The Story Until Now by Kit Reed

storyuntilnow-210Back in March, Wesleyan University Press published The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories, a collection of Kit Reed’s best short fiction, ranging chronologically from 1958 to 2013. These stories serve as a fitting testament to Reed’s abilities over the course of her career. Her work isn’t difficult to classify, but that’s primarily because she has already provided her own classification: “transgenre.” Some of the stories in this particular collection are straightforwardly fantastical or science fictional, but more often they simply feel fantastical or weird without exhibiting explicit genre characteristics many may be familiar with (aside from the occasional zombie or Bigfoot sighting).

Some of the best stories in The Story Until Now showcase Reed’s talent for taking familiar (and sometimes cliché) topoi and situations and twisting or interrogating them, either exposing the assumptions lying at their foundations or renovating them outright. A particular highlight is “High Rise High,” a tale of a high school overthrown by its disgruntled students in the near future; politicians plot secret bombings, government agents infiltrate the school in disguise, and everyone, kid and adult alike, still worries about the prom at the end, where they think all their dreams will either come true or fail miserably. The story is on one level dystopian SF, of course, but it’s also a parody of stories of high school angst and rebellion, while at the same time asking readers why they enjoy these kinds of stories and the often less-than-realistic climaxes and endings they offer. (Which brings up another key trait of Reed’s stories: like it or not, the reader will often get dragged into the fray with the characters.)

The unique brand of weirdness in Reed’s writing, which I previously mentioned, is a type of weirdness not tied to a particular genre. Rather, it’s a weirdness of perspective, a knack for finding the strangest, most faithful way of inhabiting a character’s head and plumbing the depths for the things that are both surprising and compelling, things we wouldn’t think to look for without Reed pointing them out. In “Special,” which we’ve reprinted this week for our fiction feature, Reed has, on the most rudimentary surface reading, a story of a celebrity coming to a small town, its inhabitants gone starry-eyed with the possibility of becoming her newest best friends. Such a premise could easily serve as fodder for sitcoms and romantic comedies. In Reed’s hands, however, this story is sharply satirical, dissecting in equal measure the mysterious and seemingly vapid Ashley Famous (part religious prophet, part tabloid star) and the fawning, obsessive townspeople, exposing the core strangeness of all participants. The town dynamics become subtly, increasingly creepy, building up to a surprisingly dark finale that’s truer to our conception of celebrity and fandom than we may realize.

In Reed’s hands, more often than not, people are the weirdest things of all, and the things they do, say, and think. She excels at depicting the conflicts and bizarre turns of relationships between parents and children and between husbands and wives. Reed is also superb at dissecting gender and how gender politics restrict and affect both men and women (her feminist SF story “Songs of War,” where the wives and daughters of a small town form a militia to fight for their independence, is definitely the prime representative of this theme in the collection). She also has a knack for honestly depicting the experienced strangeness of adolescence and sexual awakening and awareness. All of this is filtered through what I would consider a Reed-esque viewpoint, that of a true skeptic: incisive and satirical, with an eye for the absurd, but also surprisingly honest and fair, with a willingness to try different perspectives and invest them with a sense of authenticity and personal belief.

I highly recommend picking up a copy of The Story Until Now and reading it cover to cover. Reed is a masterful writer with a unique voice who can, and will, adapt to whatever story she tells. Give yourself plenty of time to read this collection, though. These stories create and inhabit their own worlds and characters in and of themselves, generating not one overarching shared milieu but many individual ones, and so every story deserves to be read on its own terms.

The Flesh Made Weird: The Zombie Bible on WFR.com

This week on Weirdfictionreview.com, we’re featuring Strangers in the Land, the most recent installment in the Zombie Bible series written by Stant Litore, published by 47North. Other books in the series include Death Has Come Up Into Our Windows and What Our Eyes Have Witnessed, all of which are available in trade paperback and e-book form.

Doubtlessly, WFR readers are familiar with zombies in film, through classic movies like Night of the Living Dead and popular TV shows such as The Walking Dead (itself based on an acclaimed comic book series). Zombie fiction seems to enjoy less public visibility overall than zombie film, but that hasn’t stopped books like Max Brooks’s World War Z from becoming bestsellers. Unfortunately, sometimes zombie stories and their inherent monsters fall into the pit of cliché, as any other popular horror trope does at some point or another, until it is reinvigorated or innovated in some way (the line between iconic and cliché can occasionally be too thin for comfort).

