Introducing Two Weird Scifi Stories from Serge Brussolo

Today we are very pleased to print two works by French writer Serge Brussolo (1951 — ). The first story “Son of Sulfur” (“Soleil de soufre”) originally appeared in the 1980 collection Vue en coupe d’une ville malade, while “Funnyway” (“Funnyway”) first appeared in the 1978 anthology Futurs au present (ed. Philippe Curval).

Although less known in the English-speaking world, Brussolo has produced over 200 books in his native France and is considered a national treasure among speculative fiction fans. Unfortunately, as of today, only one of his novels, The Deep Sea Diver’s Syndrome, has been published in English. It was translated by Edward Gauvin (who also translated the two stories we’re running today) and was released in 2016 by Melville House.

While Brussolo’s work has often been categorized as science fiction, it often straddles the lines between horror, thriller, and fantasy. In his work, you’ll likely find elements of the fantastique as well as influences that range from J.G. Ballard to André Breton. We hope you enjoy these stories and we hope that we may see more Brussolo available in English in the future.

Erik Simon on Alfred Leman’s “Two Episodes”

It’s pretty rare to see science fiction from Germany much less from the German Democratic Republic (aka East Germany). Today we’re featuring a weird scifi story called “Two Episodes” from GDR writer Alfred Leman (1925 – 2015). This story combines two episodes from Leman’s second short story collection, Der unsichtbare Dispatcher. We asked translator Erik Simon, a German science fiction writer and editor in his own right, about Alfred Leman, Leman’s work, and science fiction in Germany.

Weird Fiction Review: What was Leman’s life like before he became a writer?

Erik Simon: Leman was born in 1925 in Nordhausen and spent his whole life in Thuringia, except a short time around the end of World War II when he was first as a soldier and then as a POW. After returning from an American/British prison camp, he became a teacher, later he studied biology and chemistry in Jena where he spent the whole rest of his life, and earned a diploma (then the German equivalent to a MSc) and a doctor’s degree in biology. He then worked in the Research Department of Carl Zeiss Jena, a rather important optics company, till 1985 when he was allowed to retire for reasons of fragile health. So he never was a full-time writer.

WFR: Can you give us an overview of Leman’s work as an author? What sort of works did Leman write?

ES: His first two books, co-written with two collegues, were scientific textbooks on botanics, still in use at the Universities today. All his fiction is strictly SF: two story collections (1973, 1980), two novels (1986, 1991), and a number of stories published in anthologies which would make up at least one more collection. The first story collection, The Gift from the Transsolarian Guestswritten together with Hans Taubert, one of Leman’s collaborators on the textbooks, was very important for the development of SF in the German Democratic Republic – it was, in fact, the first SF story collection of any quality, and it was international quality right from the start. All the following books and stories were written by Leman alone, without much change in themes, quality, or style. The second collection, The Invisible Dispatcher, contains what I consider Leman’s best story (rather a novellette), „The Revision“; SF criticism in the GDR generally shared this opinion.

Most of Leman’s SF (not all) is centered around two themes: encounters with alien life forms (not necessarily intelligent) or with their traces, and life in a highly computerized and automated near-future world that has become so complex that for the individual, it is almost stochastic and unpredictable except in tems of probability. (No cyberpunk, though.) There is a slight shift from the first theme that dominates in the story collections towards the second theme that becomes more prominent in the novels and the later stories. Biological complexity appears in several of the early stories, but with centering on social complexity rather, the novels themselves grew more complex. The first novel, Black Flowers on Barnard 3, combines not only both themes but also novel and short stories: An interstellar spaceship dumps a group of astronauts together with tons of equipment on the third planet of Barnard’s star simply too loose weight. The people must not explore the planet, their only task is to sit in their camp and wait till the ship will come along on its way back and take them aboard again. Against their will they get into trouble – namely, into contact with the planet’s intelligent aboriginals who are quite different from people not only biologically but even more so psychically. Inserted into this main novel plot are several episodes that might be stand-alone short stories as well, each telling a story from the former life of one of the astronauts, displaying rather different themes of their own but also adding to the protagonist’s character as it shows itself in the main plot.

WFR: How does “Two Episodes” fit in with his oeuvre both historically and thematically?

ES: It appeared in Leman’s second story collection, and it fits in well in both respects except for its form, a kind of stream of consciousness all in one paragraph. Especially the second episode is a kind of highly condensed Leman story. There is a third such miniature in the collection which, at least thematically, in fact can be considered a condensed version of the title story in The Gift from the Transsolarian Guests. All other Leman stories are written in a more traditional style, but in the same very quiet, unexcited tone, only hinting at certain facts and at the protagonists’ thoughts and reasons.

WFR: Have other works by Leman been translated into English or is “Two Episodes” a first?

ES: No translations into English, at least not to my knowledge. Quite a lot of his stories were reprinted in (West) German anthologies in the seventies and eighties (a few even appeared there for the first time), and translated in Eastern (including Eastern Central) Europe.

WFR: In “Two Episodes,” Leman mentions Stanisław Lem and Kurt Vonnegut. What authors influenced or may have influenced Leman’s work?

ES: From the second collection on (and possibly earlier) the influence of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky can be felt. The possible influence of Anglo-American SF on Leman must have been quite limited for the simple reason that very few of it appeared in the German Democratic Republic before the mid-seventies, original books from the West were not sold in the GDR, and for most of the time their import was simply prohibited. In their condensed form, the Two Episodes may be influenced by stories from Herbert W. Franke’s collection The Green Comet; a few of them appeared in the GDR in 1974, and 16 more in 1978. They cannot possibly have influenced the stories in the first collection, but in fact that collection by Leman & Taubert did for SF in the GDR what Franke’s stories had done about ten years ealier for the SF of (West) Germany and Austria: they established a paragon of stories full of the sense of wonder.

