers might recall that last year Barron served as the guest editor for Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Volume 1. This year saw a continuation of the series with Kathe Koja as the guest editor. There was also no shortage of new original weird fiction. One of our favorites was The Loney by Andrew Hurley, a sort of unsettling rural British slow-burn. Then there was Lincoln Michel’s debut collection Upright Beasts, which collected a variety of modes of dark fiction from the Aickmanesque to the Kafkaesque, and Get in Trouble, which continues Kelly Link’s legacy as one of the best contemporary weird fiction writers.

Weird Fiction Review itself had no shortage of great pieces. We continued our Weird Writers series, had tons of great interviews, and published new fiction with features like Weird Voyages Week and two weeks of Weird Birds. We also had some great translations like “The Wagon” by Khalida Asghar and “The Supper” by Alfonso Reyes. To recap the year, we’ve compiled a list of recommendations from people who have contributed to Weird Fiction Review in one way or another: either with fiction, interviews, or articles.

Overall, 2015 was a great year for the Weird. So here’s to 2016 — may it be just as Weird!

Lincoln Michel (Things Left Outside)

Secret RendezvousSecret Rendezvous by Kobo Abe (Vintage). Abe is one of Japan’s greatest weird writers, and his 1977 novel Secret Rendezvous is a darkly funny nightmare that resides somewhere between Franz Kafka and David Cronenberg. A man’s wife is mistakenly taken away in an ambulance. He goes to the hospital to find her, only to discover she’s can’t be located. Soon, he’s navigating a labyrinthian hospital run by surveillance-obsessed officers, scientists conducing bizarre sex experiments, and a man who turns himself into a horse by attaching another man’s lower half to his own.

Shadows in Summerland by Adrian Van Young (ChiZine). I’m cheating a bit here, as Van Young’s brilliant Gothic novel about 19th–century spiritualism won’t be released by ChiZine until spring of 2016. However, I had the pleasure of reading it in manuscript form, so I’m going to count it. The novel is loosely based on the historical spirit photographer William H. Mumler, who famously photographed Mary Todd Lincoln with the alleged ghost of President Lincoln behind her. Fans of uncanny horror and gorgeous Gothic prose will want to put this on their to-read list

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli (Coffee House Press). The Story of My Teeth is an odd and intriguing novel with an even odder back story. Luiselli was commissioned to write a piece by a juice factory in Mexico. She decided to do a collaboration with the workers in the juice factory, sending chapters and getting feedback across countries. The resulting novel mixes nonfiction, fiction, and metafiction in telling the story of Gustavo “Highway” Sanchez Sanchez, an auctioneer who makes money selling off the teeth of famous writers.

Sofia Samatar (The Space Between Objects)

Get In Trouble by Kelly Link (2015)

Kelly Link’s vision is extraordinary: she can make a parking lot into an uncanny landscape. Her latest collection revels in the threatening weirdness of ordinary spaces: ruined cabins, suburban bedrooms, theme parks, hotels. Like her settings, Link’s writing is simple and everyday and thick with something hidden that’s trying to press through. Her characters – mean kids, frightened parents, two-bit actors, washed-up superheroes – are on the edge of disaster. Like all of us, they’re in trouble.

9780300153323The Last Lover by Can Xue (2005/2014)
Translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen

For over thirty years, Can Xue has been conducting an experiment in fiction, what she calls “an experiment without an escape route.” Her novel The Last Lover does not point the way to any exit, it does not unfold, it does not unroll like a piece of tape or a plotted novel. Rather, it shape-shifts. Can Xue’s characters lead double lives, and as these lives intersect, they create moving patterns of color. Lovers separate and reconnect, they make journeys to bleak mountains and snake-haunted rubber plantations, they encounter new animals, veiled or double-faced strangers, mysteriously empty towns. The Last Lover is senseless in the way that dreams are senseless and absolutely logical in the way that dreams are logical. It’s a novel that’s experienced rather than recorded in the reader’s memory. To open this book is to look into a kaleidoscope.

Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven by Antoine Volodine (1998/2015)
Translated by J. T. Mahany

Antoine Volodine is one of the names of the writer who also writes as Lutz Bassmann and Manuela Draeger. This heteronymous artist is creating a new literature, complete with its own literary forms and practitioners. These practitioners are the post-exotic writers and they are all in prison or dead. They write against capitalism, in the name of radical egalitarianism, employing the genres discussed in Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, such as the romånce, the Shaggå, the novelle, and the interjoist. Descriptions of these forms appear throughout the book, interrupting a series of interrogations of the incarcerated writers. The effect is bizarre, terrifying, uplifting. Filled with the stench of rotting prison cells and death, this is one of the most utopian books I have ever read.

Other weird delights I read this year: Gabriel Squailia’s adventure in the afterworld, Dead Boys (2015), Celeste Rita Baker’s debut collection Back, Belly, and Side: True Lies and False Tales (2015), and Aixa de la Cruz’ astonishing vampire story “True Milk,” translated by Thomas Bunstead for The Quarterly Conversation in 2012.

Usman T Malik (Khalida Asghar’s “The Wagon” and Fiction in Urdu)

The Occult by Naiyer Masud (2013). I was introduced to Masud’s work last year by the Indian horror writer Jayaprakash Satyamurthy. It took just a few Masud stories (many available here: http://www.urdustudies.com/Issue12/i12home.html) to make me realize he is possibly the best uncanny short story writer of his generation. Naiyer Masud derives his influence from the usual culprits like Kafka, Borges, Shultz, but he is also a professor of Persian and hence has linguistic access to a trove of untranslated fabulist work going back at least a thousand years. Such eclectic roots combined with Masud’s clean, taut, minimalist prose (rare in Urdu) mean Masud’s work is utterly original.

The Occult is a collection of five interwoven stories, that like much of Masud’s work are dazzling displays of pattern hiding within seeming randomness. Try them out.

Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (2015). One of my favorite novels of the year, this is a dark psychological thriller about a possession and its effects on a family. The real horror of the story comes from the narrator’s experience, as it should, rather the child’s possession. Notwithstanding the tremendous edge-of-your-seat storytelling, the book is also a fierce feminist commentary on the modern condition and how we are all complicit in the various unique assaults on women in every part of the world.

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link (2015). They are written by Kelly Link. That’s all you need to know.

Helen Marshall (101 Weird Writers #37 — Kelly Link)

Gemma Files, Experimental Film (ChiZine Publications) - Experimental Film was released late in the year, and so I feel fortunate that I managed to get my hands on a copy in time to write about it for this. Files has gained a well-deserved reputation for the chilling beauty of her short stories and novels. This is her most accomplished work to date: it weaves together, found-footage style, a fascinating history of early Canadian cinema (a topic even most Canadians would be hard pressed to speak on) with a horror-myth that will appeal to fans of Algernon Blackwood. But while this description may give them impression thatExperimental Film is a bit parochial in its interests, I can assure you it isn’t at all. This is far and away one of my favourite novels of 2015: an accomplished and ultimately devastating read.

Indra Das, The Devourers (Penguin India, forthcoming 2016 from Del Rey in North America) — Like Files, Das is an extraordinary stylist: his prose is lush and evocative, an approach taken by few science fiction writers. His debut novel, released in 2015 by Penguin India but slated for North American publication in 2016, may seem on the surface like a departure from stories like “Weep for Day” and “The Widow and the Xir” which have gained him a reputation as a talent to watch. The Devourers is a literary fantasy novel which alternates between seventeenth-century Mughal India and the twenty-first century. In it, Das offers a refreshingly bold take on the myth of the werewolf. The transition from short story to novel can be a difficult one, but I can say in all confidence that Das makes use of the larger canvas in all the best ways: the world he imagines is thrilling and complex, the history vivid and beautifully rendered. Like his short stories, this novel locates an extraordinary sense of compassion in even the darkest and most alien encounters. In The Devourers, he has fashioned a tale that is redemptive, transformative, and uniquely his own.