That said, there is a strong degree of overlap between the best of zombie stories and the appeal and effects of weird fiction. Consider the zombie story in its perhaps most essential form: the human body made alien; the flesh in revolt against itself; the negation of life and the uprising of something else we don’t understand; the feeding of once-human upon still-human, a deeply transgressive and terrifying act for many. At an existential, deep-gut level, zombie stories can be profoundly unsettling. I’m thinking of Night of the Living Dead, with the zombified little girl devouring the flesh of her father, unthinking, operating on an instinct foreign and frightening to us.

NotldKC

Scene from Night of the Living Dead (1968)

That kind of existential concern with zombies and what they mean to us is very much at the heart of Strangers in the Land and the rest of the stories in the Zombie Bible series. The threat of the undead, in the context of these particular stories, is at the heart of ancient Hebrew society. Rules of kosher living and cleanliness are created and refined as consequence to living with the undead, as are burial rites. And, at times, the existence of the undead in the first place makes characters question their relationships with God and what kind of role He has in mind for them and the undead in the first place. In a world created and ruled by an omniscient being, does the existence of zombies betray the possibly indifferent or even malignant nature of God, or does it suggest something else entirely? What does the afterlife even mean if your body can be reanimated against your will?

Strangers-in-the-LandStrangers in the Land and the other installments in the Zombie Bible series are well worth checking out. By transplanting zombie tropes and traditions to Biblical stories and characters, both elements are equally invigorated with creativity and relevance. The tone of the stories is appropriately apocalyptic, which takes on an even greater intensity given the faith of the characters and the setting. There is added value as a reader if you are familiar with the Bible and the characters used wherein (Strangers in the Land takes its cue from Judges 4 and the story of Deborah), but that book and the series as a whole isn’t written from an evangelical viewpoint. Instead, it treats the Biblical figures it utilizes as round characters with their own hopes, fears, and desires; their faith is important to them, naturally, and even plays a key role in their fear of the undead, but the reader does not need to share their faith to become engrossed in their stories.

We hope you enjoy the exclusive excerpt we’ve posted from Strangers in the Land, “Navi,” in addition to our interview with the author about his work on the Zombie Bible series and his impressions of weird fiction and horror, among other things. Strangers in the Land, like the other books in its series, is a standalone story that can be read independent from the installments before it, but do be sure to check out the other books if you enjoy this one.

2012 Shirley Jackson Award Nominees

Earlier today, the Shirley Jackson Award nominees were announced. Our deepest congratulations to all nominees! Many of them are friends of WFR and have even had their material featured on this site in the past year or two. We’d love to bring special attention to two nominees in particular:

Both of these pieces were featured on WFR back in 2012 and are still available to read, if you haven’t had the chance to do so yet.

159767The 2012 Shirley Jackson Awards will be presented on Sunday, July 14th at ReaderCon 24 in Burlington, Massachusetts. The ReaderCon 24 Guest of Honor, Maureen McHugh, will host the awards ceremony. More information on the nominees and the awards ceremony and history can be found at the Shirley Jackson Awards organization website.

Best wishes to Kiernan and Muir! We’re delighted to have had the chance to feature their work, and we hope everyone has had the chance to read it and enjoy it. Best of luck once more to all of the nominees as well!

This Week: Nike Sulway and Rupetta

This week on Weirdfictionreview.com, we’re featuring the work of Australian writer Nike Sulway. Her latest novel, Rupetta, was published earlier this year by Tartarus Press in a limited hardback edition and a more widely available e-book version, both of which are available for purchase from Tartarus’s website.

rupettaRupetta is a singular work of fiction that should be of interest to readers of the Weird. In terms of genre, it deftly blends elements of fantasy and science fiction in such a fashion that it cannot be exclusively termed as either. There are self-conscious automatons that enact rituals of “Wynding” with their human guardians, creating a kind of psychic link that imprints one upon the other in the process. There are humans that surgically carve out their own hearts and replace them with mechanical ones, as a kind of historical society and religion rolled into one (indeed, in the world of the novel, history itself becomes a kind of religion, and the reader is reminded of the power and vulnerability of both throughout). The novel itself features a book-length quest on the titular character’s part that feels truly global, encountering distinct geographies and cultures along the way, invoking a similar feel as what one might encounter reading a work of secondary fantasy.

