The Weird: What Is It?…and Is It Watching You? (Give Us Your Picks)


WFR Interrogatory:

Dear Readers:

–Who are some of your favorite writers of weird fiction, especially those who tend to be overlooked or are underrated in your opinion?

Your answers will  help WFR determine who and what to cover in the coming months.

Oddkin, Weirdie, & Old Peculiar

Oddkin Weirdie Peculiar Headshots

Clarkesworld Magazine has hosted a roundtable with just a few of the contributors to our The Weird compendium, centered around the subject of “What is The Weird?” Their answers are various and fascinating.

Our own take on it is can be found in our intro to The Weird, where we cite Lovecraft’s classic definition as well as make the argument for the influence of Kafka, especially after World War II.

What was Lovecraft’s definition? In 1927, he wrote that the weird tale “has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains.” Instead, it represents the pursuit of some indefinable and perhaps maddeningly unreachable understanding of the world beyond the mundane — a ‘certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread” or “malign and particular suspension or defeat of…fixed laws of Nature” — through fiction that comes from the more unsettling, shadowy side of the fantastical tradition.

As we write in our introduction, “Because The Weird often exists in the interstices, because it can occupy different territories simultaneously, an impulse exists among the more rigid taxonomists to find The Weird suspect, to argue it should not, cannot be, separated out from other traditions. Because The Weird is as much a sensation as it is a mode of writing, the most keenly attuned amongst us will say ‘I know it when I see it,’ by which they mean ‘I know it when I feel it’ — and this, too, the more rigorous of categorizing taxidermists will take to mean The Weird does not exist when, in fact, this is one of the more compelling arguments for its existence.”

In  Michael Moorcock’s  foreweird to the anthology, he writes about the tension in weird fiction between an unwillingness to be pigeonholed and yet finding useful entry points for readers: “Generally the real tensions in literary forms come from that which can be readilycommodified and branded and that which cannot. Fritz Leiber, one of the best American stylists I knew, told me that he had talked about this with two Weird Tales contributors Robert Bloch (of Psycho fame) and Henry Kuttner (primarily an SF writer). All had begun writing unrationalised fiction, having much in common with surrealism or absurdism, to discover very quickly that literary magazines wanted an approximation of realism and commercial markets needed to know why, forcing you to cook up some sort of rationalization for the events you described so that you came to see your failure to rationalize as some sort of flaw or laziness in yourself.”

Among other fascinating ideas found in his idiosyncratic afterweird, China Mieville asserts that “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 edges, things are looking at us.” (Next week, WFR will post a substantial excerpt from Mieville’s afterweird.)

The idea of things looking at the reader from the story is deeply weird, and also hints at the sense in the best weird fiction of something beyond hidden in the paragraph, an almost luminous quality of meaning just beyond comprehension. The best weird tales also reward multiple readings and like the best fiction generally seem to change or shift upon re-reading.

Don’t forget to tell us about your favorite weird writers.

27 replies to “The Weird: What Is It?…and Is It Watching You? (Give Us Your Picks)

  1. Of living writers, I think Eric Basso and Rikki Ducornet are building their own strange landscapes of psychological expressions.

    I find the work of Edward Gorey as original and unsettling as it comes, though it is arguably so.

    Hal Duncan, Michael Cisco, Steven Millhauser, Felix Gilman, sometimes Gene Wolfe…

    Ekaterina Sedia, Mark Danielewski, Thomas Liggoti, George Saunders…

    These are all authors, of course. I feel like there ought to be musicians and composers, too, but I can’t think of anyone I would add, off-hand, except Tom Waits.

  2. The weirdest thing I have read all year is “Absinthe Fish” from the spring 2011 issue of Bull Spec. I found a copy at Worldcon, and I’m glad I did because I’ve never seen that magazine any place else on the West Coast.

    Here is what makes it weird — I have read the story at least ten times and can quote sections of it verbatim, even though I still don’t understand everything in it! There is just so much going on, and and the textures are so rich. It’s like a song, because it crept into my head and won’t leave.

  3. No one has mentioned Gerald Kersh yet – great writer who is forgotten now. Yes, to Cisco, too.

  4. I’d love to see more about about Julio Cortazar and Borges, and anyone from that era who isn’t as known.

  5. *“From Hand to Mouth” by Fitz-James O’Brien. one of the strangest pieces of fiction I have ever read.

    available here:

    *“The New Mother” and “Wooden Tony: An Anyhow Story” by Lucy Clifford

    *“The Cabinet of Oliver Naylor”, “The Four Colour Problem”, “Sporting with Chid” and lots more by Barrington J. Bayley

    *an obscure little sf novel called THE HOLE IN THE ZERO by M.K. Joseph

  6. additional: the fiction of Michael Blumlein (THE BRAINS OF RATS especially), Jessica Amanda Salmonson and Jody Scott (specifically PASSING FOR HUMAN and I, VAMPIRE).

