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.

Finding Truths in Weird Fiction: Discussing Jeff VanderMeer's "The Uncanny Power of Weird Fiction"

“Here, in what is actually our infancy of understanding the world — this era in which we think we are older than we are — it is cathartic to seek out and tell stories that do not seek to reconcile the illogical, the contradictory, and often instinctual way in which human beings perceive the world, but instead accentuate these elements as a way of showing us as we truly are. Unruly. Unruled. Superstitious. Absurd. Subject to a thousand destabilizing fears and hopes.”

If you haven’t read Jeff VanderMeer’s article today for The Atlantic, “The Uncanny Power of Weird Fiction,” I highly recommend that you read it. It’s an excellent commentary on weird fiction and its importance in literature. I think one of the beautiful things about weird fiction is its ability to reveal new perspectives we might not ordinarily see — even in traditional forms of fiction. Jeff talks about some of the truths that he’s discovered while editing The Weird in his Atlantic article. To go along with Jeff’s article, I wanted to talk about some of the other stories in The Weird and some of the truths I discovered within them (and then ask you readers about what you’ve discovered while reading weird fiction).

Image courtesy of The Atlantic

Image courtesy of The Atlantic

One of my favorite stories from The Weird is Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Aleph.” It’s a story about a point in space that allows one to see everything in the universe from every angle at once. It’s an interesting but sorrowful commentary not on this weird spacial phenomenon but on memory and forgetfulness. At the end of the story, the narrator mentions the face of the woman he loved has begun to fade into the past. It’s a strange but sad truth that we forget the things we care about the most. Instead, we fill our minds with useless, trivial information like “some new brand or other of American cigarettes.” To some extent, we see this grim strangeness in “The Hospice,” which VanderMeer mentions.

In Ray Bradbury’s “The Crowd,” another personal favorite, we see the dehumanizing effects of being a member in a crowd. In Lucius Shepard’s “Shades,” we witness the devastating effects of war through a ghost story set it in Vietnam. In “The Belonging Kind” by William Gibson and John Shirley, we see the sort of social dynamics that govern us and how they change from place to place, group to group. The creature in the story adapts to its surroundings by disguising much like a chameleon and it consumes alcohol in order to live – the creature’s sociability essentially becomes its survivability. It makes begs the question though: how different is this creature from us humans?

From metaphysical prisons in “Little Lambs” to social dynamics in “Smoke Ghost,” I think every weird fiction reader could talk about truths and perspectives they’ve gained in reading weird fiction — perhaps even in The Weird. So leave us a comment below and tell us about what weird stories you’ve enjoyed and any new perspectives they’ve provided you about the world. Or feel free to leave any comments or thoughts you have on Jeff’s Atlantic article.

Read the “Uncanny Power of Weird Fiction” at The Atlantic

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.

Shadows & Tall Trees: Is this the end for one of the few weird fiction periodicals?

Shadows and Tall Trees 6Michael Kelly, editor and author, started Undertow Publications in 2009 with an anthology called Apparitions, but it was Shadows & Tall Trees, the publication that came out later that same year, for which Kelly is perhaps best known. Named after a chapter from Lord of the Flies, Shadows & Tall Trees is an annual series dedicated to publishing original weird, macabre, strange, and ghostly fiction. This year saw the sixth, and perhaps final, release in June. Originally the series was offered in the form of a slim 128-page print-on-demand book until a couple years ago when ChiZine Publications took over distribution. For 2014, the yearly volume was doubled to over 200 pages and offered as an ebook in addition to a regular print version.

The journal has received quite a bit of acclaim from authors like Ellen Datlow and Peter Straub. Straub called it “a smart, soulful, illuminating investigation of the many forms and tactics available to those writers involved in one of our moment’s most interesting and necessary projects, that of opening up horror literature to every sort of formal interrogation. It is a beautiful and courageous journal.” Fans have also responded favorably; Shadows & Tall Trees, Issue 6 has a 4.55 rating on Goodreads. Many of the stories from past volume have made their way into Best Of collections as well, and the journal has received some award attention too being a finalist for British Fantasy Award for Best Periodical/Magazine in 2011 and 2013.