The truest strengths of the novel, however, lie in its more elemental characteristics, which imbue whatever concepts or tropes Sulway decides to use with uncommon grace and resonance. Rupetta and Henri, the dual narrators, are deeply felt, and their narrative voices are rendered in evocative epistolary prose that weaves around itself, supporting, clarifying, and contradicting wherever necessary. Beyond and below even that, the novel itself is driven and enhanced by a strong sense of existential questioning: What is a soul? What is a person? And what causes some to reach sentience and consciousness while others don’t? The excerpt we’ve featured from Rupetta this week, “The Miracle of Consciousness,” shows these questions sprouting in the beginning of the novel, and the beginning of Rupetta’s story proper. It also demonstrates, in a subtly weird way, just how much of a marvel and a mystery consciousness and selfhood really is.

Those who enjoy the excerpt from Rupetta should definitely check out our interview with Sulway, where she explains the impetus behind her novel and various writers and stories that motivated her in its writing, in addition to more general insights into her favorite kinds of stories, her love of fairy tales, and other things. While you’re on the site this week, make sure to also read Edward Gauvin’s latest column, this time a profile of a likewise weird, genre-bending novel by French writer Serge Brussolo.

The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage

To put it simply, Margaret Brundage is a legend. Her sensual, transgressive covers for Weird Tales are among the most memorable of the pulp era, and through them she set a new standard for pulp art. Her work was sui generis in its time and still very much feels that way, possessing an intangible spirit of the artist that many continue to adore. And yet, beyond her art, for a long time Brundage herself has remained a mystery many fans have wished to solve, partly because of the greatness of her art and partly because of the secrecy surrounding much of her life beyond it.

alluring-art-margaret-brundage-queen-pulp-pin-up-stephen-d-korshak-paperback-cover-artEnter The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage, compiled by Stephen D. Korshak and J. David Spurlock, which will be released May 15 this year. Part art book, part biography, this monograph collects all of Brundage’s covers for Weird Tales alongside previously unpublished pictures, paintings, and sketches. The art portion of the book will be no surprise to fans of Brundage, nor does it need to be: it is a joy to see all of her covers collected in one place, in fantastic quality. The insight into the method of her art is more than welcome, however, as we get to see how she built her covers from sketches and possible photographic references.

What’s truly surprising (and impressive) about this book is the plethora of research divulged by the various contributors, most notably in co-editor Spurlock’s essay “The Secret Life of Margaret Brundage,” which unifies previously unknown details about the artist’s life, especially her rich and complex family life, with important historical context. Spurlock hints at this in our interview with him this week, as he points out how Brundage was heavily involved in several important countercultural movements of the 1920s and 30s – the Dil Pickle Club, Bronzeville, the International Workers of the World – alongside her husband, Slim Brundage; together, the two of them were active players within the larger labor movement in politics at the time. Throughout the book, these glimpses into the previously unseen parts of Brundage’s life fill the gaps in our understanding of her in unexpected and poignant ways. They provide valuable context for her art, but they also show us how Brundage herself and her actions beyond her art are just as important.

Those interested in Margaret Brundage, the art of the Weird Tales era, and pulp art in general would be well advised to visit Vanguard Publications to read more about this book and pre-order it. Vangaurd is offering three different versions of this book – softcover, hardcover, and a deluxe hardcover limited edition with additional, exclusive material. Regardless of your preferred edition, this book is a strong investment and a fitting tribute to one of weird fiction’s greatest artists.