Emily Carroll, Through the Woods (Margaret K McElderry Books) — This gorgeous collection of short horror comics came out in 2014 to well-deserved acclaim, but I want to mention it again because it is just that good. If you haven’t had a chance to read any of Carroll’s comics before, I recommend you start with her personal webpage: these make brilliant use of the form of the webcomic, combining stunning art with stories that remind me of a strange mash-up between Kelly Link, Shirley Jackson and H. P. Lovecraft. Shifting between fairy tales, dreamlike musings, ballads, and hauntings, Carroll proves herself a master of the vocabulary of dark fantasy. Utterly, utterly spell-binding.

Christopher Burke (The Rim of Morning by William Sloane)

The-Visible-Filth-Nathan-Ballingrud-horrorNathan Ballingrud, The Visible Filth (This Is Horror) – I wanted to keep this list confined to works that have perhaps not received as much attention as they deserve. Nathan Ballingrud’s novella has received a lot of praise already, but it was so good that I can’t not include it here. This piece had just about everything I want in a work of weird fiction: unputdownable, goes in directions you will not predict and does so in convincing ways, strong characterization with an emotional core, great imagery, and a climax that simultaneously makes sense in context and I didn’t see coming. I went into the story knowing exactly nothing about the book other than some of the authors and reviewers who had blurbed it favorably, so I’m not going to say a word about the plot because I think it’s best consumed that way.

V.H. Leslie, Skein and Bone (Undertow) – In a column with unlimited space, I could justly expound upon essentially everything that Undertow has put out this year (Aickman’s Heirs, These Last Embers, and Year’s Best Weird Fiction 2), but I will devote this paragraph to their most recent release. There is a bit of similarity to the work of Damien Walters in these stories’ visceral, sometimes “extreme” bloodiness laid over emotional undercurrents (one might even view the title as a metaphorical inverse of this kind of structure), but Leslie’s fiction has plenty of its own to distinguish itself. If I had to pick a favorite from the collection, it would most likely be the title story, which genuinely made me let out a bit of a gasp upon its conclusion. There is also a fine undertone of dark humor that can be found in some of these pieces, which isn’t to diminish their seriousness at all. The short stories include a strange riff on the Jane Eyre tale, the amorous woes of a timekeeper and their mortifying consequences, an unsavory series of encounters at a mostly-abandoned French chateau, and plenty more.

Craig Laurance Gidney, The Nectar of Nightmares (Dim Shores) – This chapbook stems from an intriguing premise, tracking brief but seemingly-unconnected vignettes about three characters whose nightmares plague their waking lives and are fueled by the appearance of an ominous force or being. What I like so much about this story is how it finds a common humanity in the seemingly small and quotidian by linking the characters to larger forces and anxieties operating behind the scenes. The result is equal parts unsettling and poignant, which is a difficult balancing act to pull off. The extra attention to artwork in this series is also a fantastic bonus.

Marian Womack (Orange Dogs)

Of my weird reading this past year I’ve picked two books by established authors, and two books by newcomers (one of them is only available in Spanish, and this recommendation is based on a review I wrote for the Science-Fiction and Fantasy Network earlier this year):

A new book by China Miéville is an event to mark in the calendar, and he does not disappoint with Three Moments of an Explosion (MacMillan). It is impossible to convey in a few lines the power behind this short story collection, in which Miéville makes it clear once again why he has no equal in the scope of his imagination, the daring of his premises, the sharp interrogation to which he subjects our post-communicative society through his own blend of the fantastic, science-fiction, horror, and even a grotesque near-realism, as his weird vistas read like actual offerings from the sickly and near-apocalyptic world we live in. With each story, whether three or thirty pages long, the reader is plunged into a new scenario with a new set of rules, its own daring premise, and world-building powers that one imagines could effortlessly sustain whole novel-length plots. Aside from Miéville, no one has interrogated the failings of our society and achieved much more than a dystopian postcard: whether involving aliens, floating icebergs, mysterious illnesses or German ghosts, these are stories that have the power to send us back to our world with our eyes newly opened, and that’s the greatest praise I can give a work of literature.