Shadows and Tall Trees 5But acclaim doesn’t necessarily always translate into sales. Despite the positive response that S&TT has received, the sales have been lackluster. Kelly has said that he doubts he will recoup the costs he spent on printing volume six. As a result, the series has been put on hold indefinitely. It’s understandable though as Kelly has quite a few other obligations like his new Year’s Best Weird Fiction series and an upcoming Aickman tribute anthology.

Editor Michael Kelly has stated that he hopes to revive the series perhaps one day — but of course that’s dependent upon sales picking up. Nonetheless, Shadows & Tall Trees was one of the few periodicals out there dedicated to original weird fiction. It elicited an overwhelmingly favorable response from critics and fans — many of whom cited it as one of the best anthologies of the year. So it’s damn shame to hear that it’s on hold.

Farewell to WFR.com

As some of you possibly already know, I am no longer the managing editor here at Weird Fiction Review. I’ve stepped down from my duties, and our new managing editor David Davis has stepped up to claim them. There is no doubt in my mind that Davis will carry on the fantastic reputation of this site, and he will continue to acquire and feature some of the most imaginative, intelligent fiction, nonfiction and art out there. We will still have some of the best contributors in this industry, period. And, of course, Ann and Jeff VanderMeer are still editors-in-chief.

The reason for stepping down? Life beyond the Weird, basically. I’m currently enrolled in a PhD program for creative writing and literature at a major American university. Those of you in the midst of grad school, or those of you who have already gone through it, understand how challenging it can be, especially on the PhD level. (We’ve written about Kafka on this site before; life in academia itself often feels like something Kafka would have written.) With the obvious ongoing commitment to my academics, I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain my commitment to WFR.com as well.

I will always be proud of this site, and of our contributors and readers. Because of working for this site, I learned to be a better editor and writer, and I immersed myself in a body of literature and art that deserves to have a much bigger profile in the world at large. Our World Fantasy Award nomination in 2013 will always be a colossal point of pride for me, because it was a worthy recognition of all the hard work and talent invested by the people who worked here.

And a brief word on the topic of contributors, if I may. I sing the praises of our writers and columnists a lot, but this is the last time I’ll get to do it as an editor of this site, so to hell with it. Our contributors are, and have been, amazing. Edward Gauvin, Nancy Hightower, Matthew Pridham, Maureen Kincaid Speller, and Katie Lavers have been stellar for us, and I am deeply grateful for the work they’ve done. I’m just as thankful for the people who volunteered to serve as writers for our ongoing 101 Weird Writers feature: Desirina Boskovich, Leif Schenstead-Harris, Timothy Jarvis, Kat Clay, Elwin Cotman, Larry Nolen, Alistair Rennie, Sofia Samatar, James Machin, Lynne Jamneck, Brendan Connell, Lisa Hannett, Gio Clairval, and Jim Rockhill. None of that even includes all of the people I’ve interviewed for the site over the past few years, or the people whose stories and art we’ve published and reprinted, or Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, without whose guidance and confidence I would have been but a shadow of my professional and personal self.

All I can say is that I’m deeply thankful to all of these people, for making my job here such a pleasure. Not only did they make my job supremely easy, but they’ve also been wonderful colleagues, the kind I’d work with on any project, any day.

There will be future projects for me, of course. I’m not done with the Weird, and I’m not done with editorial work either. I’ll be back in one form or another, hopefully soon. For now, I’ll bow out and once again say thanks to all of the people I’ve mentioned, and to all of you reading this editorial and this site. In the words of a certain Number Six, from a favorite TV show of mine (and a delightfully weird work in its own right): “Be seeing you.”

Julio Cortázar’s “Headache”: A new translation for a centennial anniversary

Julio Cortazar full image

This year has seen a lot of anniversaries in weird fiction. First, there was the centennial anniversary of Robert Aickman, then the bicentennial of Sheridan Le Fanu, and now we’re celebrating the 100th year anniversary of Julio Cortázar (whose birthday was actually before Le Fanu’s birthday last month). Today though, Tor.com is featuring an all new translation from Cortázar. The short story “Cefalea” (or “Headache”) was acquired for Tor.com by Ann VanderMeer and translated by weird fiction author Michael Cisco. From the Tor website:

“Cefalea” or “Headache” was originally published in Cortázar’s collection Bestiaro in 1951. This is the first time it has been translated into English. The translator, Michael Cisco, is a writer of surreal and fantastical fiction and he brings the right sensibilities to this story.