Brundage PR covers

This Week: K.J. Bishop and That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote

This week on Weirdfictiorneview.com, we’re featuring the work of Australian writer K.J. Bishop. Readers of The Weird and this site are hopefully no strangers to her work; her novel, The Etched City, is regarded as a neo-Decadent classic of urban fantasy, and her story “Saving the Gleeful Horse” is collected in The Weird. Her new collection of short fiction and poetry, That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote, has been available in the Amazon Kindle Store since last December and is newly available in trade paperback form via CreateSpace.

mad_ancestor_createspace_yb_finalThose who have read The Etched City and Bishop’s short fiction can attest to the fluidity of her prose and the vibrant strangeness of her imagination, equally surreal, absurd, and lush. Reading Mad Ancestor in a single flush, however, or even reading it with focus over the course of two or three days, is a surprising experience. There is, of course, the influence of surrealism and Decadent literature that manifests in highlights such as “Maldoror Abroad,” “We the Enclosed,” and “Saving the Gleeful Horse.” From there, though, readers may find themselves in the realm of posthuman singularity via “Beach Rubble,” or the post-apocalyptic animal warfare of “The Heart of a Mouse,” or the deal-with-the-devil metafiction of “Between the Covers.” It’s entirely possible to start with one story, flip to another at random, and find oneself in startlingly different territories altogether.

This kind of  stylistic variety is why it’s so important to read the whole of Mad Ancestor, to understand that what we have in Bishop is someone capable of writing just about anything that comes to mind, and not just that but writing it wonderfully. That same variety makes the selection of one story from the collection for reprinting here at WFR.com a sad dilemma; there’s no hope of demonstrating the full spread of her ability with just one example. That said, we’ve reprinted her story “The Love of Beauty” in hopes of pursuing that end. Readers should also check out our interview with Bishop as well, which provides some additional context for that story and others from Mad Ancestor, among other things. We also have a new column from regular contributor Edward Gauvin, returning to the work of French fantasist Noël Devaulx, who Gauvin more than ably profiled earlier this year on this site.

We hope you enjoy our material this week, and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for more fantastic material from our regular contributors and featured writers in the weeks to come!

Fungi Week on WFR.com

This week on Weirdfictionreview.com, we’re featuring material in honor of Innsmouth Free Press’s recently published anthology Fungi, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Orrin Grey. As you might guess, this anthology is devoted to stories concerning all varieties of mushrooms and fungi in starring or supporting roles.

Fungi_coverAs the editors put it in their introduction to the anthology, “We wanted to go beyond body horror and Hodgson-esque mushroom people to explore the range of possibilities offered by fungal fiction.” The stylistic diversity in this anthology is quite impressive as a result, zooming between dark fantasy, fungal steampunk, hallucinogenic journeys, otherworldly science fiction, and yes, flat-out weird fiction. Equally impressive is the roster of authors, including former WFR.com site contributors such as John Langan, Jesse Bullington (co-writing with Molly Tanzer), Paul Tremblay, Lisa Bradley, Nick Mamatas, Simon Strantzas, and site co-founder Jeff VanderMeer.

We’ve reprinted A.C. Wise’s story from Fungi this week, “Where Dead Men Go to Dream,” a heartbreaking, hallucinogenic story of fungal oracles and the difficulty of letting go of loved ones. We also have an interview with Moreno-Garcia and Grey, talking about their anthology and what led to its inception, as well as some possible further steps for readers interested in more fungal-inspired stories.

Meanwhile , we also have a new art gallery this week, courtesy of mycologist and photographer Taylor Lockwood. His travels all across the world in pursuit of documenting the beautiful and strange world of fungi have led to some stunning results, as our selection of his photographs will show. We strongly encourage all of our readers to peruse the gallery and then visit Lockwood’s site to examine his extensive body of work.

This Week: Will Ludwigsen and Caitlín R. Kiernan

This week on Weirdfictionreview.com, we’re featuring the work of American writer Will Ludwigsen. His newest collection of short fiction, In Search Of and Others, is forthcoming in March of this year from Lethe Press and has already gathered strong critical praise from sources such as Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.

17247288The story we’ve reprinted on the site this week from In Search Of, “Remembrance is Something Like a House,” in an apt demonstration of Ludwigsen’s knack for strange situations and concepts drawn to life with clever, realistic detail. It is a story of an abandoned house that attempts to trek across the United States to reach the last survivors of the family that previously lived in it. Suffice it to say the house is a more than capable protagonist, with its own demons to exorcise. In this manner, “House” creates a sense of the weird and strange that is at the same time deeply personal, exploring character as much as it does an increasingly strange and sad mystery. Readers should be sure to check out our interview with Ludwigsen as well, where he gives us generous insight into his creative process and his views on weird fiction, among other things.