The artist B. Catling has produced in The Vorrh (Vintage) a pitch-perfect weird novel of complexity and depth, and it is impossible to overstate what a compelling and assured read this first novel is. The imaginatively weird plot ties together explorers, robots, tribes which make magical weapons with the bones and flesh of their dead shamans, a cyclops, and real-life Victorian photography pioneers, all tightly bound in a complex exploration of Imperialism, but also of modernity, identity, and tradition. The settings, in particular, recall other classics of weird fiction: the mysterious jungle, the decadent city rotten with secrets. One is amply compensated for this familiarity by the prose style, gloriously rich and verging on gothic-cosiness without ever entering flamboyant territory, a rare and unexpected pleasure. I found myself re-savouring sentences as I went along, re-reading paragraphs just to enjoy the writing itself. I would be surprised if this work didn’t pave the path for Catling’s recognition as one of the best prose stylists in weird fiction.

Elegantly written and superbly structured, Challenger (Aristas Martínez) by Guillem López, is the best novel I’ve read in Spanish this year. It is divided into seventy-three chapters, recalling the seventy-three seconds that the eponymous space shuttle was airborne before disintegrating, their prolegomena and consequences for a handful of characters. The concentration on this smallest of timeframes establishes the novel’s particular thesis: focus in depth on a particular slice of life, and its inexplicable edges will be vividly brought to life, the unnatural will end up revealing itself organically as a part of that very nature which had previously appeared to reject it. Telepaths, sects, mediums, sea monsters, and the suggestion of parallel realities all sit comfortably alongside realist tropes: suburban housewives, mafia bosses, corrupt or inept politicians, unethical lawyers… This is one of the great technical achievements of the book, and one that makes it stand out in the Spanish market, where genre writing tends to follow Todorov in its exploration of the fantastic as a disruptive element ‘entering the real’. Here the fantastic and the weird is not alien or distortional: it is born out of the very impossibilities and general messiness of real life, its wonders and sorrows, magnified in that instant at which life and death fatally interact, at a scale that touches a whole community, a whole country, even humanity itself.

But for me the book of the year has to be Get in Trouble (Canongate) by one of the few true innovators of genre writing: Kelly Link. Here, her savvy characters seem deliberately to obey the imperative of the title. Fond of framed narratives, Russian-doll tales within fictions within realistic dramas, Link’s own oeuvre seems to be playing this kind of game on a larger scale now: without being self-referential, her construction of interlocking narrative patterns has become her own personal brand, and allows her to explore the liminal territories between the magical and the mundane, offering clues to our ‘real’ selves. While the author’s taste for the surreal may be reminiscent of Leonora Carrington, and her wicked playfulness recalls Angela Carter, her chief literary referent is now her own work. Link is a unique talent, and her weirdness and flavour for the surreal must be celebrated in a list like this. When we read her we have the feeling that we are reading a classic of the future.

Leif Schenstead-Harris (101 Weird Writers #38 — Leonora Carrington)

This year, I found myself interested in less spectacularly weird books that explore the moments in life that yield up chaos, estrangement, and insight. I was reminded that weirdness operates in drama and nonfiction, as well as in fiction usually marketed as, say, allegorical or postmodern. These are the openings in life where the weird emerges – not as a foreign agent or as a fantasy, but as a natural constituent of the world as we know it. So while I’ve kept up with what’s new – Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’ latest instalment of Saga, for instance, which I continue to devour with a strange fascination – this year I found most resonant those works that ground their weirdness in the shifting soils and flowing waters of the observable world.

