2013: The Year in Review

Welcome back, readers! Weirdfictionreview.com has been on hiatus the past few weeks so the staff and contributors can rest up from a very busy, but very fulfilling, 2013. Last year, of course, WFR.com was up for a World Fantasy Award in the Special Award – Non-Professional category. That award ultimately went to S.T. Joshi for his Unutterable Horror: A History of Supernatural Fiction Vols. 1 & 2 (PS Publishing). Nevertheless, it was a privilege to be nominated in the first place, and especially to be considered for the award among other amazing projects.

We carried out a few immense projects of our own this year, the biggest of which was likely our full serialization of Michael Cisco’s magnificent novel The Divinity Student, which is still available on this site. Cisco himself, however, was responsible for one of two original, never-before-seen translations of fiction we published this year, a selection of stories by Mexican writer Carlos Diaz Dufoo.

Our other original translation this year is a must-read, for those who may have missed it: Leonid Andreyev’s “He,” translated for WFR by Vlad Zhenevsky. This story was a high-water point for a year packed with great material, a real find for readers who love unsettling, psychologically-probing weird fiction.

This was a great year for us on fiction in general, starting with our reprint of Amos Tutuola’s story “Ajantala, the Noxious Guest” and ending with “The Trepanist,” an exclusive excerpt from Leena Krohn’s short novel Datura. In between, we reprinted stories from a horde of great writers: Helen Marshall, Nathan Ballingrud, K.J. Bishop, John Kessel, Kit Reed, Nike Sulway, Marc Laidlaw, and many others. And in many cases, I was able to interview these authors and ask them about their work, their thoughts on weird fiction, and many other things, which is always a rewarding experience.

Our regular columnists and contributors had a banner year in 2013. Edward Gauvin’s translation of Jean Ferry’s short story collection The Conductor and Other Tales saw publication by Wakefield Press, for instance, while Nancy Hightower’s novel Elementari Rising was published in a variety of formats by Pink Narcissus Press. Despite being busy with these projects, though, they produced their usual high quality columns on translated weird fiction and weird art throughout the year. Matthew Pridham had a great year reviewing weird film, and Maureen Kincaid Speller ably reviewed a slew of weird books and introduced readers (and myself) to reading they may not have encountered without her help. 2013 also saw the addition of a new art columnist, Katie Lavers, who has written quality articles for us and, we hope, will continue to do so through this year.

2013 was also a banner year for our ongoing 101 Weird Writers feature. An array of amazing writers were profiled by a fantastic batch of contributors, including James Machin, Leif-Schenstead Harris, Desirina Boskovich, Elwin Cotman, Timothy Jarvis, Larry Nolen, Sofia Samatar, Alistair Rennie, and Kat Clay. I sincerely hope to see the return of all these contributors for more quality writing in the coming year.

We’re all looking forward to another great year here at WFR.com, and we hope you are too. So, stay tuned for more great reading to come very soon!

Deep Spiral, Dark Universe: Junji Ito’s Uzumaki

There is a deep, powerful vein of weirdness that runs through many excellent works within the mediums of manga and anime, so much so that I really wish more American readers otherwise unfamiliar with these mediums could encounter these stories for themselves. Such is the case with Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, which has recently been published in an omnibus edition by Viz Media. Those readers familiar with the world of manga – especially those that read manga and frequent this site – are no doubt already familiar with Ito’s reputation as a master of horror manga, with Uzumaki often considered his magnum opus. After reading Uzumaki in its entirety, I can assure readers that this status is rightfully deserved.

The story follows what must seem like a bizarre, absurd premise even by the standards of weird fiction. A small Japanese town is “infested by spirals.” This means spiral shapes begin to appear everywhere: blades of grass, clouds, pottery baking in a kiln, whirlpools in creeks. The story quickly becomes unnerving once townspeople begin obsessing over the spirals, such as Mr. Saito, the father of Shuichi Saito, one of the main characters. Mr. Saito commits acts like stopping in the middle of streets to watch snails for hours and stocking a room in his house dedicated to anything with a spiral shape drawn, carved, or otherwise embedded in or on it. This situation becomes even more menacing when Mr. Saito begins to distort his own body to assume spiral shapes, which leads to some truly disturbing images of the horrifying pliability of the human body, culminating in an iconically nightmarish scene that will have a profound effect on how you view personal baths.