As for how Cisco found the story and why he decided to translate it, Cisco writes:

I discovered this story by accident, having mistakenly purchased the Spanish edition of his collection Bestiario.  When I tried to collate its table of contents with my English edition of his stories, I found one tale, “Cefalea” unaccounted for.  I decided to try translating it for my own edification … now here we are.

For those unfamiliar with Cortázar, Julio Cortázar was an Argentine writer who is often considered one of the most influential Latin American writers of the 20th century along with Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel Garcia Márquez. Cortázar was born in Belgium to parents who were Argentine nationals; his family moved to Argentina though after World War I.

In 1947, Cortázar published his first short story, “Casa tomada” (“House Taken Over”), in a magazine edited by Jorge Luis Borges. Cortázar moved to Paris in the 1950’s where he worked as a translator and continued to write. In the 1960’s and 70’s, he became a prominent figure in the Latin American boom in Europe and America with works like Los premios (The Winners) and Rayuela (Hopscotch). Cortázar visited Argentinia regularly until his exile by the Argentine junta who had taken offense to several of his stories. He passed away in Paris in 1984.

While he has been known as a master of the short story, Cortázar’s novels and poetry have also received critical acclaim. Cortázar is probably best known though for his short stories, which have influenced countless generations of writers since. One such story, “Axolotl” is featured in The Weird compendium and was the subject of our 101 Weird Writers series entry for Cortázar.

Like “Axolotl,” in “Headache” we also find layered meanings and hidden subtexts. Additionally, it seems to include a partly autobiographical element as Cortázar was a sickly child and spent many hours in bed while growing up. One thing that VanderMeer noted was that while researching “Headache” she found that so few of the many short stories Cortázar wrote have been translated into English. Head over to Tor.com now and check out the new — and only — translation of “Headache.”

Read “Headache” by Julio Cortázar on Tor.com


The Guests, The Fasters, The Watchers: Prose Poems Inspired by George Widener: Part Two

Some people go to church on Sunday and some get in an airplane.  Sometimes both of them end up praying at the exact same second because the plane is going to crash.

—George Widener, “Sunday’s Crash”


No Loch Ness Monster Found

We dove deep into the hive, which had betrayed its sacrificial nature through a series of telegrams received in the capital.  It was no longer possible to attend the services of ash.  What I mistook for a frond insinuated itself in my nostrils; no nidor was ever so pleasant, nor as ripe for pillaging.  A vial of marvels flickered in and out on the dais, around which photography capered, dispelling the armor of the state.  My spirit was hidden in a pair of scissors, my fortune in an orange.  Redact this blue sky from every memory my soul has retailed, I instructed my servants.  I waited for sleep’s mask to extend like night onto the surface of the water.  Fur approached us, it glittered upon our necks like some dowsing instru­ment scrimshawed from poached ivory.  Winged creatures flew through vast quantities of water just to bring this sweetness to the prince’s lips.  I didn’t know him, having never lived in this world as a hunter.  You were my body, you sur­vived by travel when all the clocks were consigned to time’s brilliant enigma, you sang the visible echo, the immaculate comb.


Elvis (Not You)

O titanic wound through which biography flows, peel this apple with your scalpel-sharp nails.  I have brought it from the orchard of the soul’s iniquity where celebrity crouches, covering its gaudy genitals with its hair.  I purchased my sorrow from love’s garish kiosk and loaded it like a gun.  The forest is a fool­ishness but we enjoy its company, its broad eaves soughing in the breeze, its emerald lakes.  Around them childlessness coils its lithe and hungry body.  The animals watch from a safe distance, having shed their wings, which only some of them will regrow.  Every tree is a scar from which the chrism drips and we bottle it in this rowboat, which we paddle to the capital, half-capsized.  We will make a lot of money in the black light, sing the policemen on their syncopated beats.  If we try hard enough we can blend in among them, we can wear their darkened glasses.  I confess I never knew the names of all the living, when I moved among them.  Earth had me by the neck, death by the groin.  We made an awkward three-legged figure in the streets, each carrying the others’ crosses.