Ivan Vladislavić, The Folly (Archipelago Press)

First published in 1993 but republished this year, The Folly reminded me of two things. First, that Vladislavić, a South African writer of Croatian descent, has a keen eye for the way that people allow their illusions to control their lives and those of others. Second, that Archipelago Press have been putting out a high quality series of reprints and translations. The Folly rivetingly describes the way that wholly imaginary structures – ideologies, one might say – make their presence known. Its lively and even dangerously playful language alternately lulls and shocks its reader. One of the stranger and more oblique allegories of South African apartheid out there.

Lisa Dwan, in the “Beckett Trilogy”: Not I, Footfalls, Rockaby (Dir. Walter Asmus)

Since its emergence in 1972, Samuel Beckett’s monologue Not I has lost none of its distressingly inhuman chill. Check out Billie Whitelaw’s performance on YouTube to see for yourself. (I will not refer you to Julianne Moore’s version.) This year I saw Lisa Dwan perform Not I along with Footfalls and Rockaby, two more of Beckett’s short plays. as part of the “Beckett Trilogy.” Dwan’s harrowing performance is stunning and brilliant. So too the direction by Walter Asmus. Imagine: in the absolute darkness of a theatre so quiet and empty of light that vertigo sets in, the bizarre sight of an insatiable, fleshy mouth. Now, imagine that mouth tear through language as if it were a tattered cloth set afire. I count this among the most scorchingly weird things I’ve seen this year: “What?… who?… no! SHE!” The spectral Footfalls and the deathly Rockaby are not to be missed either, should the chance arise.

Mia Couto, Pensativities (Biblioasis, translated by David Brookshaw)

Mozambican writer, environmental consultant and biologist Mia Couto has a talent for mixing the real with the unexpected, the weird with the mundane. Pensativities assembles a selection of Couto’s essays and addresses from the last fifteen years; in them, Couto traces the jagged edges of modernity and its exclusions with an enchanter’s lightly transformative hands. In “Languages We Didn’t Know We Knew”, Couto argues that the purpose of writers, “as producers of dreams, is to gain access to that other language no one can speak, that hidden language in which all things can have names.” These essays are firmly located in Mozambican natural and social contexts, yet in them it is possible to see how flashes of weird lightning illuminate Couto’s observations on the world. Essays like these reveal how speculative literature emerges and grounds itself in lived realities across the globe.

Boris Vian, L’Écume des jours [Mood Indigo / Froth on the Daydream] (Farrar Straus & Giroux)

This is an older novel, first published in 1947, but with the Michel Gondry adaptation to film from last year I was finally motivated to begin reading Vian. Today I cannot imagine not having read him. The midcentury French writer proves a wicked seducer whose touch makes flesh with pleasurable pain and whose sentences dance before you with either joy or despair – depending on how you see things. I won’t ruin the novel’s surprises. Let me simply say that a mouse’s actions will not always fill you with determination, as this year’s Undertale has it. A mouse might look around and offer itself up to a cat. In a related thought: can a fairy-tale logic of love and devotion sustain life? Or is it a dangerous daydream?

Haralambi Markov (When Raspberries Bloom in August)

I had the chance to reinvigorate my reading this year and I’ve come across two 2015 releases, which I think fans of weird fiction will devour with glee. The third book is my introduction to a classic writer who enjoys a celebrated status – Angela Carter. Not a surprising choice, but I feel it’s necessary to also discuss and re-introduce previous works to new readers.

VermillionFrontCover_030415-683x1024Vermilion by Molly Tanzer. Weird westerns are making a return and Molly Tanzer leads the charge with a fun, action-packed and strange as hell novel. In this version of the United States the reader is introduced to talking animals (bears do make a prominent appearance), monsters and ghosts. The last of which Lou Merriwether, your 19-year-old heroine and a psychopomp, hunts down for a living until she takes on a commission to find out what’s happening to her fellow Chinatown boys gone missing.

What could have simply been a light book that relies on plot, action and the trappings of the urban fantasy genre, instead blends character depth with a seriously fun, disconcerting world. It’s a fun sort of strangeness that you should read like you’d drink a shot — in one take.