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This scene might be enough to end a story with for other writers or manga-ka, but Ito is only getting started here. This is the first of nineteen chapters in Uzumaki, each installment seemingly becoming more creepy, unsettling, astonishing, and even darkly beautiful than the last.

ito-itoThat beauty comes in through the art of Ito, which must be seen to be believed. Ito eschews an exaggerated style for the most part, sticking instead to a straightforward anatomical style for his characters and an equally naturalistic style for their environment. In simple, clean black and white, Ito’s art displays impressive precision and craftsmanship. The imagination driving that art, meanwhile, is among the strangest and darkest I’ve encountered in manga, much less anywhere else. People metamorphose into snails, their shells slowly rising through their shirts like mounds upon their backs, or twine their bodies around one another like rope. The style and quality of Ito’s art absolutely sells the events of the story and capably suspends disbelief, instead sucking you into the world of Uzumaki so much so that you cease to think this couldn’t possibly happen and instead wonder how much more horrifying could this possibly get?

The story of Uzumaki itself bears examination as well, for mostly positive reasons. The episodic nature of the story might feel a bit sprawling or loose for some, but it’s crucial to remember that this was originally published in serialized form, as most manga are. The story itself marks Uzumaki as a work worthy of being read by any weird fiction aficionado, and in fact it moves through several notable weird “phases.” I don’t want to spoil the reading experience of the story, but I will say that in its second half Uzumaki begins to slowly and surely reveal its true narrative shape as a cosmic horror story, surprisingly bleak and existential given the obvious focus on more explicitly grotesque horrors elsewhere in its chapters. The world of Uzumaki is an ultimately dark one. This is not a feel-good story by any means, but you will hopefully find yourself reaching a kind of catharsis or reward nevertheless.

UzumakiDeluxeEdition_3DViz Media should be commended for bringing Uzumaki to English language audiences in a fully collected form, especially one as sturdy and presentable as this. Taken as a whole, Uzumaki is at the very least a dark, imaginative trip into a universe both strange and familiar, told via excellent art that awes and repulses in seemingly equal measure. Readers of weird fiction who have yet to sample the world of manga would be well-served in seeking out Uzumaki and experiencing it for themselves. One piece of advice, though: keep any obsession with spirals that you may develop contained to this book. There might be consequences otherwise.

This Week: Leonid Andreyev and “He”

Happy Halloween to all of our readers! We’re a few days early on that count, but we still wanted to give that sentiment now instead of later. More importantly, we have a special treat for all of you, an especially weird, creepy story that up until now has been unavailable in English: Leonid Andreyev’s long story “He: An Unknown’s Story,” translated by Vlad Zhenevsky.

photo 2 (1910)He” is a powerful story that stands up amazingly well alongside other classic stories of early 20th century weird and supernatural fiction. It has a darkness limning its edges at all times, ever present, even in comparatively quiet or serene moments. This is also a deeply psychological story, crawling far into the headspace of its narrator and protagonist as he takes up temporary residence at the country home of his wealthy, eccentric employer. While the narrator explores the mysteries at the heart of his employer and his employer’s home and family, he finds strangeness at every turn and is in turn haunted by his own weird visitor. In his introduction to Andreyev elsewhere on this site, which we highly recommend reading before checking out “He,” Zhenevsky aptly points out the influence of Poe and his work on Andreyev’s story, which we think a very fitting comparison. To say more would spoil the experience of the story, however, and we think of it as something absolutely worth experiencing.

As we mentioned before, this is the first appearance of this story anywhere in English, and we’re delighted to share it with our readers, functioning as it does as a brilliant piece of weird fiction. We’ve also made the original Russian version of the story available to our readers for their own examination of it in its original language. We are deeply thankful for the efforts of Vlad Zhenevsky and his able translation of this story, and we hope this serves as a stirring reminder of Andreyev’s talents and also the wealth of great literature waiting to be unlocked for wider audiences via translation.