We also have the latest installment of 101 Weird Writers, courtesy of regular contributor Desirina Boskovich, devoted to Caitlín R. Kiernan. Using Kiernan’s short story from The Weird, “A Redress for Andromeda,” as a focal point for her reading and analysis, Boskovich has conducted an in-depth examination of the power and imagination of Kiernan’s writing and detected within it a certain unique quality:

…despite the staying power of these stories, there’s something slippery about them, too; as much as they hold onto you, it can be impossible to get a hold on them.

We’ve got more great material still to come in the weeks ahead here at WFR.com, including features devoted to the Fungi anthology from Innsmouth Free Press and fiction from Michael Cisco, in addition to articles and essays from our stellar regular columnists and contributors.

Jagannath Wins the Crawford Award

By now, this bit of news is about a week old, but it’s so great we have to share it with our readers again here: Karin Tidbeck’s collection Jagannath won the 2013 Crawford Memorial Award! This award is presented annually by the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts for an outstanding first fantasy book.

Jagannath book cover-BN

All of us here at Weirdfictionreview.com are delighted for Tidbeck and her award. We’re all huge fans of her writing in general and Jagannath in particular. She also joins some stellar company in receiving this award, such as Genevieve Valentine (for Mechanique in 2012), Karen Lord (for Redemption in Indigo in 2011), and Jedediah Berry (for The Manual of Detection in 2010). The award will be presented on March 23 during the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Orlando, Florida.

Deepest of congratulations are due for Tidbeck, as well as everyone who made the shortlist for the Crawford Award this year, including Rachel Hartman (for Seraphina), Saladin Ahmed (Throne of the Crescent Moon), Roz Kaveney (Rituals: Rhapsody of Blood, Volume One) and Kiini Ibura Salaam (Ancient, Ancient: Short Fiction).

We heartily recommend that everyone who hasn’t read it yet check out Tidbeck’s story here on WFR, “Brita’s Holiday Village,” which is included in Jagannath. Be sure to check out our other features this week, including Edward Gauvin’s latest column and an article and interview from contributor Katie Lavers about artist and animator Jake Fried.

This Week: Helen Marshall and Jamaica Kincaid

This week on Weirdfictionreview.com, we’re featuring the work of Canadian writer Helen Marshall. Her debut collection of short fiction, Hair Side, Flesh Side, was released by ChiZine Publications in November 2011 to strong critical acclaim. Marshall is no stranger to acclaim or quality writing, as demonstrated by her previous Aurora Award-winning poetry collection Skeleton Leaves.

side_coverThe story we’ve chosen to reprint on the site this week, “The Mouth, Open,” is in many ways an ideal demonstration of Marshall’s talents as a writer, which makes it a great introduction to her work. It is a story of a lonely man in a strange land, finding himself undergoing a transformation both bizarre and aptly reflective of his own individual pathos. To say any more would spoil the experience of the story, but suffice it to say that Marshall’s dark, knotted imagination is more than paralleled by her grasp of character and what makes people tick… and what makes them ache. In addition to “The Mouth, Open,” we’ve also run an interview with Marshall, which provides ample insight into the writer’s views on her writing, among many other things.

Those who enjoy the story should strongly consider picking up a copy of Hair Side, Flesh Side, which also carries the distinction of being a beautifully assembled book, courtesy of ChiZine and also the artist who provided the interior work for the collection, Chris Roberts. The art within is appropriately distinctive and macabre, fitting perfectly alongside Marshall’s fictions.

Meanwhile, in the latest installment of 101 Weird Writers, our newest contributor Leif Schenstead-Harris has conducted a close reading of the work of Jamaica Kincaid, circling around her story from The Weird (“My Mother”) in particular, leaving us with a unique entry point into the work of a writer who has stronger connections to the realm of weird fiction and unreality than readers may realize.

In the weeks ahead, we will run select material from Will Ludwigsen’s upcoming short story collection, In Search Of and Others, and the Fungi anthology, edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Orrin Grey, alongside interviews with our featured writers and editors. We will also have more installments of 101 Weird Writers devoted to Caitlin Kiernan, Laird Barron, and others, as well as the latest from our excellent resident columnists. We have even bigger surprises and features lined out for the months ahead, so stay tuned!