There are similarities between Leman’s SF and some stories by Bradbury (the kind we have in The Illustrated Man) or, say, by Le Guin (stories only, not her novels). In the case of Bradbury, there may have been some influence as well, while Le Guin was published too late in the GDR to influence Leman.

A clear but very limited influence can be traced in the title story of the second collection: „The Invisible Dispatcher“ is, as Leman himself stated in a postscript to the story, a SF version of „The Invisible Japanese“ by Graham Greene: the plot is quite exactly the same, with a rather strange alien life form appearing instead of the Japanese tourists, and going completely unnoticed by the protagonist who all the time boasts beeing such a great observer.

WFR: I’m interested to know more about German speculative fiction. Who were Leman’s contemporaries? How does German scifi/fantasy works differ from American/British ones (if at all)? 

ES: First of all I must say that I am more interested in short stories than in novels, so I tend to see things from that point of few. Second, SF in the German language consists of four parts: pre-war, SF in the Federal Republic of Germany and Austria till 1990 (the two forming a single marked) opposed to SF in the GDR, and SF in Germany and Austria since 1990. The four sections show different features, a common feature is that German SF (and later, fantasy) was and is much more oriented towards novels instead of short stories. There never was any fully professional SF magazine in the German language (except for several short-lived attempts).

Post-war German SF has been shaped more or less according to patterns of Anglo-American SF. This is, to some extend, true even for the SF in the GDR, where the influence was indirect and came later, namely, via Russian SF which, in turn, was influenced by a large number of American/British SF published in the Soviet Union in the sixties and early seventies. (Mainly the classical big names: Asimov Bradbury Clarke Simak Sheckley … Wells, of course, and a few less typical names like Vonnegut.) SF in the German language preserved, though, some more typical traits of European literature, including (sometimes) a less straight narrative, which in the best case results in more complexity, and in the worst, in a boring attitude of teaching morals. With a lot of “normal” stories in between, i.e. those in the tradition of Anglo-American magazine SF.

The most specific feature of GDR SF (in its best specimina only) was the existence of a specific type of reader: Life under censorship (sometimes rather liberal, sometimes rigid and entirely illogical) teaches the reader to read carefully, to look for hints, for meanings behind the surface of the narrative. It also increased interest in a kind of literature like SF which in fact very seldom criticised the official politics and ideology but quite often told of things far away from the official propaganda. SF in the GDR was a branch of literature not much respected, not much controlled by the state, not much important, and extremely popular with the readers.

German fantasy is quite different. Some of it simply apes the standards (Sword & Sorcery, etc.), and usually doesn’t do it well, but a few writers like Cornelia Funke have written some interesting things indeed. I am not qualified to discuss this in much detail, though.

WFR: Are there other notable German authors that may be of interest to speculative fiction fans?

ES: Sure, but this is a wide field, and a complex question. Have a look at the anthology The Black Mirror (ed. by Franz Rottensteiner, Wesleyan Univ. Press, 2008), this is the best overview to start with, but of course you cannot cover such a large field in one volume. For GDR SF the book’s main blind spot is Leman; other notable GDR writers not covered there are Gert Prokop and Bernd Ulbrich. For the period from 1990 on, important authors missing in that anthology include Karsten Kruschel and Heidrun Jänchen, both of the next generation after my own. Especially Heidrun was an incredibly good writer of SF short stories, but she seems to have fallen silent two years ago, probably disappointed by the fact that for about 15 years, no big publishing house has ever printed any new German SF short stories, so the entire field is limited now to semi-pro magazines and small press. Very small press, alas.

Women in Horror Month

WiHM8-Logo-Vert-Black-MFebruary 2017 marks the 8th annual Women in Horror Month. Over the years, Weird Fiction Review has supported countless women writers in the weird fiction community by publishing fiction and nonfiction pieces by and about women authors. To celebrate the 8th annual WiHM, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite horror short stories we’ve published by women writers since 2014.

In addition, you should also check out our nonfiction articles including our 101 Weird Writers series which features such women as Kelly Link and K.J. Bishop. And there’s also our list of 14 notable women writers of the Weird.

We hope you enjoy these and we look forward to bringing you many more stories crafted by talented women writers of the Weird.

Strange Scifi Summer

Henrique Alvim Corrêa illustration for War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

Henrique Alvim Corrêa illustration for War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve been posting a series of strange scifi stories this summer at Weird Fiction Review. These are stories that were uncovered by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer as they edited The Big Book of Science Fiction, out this year from Vintage Books.

So far we’ve posted stories by two early-20th-century German fantasists Paul Scheerbart and Karl Hans Strobl. The first story, “The New Abyss” by Scheerbart, tells the story of a strange alien planet called Klips whose inhabitants watch as the planet becomes consumed by an abyss, while Strobl’s “The Triumph of Mechanics” recounts the tale of a town whose toy factory creates a small legion of toy rabbit replicas.

Next week, we’re featuring an interview with translators James and Marian Womack who translated a combined eight stories for The Big Book of Science Fiction. To accompany their interview, we’ll also be posting two stories: “The Ruins of Granada” by Ángel Ganivet, translated from Spanish by Marian Womack, and “The Day of Wrath” by Sever Ganovsky, translated from Russian by James Womack.

Lastly, we just wanted to mention a story we posted in 2015 called “Mutation Planet” by Barrington J. Bayley. It’s an excellent piece of weird science fiction by an author who has another story in The Big Book of Science Fiction called “Sporting with the Chid.”

We hope you’re enjoying our exploration of strange scifi and we should have a story or two more before summer is over so be sure to keep checking back.

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!