North American Lake Monsters from Small Beer Press

This week on Weirdfictionreview.com, we’re featuring the work of Nathan Ballingrud, a supremely talented writer whose first book finally came into print this year: North American Lake Monsters, courtesy of Small Beer Press. The stories published in this collection range across the better part of a decade, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it from reading this collection. These stories feel like they were meant to be published together like this.

lake monsters coverWhat’s striking about North American Lake Monsters, besides their uniformly excellent quality, is their unrelenting darkness, and a special kind of darkness at that. These stories often involve people who are hard on their luck, trapped and unsure of the directions their lives have taken, constrained by their own decisions or the simply the bleakness of their environments. More often than not, though, the characters are overcome or possessed by obsessions they cannot seem to help. The protagonist of “Wild Acre” may be driven to hunt some kind of werewolf after it wreaks havoc on his life and those of his friends, but grappling with that monster only brings out something just as harmful and wild in him. Meanwhile, in “The Monsters of Heaven,” a deserved recipient of a Shirley Jackson Award, the arrival of a weird, possibly heavenly being is sharply contrasted with the violent, brutal urges and fantasies of a man who cannot cope with the loss of his son. The darkness in these stories comes from the characters themselves, and as we read them, we can’t help but be sucked into their darkness as well, perhaps out of sympathy, but also perhaps out of a recognition of empathy we can only acknowledge through reading.

The story we’ve reprinted on this site, the title story from Ballingrud’s collection, is a great story in and of itself and also an appropriate primer for those interested in reading the rest of the book. We also have an interview with the author, discussing how he came to write his stories the way he did, as well as the influence of horror and other forms of literature on his creative process, among other things.

Year’s Best Weird Fiction from Undertow Publications

No doubt, readers have already noticed our first big feature of this week: a giveaway for copies of The Weird and Nathan Ballingrud’s collection North American Lake Monsters. The rules and regulations are covered in this post from yesterday, but the gist of it is that in order to be eligible for the giveaway, you need to donate funds in support of various artistic endeavors. That can mean directly donating money to artists or writers badly in need of it. It can also mean donating money to an art museum or workshop, or pledging support for a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign.

Which brings us to today’s feature: a story reprinted from Shadows and Tall Trees #4, “Senbazuru,” written by V.H. Leslie. The editor of Shadows and Tall Trees, Michael Kelly, is also spearheading an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for an inaugural volume called Year’s Best Weird Fiction, for Undertow Publications. The first volume is set to be edited by acclaimed writer Laird Barron, with a different guest editor to be featured for every volume after that.

20130701070040-spiderJO1This is a more than worthy initiative, and we’re encouraged by its potential. We’re especially intrigued by the possibility of having each volume curated by a different guest editor. We’re very keen to see a variety of tastes and approaches featured in volumes of weird fiction, and so this bodes well in our view. That’s why we’re glad to show our support for the project and reprint Leslie’s “Senzaburu” here for our readers.

As of now, the fundraiser has met its stated goal for funds with 3 days to go, but that doesn’t mean you can’t contribute before it’s over. According to Kelly, any money gathered over the stated goal will go towards funding future volumes of The Year’s Best Weird Fiction, as well as future issues of Shadows and Tall Trees. It’s a relief to see this inaugural volume meet its desired goals, but it would be even better to see the project continue much farther than that for some time to come.

The Weird Giveaway: Support the arts for your chance to win!

IMG_7818Who wants a free copy of The Weird? Or maybe Nathan Ballingrud’s fantastic new collection North American Lake Monsters? Jeremy L.C. Jones, the co-director and founder of the Shared Worlds program at Wofford College, thinks a few of you might want one or the other. He also believes in the power of charity and supporting artists, writers, and creative endeavors in general.

That’s exactly why Weird Fiction Review is teaming up with Jeremy on a new giveaway for our readers, which will give you an opportunity to win either a copy of The Weird or North American Lake Monsters. Below, you’ll find Jeremy’s account of how he came across his copies of these books in the first place. At the very end, we’ll have the contest rules and regulations, which you can enter effective immediately. Read on, and read closely! – The Editors

***

The executive director of a local arts organization came up to me at a wedding last week and said, “I’ve got three boxes of weird.”

My 10-year-old daughter, who was standing between us, looked to me for guidance.  I shrugged.

Would you like them?”

Still not entirely sure what we were talking about, I said, “Sure!”

After all, who wouldn’t want three boxes of weird?

Great,” she said, clearly relieved.  “Come by the bookshop on Monday and pick them up.”

Ah.  The bookshop.  We had scheduled a few readings there during July as part of Shared Worlds, the world-building and creative writing camp I co-direct with Jeff VanderMeer.  And the “weird” was The Weird: a Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories that Jeff co-edited with Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer.