Dingo Baby Trial

At the edge of the rebirthing machine you tremble, holding out the pieces of your tongue in each palm as if somehow this could save you, could make something different.  You must have had a very large tongue for it to disassemble itself into so many pieces, which feel oddly heavy, as if they have somehow called gravity down to them, an invisible angel made of lead.  The surfaces have mostly dried so that they feel a little like sharkskin, when you shift your weight and can actually feel them as something more than weight, than presence.  From inside the rebirthing machine you can hear the faintest of musics, so faint you can’t be sure whether it’s a clas­sical aria, a pop song from your childhood, or perhaps merely the nonsensical twangle of an ice cream truck circling your neigh­borhood endlessly, suing for custom but unable or unwilling to stop for the children that stumble behind it, licking the blood from their dirty hands.


Mary Rose Lives Again

(But remember:  we are buried under all this humid air.  I fell in love with the marriage feast, the delirious passion of theft upon theft that made the city so much less a dress to me, a living thing playing out its own narrative against the beating of my six-chambered heart, a tent, a chord from which porters carried the gut­tural baggage of surrender to the gray ferry.  A dim loam surrounded me, but I recog­nized it for squander and instead built a golden scaffold, where I briefly paced and slept.  I was never tempted so much as when confronted with the lenity of beati­tudes, the residue of charity which dried and flaked against these mauve-ish prison walls.  Sheathing the blue flame against my thigh like a hunter’s knife I crept into the net, which glistened the way only mathematics glistens on the surface of abstract thought.  I touched it and was caught between worlds, both hand and voice half-lifted to the flag of absence bearing down on me from some great distance it would never absolutely cross even as the bride and groom left the darkening pavilion for the last time, their eyes little economies of scale my breath sank into, unrecoverable as a black box or a private script and just this once neither lusting nor spurning.)

Summer Solstice

Midway through my month of guest editorship here at WFR, with the summer solstice on the horizon, I thought I’d do a quick stock-taking. We’ve seen a mix of translations, original fiction, and nonfiction articles so far. I’ve been posting every other day, but this last week the content has ramped up in frequency and will stay at fever pitch for the rest of the month.

Last week began and ended with work from the French – not my own, but translations by Kit Schluter and Katie Assef, doing wunderkind Weird precursor Marcel Schwob and twisted Belgian fabulist Nadine Monfils, respectively. Last week also saw the highlight of a classic favorite by Kelly Link, courtesy of Adam Mills (all hail Adam Mills!) who until recently was WFR’s very capable managing editor (he will be sorely missed – is already, in fact). Then on Thursday we took a turn for horror humor with a gory vampire redneck tale from proud South Carolina native Grady Hendrix, and on Friday finished up with some delectably perverse doings in Venice.

This week at WFR, I am proud to present J.W. McCormack’s visionary short novella Backwater, serialized in three installments. McCormack grafts his heady, pyrotechnic prose to the Biblical backbone of a rip-roaring Armageddon adventure in a Weird update of deep Southern Gothic featuring snake preachers, Cajun gamblers, cult compounds, and teenage runaways – all narrated by Hell’s own anglerfish, who gleans life stories from souls as he digests them. This will be accompanied by images from J.K. Potter, well-known for his covers and art for Subterranean Press.

Backwater will appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, while Tuesday and Thursday will showcase an original sequence of weird prose poems by G.C. Waldrep inspired by the work of outsider artist George Widener.

Bringing the Weirdness,


2013 Shirley Jackson Award Nominees

159767This week on Weird Fiction Review, we’re giving our best congratulations to this year’s Shirley Jackson Award nominees! As many of you might already know, this year’s nominees were announced earlier this month. The SJAs have a history of spotlighting talented authors and noteworthy writing, and this year is no exception. Like last year as well, many of the nominated authors are friends of WFR and have had their material featured on this site in the past year. Of particular note is the fact that three of the authors considered under Single-Author Collection – Will Ludwigsen (for In Search Of and Others), Nathan Ballingrud (North American Lake Monsters), and Kit Reed (The Story Until Now) – had stories from their nominated collections reprinted on our site since last year.