Lament for the Afterlife by Lisa L. Hannett. Lisa L. Hannett has been doing wonders within the short fiction forms. Her stories always tiptoe the line between wondrous and dark, joyful and melancholic – always penned with impeccable eye for language. Now, in her debut, Lisa brings all her talents into a story about war against an enemy that seems to be invisible and invincible, where people suffer from a condition that bleeds their thoughts in the physical realm. Though that’s just scrapping the surface in terms of worldbuilding.

It’s a heavy book. It’s an unpleasant book at times, but it’s an important book that is all the more relevant given how the whole world is on the brink of more and more wars. Also, it helps it’s well-written, and strange, and beautiful the way it arranges startling images from the ruins of war. Ultimately, it’s a novel about making do with what you have, getting by and moving on; survival in a severely fragmented reality.

The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman by Angela Carter. Carter isn’t a surprise to anyone who has been reading weird fiction for a long time, but I’m featuring her because it is easy to a new reader to not where to start within weird and miss this genius book. Carter is a wordsmith in a league of her own; commanding, bending and shaping language any way she sees fit from the shortest sentences that ring clear and ecstatic to veiled paragraphs undulating on the page. It’s her same fearless abandon that results in a story that knows no limitation and blends vulgarity with great purity, philosophy with mystery, beauty with the grotesque.

Kathe Koja (Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Volume 2)

Having the YBWF2 reading as my delicious diet pushed longer form work off the plate. I’d recommend one sublime collection, not yet published but that I did read — devour — this year: Maryse Meijer’s Heartbreaker. There’s no voice like Maryse’s, and that’s my highest praise.

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


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 BASTARDSPARADISE, 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.

Remembering Aickman at the World Fantasy Convention

This year’s World Fantasy Convention in November should be especially appealing to fans of the Weird. First of all, the 2014 convention will be celebrating the centennial anniversary of weird fiction author Robert Aickman’s birth in 1914. At the WFC, there will be four panels dedicated to Aickman: Ghost Stories Without Ghosts, Ringing the Changes: Robert Aickman, Gender Issues and Sexuality in Robert Aickman’s Fiction, and The Great Author You Are Not Reading: Robert Aickman. There are some big names heading up these panels too — Peter Straub, S.T. Joshi, Simon Strantzas, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and more. Also, they’ll be showing a 13-minute movie adaptation of “The Cicerones” and a new 45-minute documentary on Robert Aickman put together by Tartarus Press. Tartarus posted a trailer for “Robert Aickman, Author of Strange Stories” earlier this week.

For those new to Aickman, Robert Aickman was an author of he called “strange stories.” He wrote over thirty of them in his lifetime. Aickman had a huge influence on weird fiction. His tales masterfully created a feeling of dread and the atmosphere was often a main focus of each story. His stories were beautifully constructed with prose that could rival other great writers like Vladimir Nabokov. The BBC recently presented a program in June about Robert Aickman which serves as an excellent introduction to Aickman. And R. B. Russell also posted a five part series of videos from a recent conference called “Intrusions: Looking after Aickman,” which is rather informative for fans both new and old.

The Beautiful Thing that Awaits Us AllAickman’s cenntennial won’t be the only thing for Weird fans to get excited about though. There are four fantastic collections up for the award of best collection at the World Fantasy Convention. Beloved weird author Caitlín R. Kiernan was nominated for The Ape’s Wife and Other Stories – a fantastic collection that validates Kiernan’s role as one of weird fiction’s most talented living writers. Also on the short list is another excellent work by established weird writer Laird Barron called The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All and Other StoriesPerhaps the nomination most influenced by Aickman would be the collection Flowers of the Sea by Reggie Oliver — a beautiful and well-crafted set of tales from an amazing writer. Finally, the incredible debut collection North American Lake Monsters from relative newcomer Nathan Ballingrud is nominated as well. All of the collections up for the award are superb so it should be interesting to see who gets the award. It definitely will be an amazing convention this year.