Monday morning came – overcast and ten degrees cooler than Sunday.  After a few minutes of confusion, the clerk at the bookshop found the manager who said the executive director was busy in her office, so the manager lead me over to three boxes stacked next to the Biography and Current Events shelves.

The boxes were taped tight, except for the top one.

How many are in each box?” I asked the manager.

Not sure,” she said.  “Weird is a really big book.”

I slid my hand into the box and tried to count spines.  It was hard to count with all the slick and glossy paper, wrapped in butcher’s paper and bubble wrap.

Pull your car around,” she said, hefting the box I’d just palpated.

I hustled to my car which was in the side lot next to the wine store, drove around, and double-parked by the front door.  She met me at the curb.

In the back?”

Yeah,” I said.  She had stacked the other two boxes just inside the door where they usually set up the signing table at readings.  We each got one and wedged the remaining weird between the dog crates in the back.

So,” I said, hoping she’d ask what I planned to do with all that weird.

Yeah,” she said. “’So.’”

There was a ripple of energy in the air, like you feel when someone else discovers you left the bathroom door unlocked.

All right,” I said.

Sure.”

That Marly Youmans reading in November,” I said.  “I sent her an e-mail about the date change — “

There’s time for that later, Jeremy,” she said, nodding toward my double parked car and the three boxes of weird inside.  “Plenty of time.”

Driving away, I squeezed the steering wheel, hummed along with the Grateful Dead, checked to see how much time I had before I need to pick up my daughter, and tried not to think about why we hadn’t talked about why I was being given these boxes of weird or what I planned to do with them.

Somewhere past the brewery but before the stuffed gorilla on a step-ladder, a hole opened in my gut and I kept thinking about the opened box of weird, my hand sliding into the slick, perforated entrails, trying to take an accounting of all that was there.

And I knew what I had to do.

***

Now, if you want a chance to win one of the free copies of The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories or North American Lake Monsters – free, packed up in a box, bag, or oily satchel and mailed right to your door – here’s what you need to do:

Donate any amount to an arts organization of your choice
OR
Contribute any amount to a crowd-sourced project of your choice
OR
Buy something directly from a small press
OR
Provide support of any amount to a writer or visual artist directly

The guidelines are intentionally broad.  We won’t split hairs.  There’s no need to ask us if a recipient qualifies.  We’re more concerned with the spirit of the rules than the letter of the law.  The idea is simple.  You give, they receive, and you’ve entered.  Enter as often as you like but don’t spread your donations too thin.  And once you’ve given, provide the name of the beneficiary below in the comments section.

That’s important.  You have to enter the recipient in the comments or you won’t be entered in the contest. Also, make sure to include links to who or what you donated to whenever possible.

We have a total of seven copies of The Weird and three copies of North American Lake Monsters, so please indicate your preference in your entry in the comments. Those copies of Lake Monsters would be especially great for those of you who already have a copy of The Weird, of course.

You can enter in to this giveaway between now and September 30. On October 2, we will select TEN people at random, then contact each person via e-mail for shipping information, and mail each person their respective prize.

All Best,
Jeremy L.C. Jones
Founder & Co-Director
Shared Worlds @ Wofford College

Michael Cisco and The Divinity Student on WFR.com

We’re back! After a month-long hiatus to end the summer, we’ve returned rested and ready to post and reprint quality material for the rest of the year, and we’re returning in a big way. Starting today and running through this month and into October, we will be serializing the entirety of Michael Cisco’s novel The Divinity Student.

Cisco is a favorite here at WFR.com, and for good reason: his body of work stands as one of the most impressive, darkly imaginative and wonderful achievements in weird fiction. When it was initially published by Buzzcity Press back in 1999, The Divinity Student quickly garnered high praise as a tour de force of gothic fantasy and a stellar debut novel. It eventually won the International Horror Guild Award and set the stage for the rest of Cisco’s writing career, which has seen many other fantastic novels and stories.

However, for as high regard as Cisco holds within weird fiction and related communities, we believe his writing hasn’t gotten nearly the level of fandom it deserves, which is why Cheeky Frawg Books has recently released Cisco’s first four novels in e-book form. Besides The Divinity Student, that also includes The Golem, The Traitor, and The Tyrant. You can find them in Amazon.com’s Kindle Store and also at Weightless Books.