And now, we can add a fourth author to that list: Christopher Barzak. We’ve just reprinted “A Resurrection Artist” from his collection Before and Afterlives, published last year by Lethe Press. Barzak is a master of fantasy with a strong grasp of character and language, and oftentimes his writing possesses a glimmer of supernatural weirdness to it. “A Resurrection Artist” is an excellent demonstration of Barzak’s ability as an author and the quality of his collection as a whole. It asks a strange, yet fundamental question of his characters – what can we make of death when it’s conquered? – while making the process and state of deathliness glimmer with strangeness, shock, and even beauty.

before and afterlives

Once again, best of luck to all the SJA nominees this year, and we hope that all of our readers acquaint themselves with Barzak’s story and collection, just as we hope they do the same for all of this year’s honored writers and stories.

The King in Yellow on WFR.com

This week on Weirdfictionreview.com, we’re spotlighting a legacy of weird fiction that has been gaining an increasingly strong foothold in the public consciousness: the King in Yellow Mythos, created in the late 19th century by American writer Robert W. Chambers. Through his short story collection The King in Yellow, Chambers gifted our literature with several enduring touchstones: the titular character himself, a mysterious being commonly depicted in yellow robes; the kingdom of Carcosa, an ancient, cursed city lying beyond our everyday perspective of time and place, on the shores of Lake Hali; and a cursed play inspired by (and written by?) the king himself and title after him, which drives its readers to madness, strange visions, and other things.


We’ve wanted to run some material on the King in Yellow Mythos for a while, for several reasons. It’s a hugely influential thread of weird fiction, which has inspired and continues to inspire many writers and readers alike. The stories themselves have also held up amazingly well. “The Yellow Sign” is still a spooky, ethereal story with the ability to unsettle readers through its unique imagery and ability to suggest horrors and figments of the imagination that take hold and don’t let go, which is why we’ve chosen to reprint it on site this week.

We’re also reprinting two other stories: “An Inhabitant of Carcosa” by Ambrose Bierce and “Carl Lee and Cassilda” by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. With his eerie story, Bierce introduced the concept of the lost city of Carcosa, laying the groundwork for Chambers to take that setting and make further magnificent literature of it. Pulver in turn updates the King in Yellow Mythos with his take on a serial killer seeking a lover’s communion with a woman named Cassilda, who readers familiar with the mythos will recognize from “Cassilda’s Song,” an excerpt from the play The King in Yellow that prefaces a story in the collection of the same name:

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen

In Carcosa.

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies,
But stranger still is

Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in

Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead,
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in

Lost Carcosa.

The King in Yellow Mythos has gained many new readers in the past few weeks, thanks to its incorporation into the central mystery of the acclaimed HBO dramatic series True Detective, written by Nic Pizzolatto, himself a fan and avid reader of both weird fiction (he has cited site favorites Laird Barron, John Langan, Thomas Ligotti, and Simon Strantzas in interviews, among others) and pessimistic philosophy (a touchstone for him is Ligotti’s thought-provoking and perhaps disturbing book-length treatise The Conspiracy Against the Human Race). Regardless of how True Detective resolves itself, and regardless of whether the one and only King in Yellow of Chambers’s work is at the heart of it, the literature that Chambers created (with an assist from Bierce) will carry on for quite some time.

We want to draw the attention of WFR readers to this interview that Justin Steele of Arkham Digest conducted with Pulver about the King in Yellow, the writing of Robert W. Chambers, and Pulver’s own involvement with the mythos as a writer and editor. It’s well worth listening to, whether you’re a neophyte to the King in Yellow or a seasoned reader, to gain valuable insight into the literature and how it differs from other strains of weird fiction (don’t call it Lovecraftian, for instance; it didn’t inspire Lovecraft’s writing so much as he was just a fan of it). Be sure to follow the link to Arkham Digest as well for a useful King in Yellow-centric reading list. And, of course, make sure to read the stories we have here this week!