The Weird: “The Efficacy of a Worm-eaten Dictionary”

The Afterword to the New Anthology from Corvus, The Weird

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(Art by Aeron Alfrey)

These are strange aeons. These texts, dead and/or not, burrow, and we cannot predict everything they will infect or eat their path through. But certainly your brain, and they will eat the books you read from today on, too. That is how the Weird recruits.…This is a worm farm. These stories are worms.” — from the afterword

We were extremely pleased that Arthur C. Clarke and World Fantasy Award winner China Miéville agreed to write the afterword to our 750,000-word, 100-year reprint anthology The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories–officially out this week from the UK’s Corvus imprint. With the front matter including our introduction and a foreword by Michael Moorcock that addressed both “weird” and “the weird”, Miéville was free to take a very personal and, to our mind, wonderful approach in exploring the subject of both weird fiction and the material in the anthology. Here’s an exclusive first look at the beginning of the piece. (The line breaks are intentional.) - Ann & Jeff VanderMeer


How should we conduct investigations? We need access to the innards of whatever we would understand, but if we take a scalpel to their skins we change them, and the only thing we end up investigating then is something open and bleeding– as in very different grotesque ways both Heym’s and Shea’s dissection stories here make clear. Faced with objects whose terms and natures are not self-evident what we need is some variant of diaphanisation, that enzymatic process that makes transparent the flesh, makes the body a window. This is true of our heuristic terms and functions as much as of the objects they are intended to illumine. It’s as true of

 our microscope-machines

(those were not here a moment ago, were they?) as of the microbes we stare at through them. We should wish, in other words, not only to examine history — cultural, literary, whatever — through some filter, but to turn our gaze on that filter itself. This book you hold is a collection of ‘The Weird’? Which is what, please? How to proceed?

Etymology as a making-transparent. Word-history is one of the most common

little doors-in-the-tree(-or-wall)

scholars start by opening. ‘This is a study of “Blah” or “Blahist” study’, a book announces. ‘The dictionary tells us that the root of the word “Blah”…’ Etc. So: the Weird. Running a rough plough through

the archaeology

of language brings up ‘Wyrd’, that Anglo-Saxonism of knotting cause and effect, as cats-cradle  intricate and splendid as any Sutton Hoo buckle: Fate, Destiny. Sometimes even Doom. Personified in those women on that blasted heath, the implication is of a tug at some


in the life-weft, the snarl of interweaving, the ineluctable. ‘Wyrd’, as the great Old English poem ‘The Wanderer’ insists, ‘bið ful aræd!’ Fate is inexorable. Sometimes cruel, desserts wrought not always according to our own morality, but part of something utter and total. The Wyrd is perhaps not holy, but it is whole‑y.

Thus Wyrd-armed we go back to the Weird, in this book in your hands, and in the world itself. We sensitise ourselves to certain moments. Those that we experience not merely as odd, or strange, or surprising, but as weird. We shove a

 fate-shaped key

at the Weird keyhole (or pry at the Weird

 doorframe with a fate-shaped jimmy

). Beyond, testing our hypothesis, we find among other artefacts: the presences of Blackwood and Morrissette’s ‘Familiars’, Krohn’s insects, the family-monsters of Butler’s ‘Bloodchild’, oneiric patchworks of biology and impossibility; the baleful spooks of modernity, in ‘Smoke Ghost’ that have, spuriously efficient as the industry they haunt, bypassed the necessity of dying or living in the first place; the uneasy almost-recognition of the punishments in Lanagan’s ‘Singing My Sister Down’; the fungal universe of Bernanos; the displacements of Leman’s ‘Window’ and Jones’ ‘Little Lambs’; vividly present unplaces (‘The Shadowy Street’; ‘The Night Wire’); unclearly suggestive fables (Chapman and Bhely-Quenum); opaque punishments (Kafka and Sansom); lessons and items of all kinds. Bearing the meaning we’ve learnt, our


pilfered from the Anglo-Saxon wordhoard, we go to war against incomprehension. ‘Weird is Wyrd,’ we say, and see how this clarifies.

And after a long time trying to apply that as insight we nod and stop and consider again and must finally ask: What if etymology is fucking useless?

What if it’s worse than useless?

What if thinking through the prehistory of the term ‘Weird’ is utterly counterproductive? If the shift that occurred some time in the 19th Century is not an evolution of meaning but a cleft, a repudiation, a revolution, a violence, a break? If Weird is the ungrateful

 feral child

of Wyrd, raised by Modernity’s wolves? And what if this semiotic abandonment means no Oedipal drama, no tedious lullaby of reconciliation or loss or mutual learning but instead an unexpectedly clear, debate-ending statement about the heritability of meme-content: that there is none at fucking all. That the Weird is not a new iteration of fatefulness, but its rebuke, a contingency, a newness that shreds the sealed totality its parental theme pretended existed. The fact of the Weird is the fact that the worldweave is ripped and unfinished. Moth-eaten, ill-made. And that through the little tears, from behind the ragged


, things are looking at us.


Read the rest of this afterweird in The Weird: A Compendium of Strange & Dark Stories.

China Miéville (1972 — ) is an influential English writer known for revitalizing weird fiction, and remains the leading figure in the New Weird movement. He has won the World Fantasy Award and multiple Arthur C. Clarke awards, among others. Miéville’s early novels — including Perdido Street Station (2000) and The Scar (2002) — fused the weird with body transformation, Marxist politics, secondary world settings, and a bold, often pulpy style. Later novels like The City and the City (2009) and Embassytown (2011) feature a more stripped-down style without sacrificing the visionary quality of the weird. Stories like “Details” (2002), reprinted in The Weird, show that he had delicacy of touch early in his career, as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of weird fiction.