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The Cheeky Frawg wraparound cover for all four e-books; Art © Jeremy Zerfoss

As you may know, we’re always open to take donations here at WFR.com, which you can do via the PayPal link at the bottom right of this page. That said, as extra incentive, any donations we receive for the duration of The Divinity Student’s serialization will go towards the author. Cisco will also take a higher-than-average slice of income from the purchase of his e-books, as is common practice at Cheeky Frawg.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll also feature various material related to either Michael Cisco or The Divinity Student. Today, we’ve posted Ann VanderMeer’s introduction to the novel, originally written for the Centipede Press edition published just recently, to provide readers with excellent commentary and context on the novel from the editor and publisher responsible for putting it in print in the first place. In weeks to follow, we will also have an essay by returning WFR contributor Alistair Rennie and an interview with Cisco himself.

We hope you enjoy The Divinity Student, whether you’re reading it for the first time or rereading it. Likewise, if you enjoy the serialization of the novel, please consider either making a donation to the site or buying the e-book so Cisco can receive much deserved compensation for his work.

WFR.com Summer Break

It’s been a great summer here at Weirdfictionreview.com so far. Earlier this week, we featured the work of writer/editor John Kessel, courtesy of his story “Buddha Nostril Bird” and my interview with the writer, both of which I hope our readers have had the chance to read already. Even before then, we’ve featured stories from writers like Eric Basso, Marc Laidlaw, Marly Youmans, and Bruno Schulz. This summer has also featured some of the finest installments of the 101 Weird Writers essay series yet, not to mention the continually excellent work of our regular columnists and contributors.

That said, we need to take a brief recess for the rest of the summer to take care of various projects. Rest assured, though: we will return with new material on September 2, and we’ve got some great fiction, nonfiction, and art in the pipeline waiting to be shared with everyone.

In the meantime, I highly recommend exploring the WFR.com archives and reading up on some prior material you may have missed. It seems strange to say it, but sometimes I forget just how huge WFR.com is, mainly because I manage the day-to-day postings of material and read everything as it’s prepped for the site. Once I zoom out a bit and look at the collective of everything we’ve posted over the past two years or so, it’s quite staggering. And, as a few relatively new readers have confessed to me at times, the prospect of digging through everything can be a bit daunting, understandably so!

To get everyone started, here’s a brief list of some of my personal favorites from the site. These are stories and standalone essays that have lingered with me ever since I read them, and I highly recommend them to any reader, let alone anyone interested in exploring the WFR.com archives.

“Where Dead Men Go To Dream” by A.C. Wise: Choosing a story from Fungi for sharing with readers was difficult, due to the overall high quality of the stories in that anthology, but I still look back fondly on “Where Dead Men Go To Dream” for its visionary, darkly horrific aesthetic and its soulful emotional impact.

“The White” by Berit Ellingsen: I love this story, a visionary journey into another world and culture, a zone of strangeness identifiable by means from our world and yet starkly different. What impresses me so much, in addition to all of that, is how optimistically the story reads, which can be a rarity sometimes in this kind of weird fiction.

“The Dead Valley” by Ralph Adams Cram: Of all the classic, non-contemporary stories we’ve featured on WFR.com since I started working as managing editor, this story is my likely favorite. The sense of menace that emanates from the landscape in this story is inexplicable and yet tangible and scary, placing it favorably alongside similar stories by writers such as Algernon Blackwood and H.P. Lovecraft (who was a fan of this story, by the way).

“The Dust Enforcer” by Reza Negarestani: This might be the most “difficult” text we’ve posted on WFR.com, a hybrid text of fiction, environmental science, philosophy, and demonology. It has always stood out to me as an example of new frontiers that can be explored in weird fiction when writers choose to pursue formal and thematic innovation, rewarding readers who are willing to train themselves how to read a new kind of story.

“Creature” by Ramsey Shehadeh: This was perhaps my favorite story from our 12 Days of Monsters special back in March 2012 (which also featured “The Dust Enforcer”). It’s a frankly bizarre story, with a kind of childlike simplicity in its details that somehow enables a mature, melancholy emotional impact. I think of it as a Miyazaki-like weird short story, in a way.

“Hunting for Stories in the Philippines” by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz: One of my favorite essays in the history of this site thus far. It functions so well on multiple levels: as an analysis of Filipino-language fantasy and horror versus English-language literature of the same; as a recounting of growing up in the Philippines; and as a story of a writer in the modern era and her quest to find and understand the folklore and character of her home culture, and the impact it has left on her.

“Stories in the Key of Strange” by Matthew Cheney: I’m quite fond of Cheney’s writing and regularly read his blog, the Mumpsimus. I find his insights into writers and stories stimulating and useful, by and large. Such is also the case for “Stories in the Key of Strange.” In and among these little vignette-like excerpts from larger reviews and essays, a larger picture coalesces in regards to fantastical and weird fiction that should leave readers with plenty to think about, as well as a formidable to-read list!

“It’s Not, Quite Frankly, A Wholesome Situation: Dr. Seuss’ The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T” by Sonya Taaffe: I recently had the chance to watch this movie on TCM, and it’s every bit as weird and baffling as Taaffe describes it here. It’s also the kind of movie that demands (and defies) analysis and curating for the viewership of others. Thankfully, Taaffe provides this excellent review that lends the movie important context while not spoiling the fun for prospective viewers.

“Ghosts, Fear, and Parallel Worlds: The Supernatural Fiction of Jean Ray” by António Monteiro: Like many readers, I was captivated by Jean Ray’s stories in The Weird, “The Mainz Psalter” and “The Shadowy Street.” I wanted to read more from and about this writer who I knew hardly anything about beforehand. Thankfully, WFR.com posted this essay by Monteiro back in the early days of the website, alongside two more stories by Ray (which are still online!). Between this essay and the additional stories, I gained crucial additional context about Ray and picked up a copy of his novel Malpertuis in the process.

“Caught In A Moment: The Poetry of Eric Basso” by Larry Nolen: One of my favorite pieces from Eric Basso Week, back in March 2012, and perhaps my favorite thing Nolen has written. In order to honestly write about Basso’s poetry, emotionally challenging and difficult as it is, Nolen confronts his own emotional traumas and memories head on, to conflate them with the conditions that drove Basso to write the way he did. By doing this, Nolen achieves a clarity of insight into Basso and his writing that I’ve rarely encountered elsewhere. I walked away from this essay with a new appreciation for both Basso and the man who profiled him.

Memorial Day Break at WFR.com

It seems strange that we’re already almost five months into 2013 here at Weirdfictionreview.com, with 2012 still fresh in our minds, but that’s exactly the case. We hope everyone has enjoyed the fiction, nonfiction, and art we’ve been able to present to you these past few months, and we’ve got even bigger plans for the rest of the year.

That said, we’re taking a little break here at WFR.com for the end of May, starting this week. All of us at the site are taking a brief holiday to relax and recharge going into the summer. We will return with new material for the site the week of June 3.

We’re leaving you with some quality material in the meantime, to help tide you all over while we’re gone. We have an excerpt from Nick Mamatas’s novel Move Under Ground, one of the best and most innovative Lovecraftian stories in recent memory. Those of you who haven’t had the chance to read this novel should certainly check out the excerpt we’ve posted, even if you’re not normally a fan of Lovecraftiana. We also have an interview between Mamatas and our managing editor, Adam Mills, about Mamatas’s writing and his feelings on weird fiction, among other things, that we definitely recommend reading.

On top of that, we have a new entry in the 101 Weird Writers series, courtesy of returning contributor Leif Schenstead-Harris, about Beninese writer Olympe Bhêly-Quénum and his classic story “A Child in the Bush of Ghosts,” which readers may recall from The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. Fans of that particular story and other works of Bhêly-Quénum’s (including his story “The Night Watchman,” previously reprinted here at WFR.com) should enjoy the more in-depth examination of the writer and his work provided by Schenstead-Harris.

As always, if you enjoy and admire the work we do, please consider donating to WFR.com. You can use the paypal option on the main page, lower left, which sends a donation to vanderworld at hotmail.com. Any donations we receive go toward allowing us to continue finding the best, weirdest, most unclassifiable and energizing work we can, and to also reward our amazing contributors.

Thanks for all your support so far this year! We’re not nearly done yet, either. We’ve got some really great projects in the work for later this year that we hope to unveil very soon, so stay tuned!

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.