  7. I’d definetly nominate Sarban; his Ringstones is an all-time favorite of weird fiction, the missing link between Machen’s pagan cosmicism and Aickman’s psycho-allegories. There’s also Reggie Oliver, Ernesto Sabato’s ‘Notes on the Blind’ , László Krasznahorkai, Gyula Krudy, Ghislain de Diesbach, Sadegh Hedayet, Alberto Savinio, Henri Guigonnat’s eastern absurdist take on Ed Gorey Daemon in Lithuania, Adrian Ross’ Hole of the Pit, Visiak’s Medusa, David Britton’s Lord Horror trilogy, Daniil Kharms, Leo Perutz, Kenneth Patchen’s Journal of Albion Moonlight, Edogawa Rampo, Robert Walser, Eric Thacker’s Musrum, L. P. Hartley, Lady Eleanor Smith, Eleanor Scott, L. A. Lewis, and Simon Raven

  8. As far as fiction goes, I think Borges is underrated as a writer of the weird, though he certainly isn’t underrated as a writer, period. A lot of what Philip K. Dick wrote could be considered weird as well.

    Beyond the realm of fiction, there’s a lot of weird storytellers that deserve further examination. In the realm of music, one cannot touch on the weird without mentioning Kate Bush. David Bowie might fall into this category as well. There could be a whole line of features devoted to weird concept albums, really.

    In film, there’s all sorts of writers/directors who would be examined: David Lynch, Guy Maddin, Terry Gilliam, Alejandro Jodorowsky, etc. Lots of potential there.

  9. Modern master: Mark Samuels (“The Man Who Collected Machen”)
    Past master: Carl Jacobi (“Revelations in Black”)

  10. Oh, and there’s Ruthven Todd’s Lost Traveller and Over the Mountain.
    George Mangels’ Frank’s World is underappreciated weird masterpiece, inspired by David Lynch in general and Blue Velvet in particular.
    Also, Gisele Prassinos, Fernando Arrabal, Geza Csath, Felisberto Hernández, Marcel Bealu, Wolfgang Bauer, Alexander Lernet-Holenia, Andrei Platonov, Julien Gracq, Unica Zurn, and the Strugatski Bros’ Roadside Picnic.
    John Dickson Carr’s The Burning Court, Adam Golaski, Richard Gavin, and Matt Cardin.

  11. Clark Ashton Smith. Much as I love the other two musketeers (Howard and Lovecraft), I find that Smith’s stories linger longer in my mind. A true measure of his oddity may be that, compared to the other two, he has spawned far fewer imitators. (Imitators is surely the wrong word…influncees?) Jack Vance, Michael Shea…Gene Wolfe at a remove or two. Among current writers, Steve Rasnic Tem and Thomas Ligotti would make my list.

  12. Try Jean Ray (Raymundus Joannes de Kremer), aka “The Belgian Poe.” I just got the old Berkley Medallion collection of his short stories entitled “Ghouls in My Grave.” Great weird stuff.

  13. Lanark by Alasdair Gray is one of the great modern weird novels (well, half of it anyway), with many familiar elements: grotesque transformations of the human form, distortions of natural law, a large institute whose building is an enclosed world unto itself, a dark and labyrinthine city and a protagonist to whom (like the reader) everything seems strange and subtly out of balance. Gray also modestly offers a handy Index of Plagiarisms near the end, which provides a few more co-ordinates, and ranges from Borges to Blake, George Macdonald and Lewis Carroll to Edgar Allan Poe, Flann O’Brien, Kurt Vonnegut and Disney. He beautifully illustrates his own book as well.
    As for music, the Ghost Box label explicitly references the weird, creating its own surrounding world as a context for the music which draws on mainly British supernatural fiction and post war TV and film. Of their groups, which specialise in a haunted analogue electronica, Belbury Poly take their name from the village in CS Lewis’ That Hideous Strength and released an LP called The Willows, after Algernon Blackwood’s story. Eric Zann takes his name from HP Lovecraft’s The Music of Eric Zann, and the CD Ouroborindra does indeed provide the perfect eerie soundtrack to reading weird fiction. Mount Vernon Arts Lab’s The Séance at Hob’s Lane, meanwhile, references Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit.
    Kate Bush, mentioned above, also made indirect use of weird fiction – her song Hounds of Love includes a sample from the film Night of the Demon (‘it’s in the trees – it’s coming’), based on MR James’ Casting of the Runes.

  14. Lanark is amazing – I think alas its weird effects aren’t excerptable or I’d ask Alasdair for an excerpt…still, maybe not a bad idea. Great stuff on weird music!

    Yes, Jean Ray is in The Weird.

  15. Michael Cisco, JEAN RAY, Ekaterina Sedia, Zoran Zivkovic, Marcel Bealu *The Experience of the Night*, Robert Walser to name a few…

  16. Dear Peelsticker Toothacher, I’d heard of this, George Mangels’ Frank’s World, years ago and forgot it. Think I need it. THANKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. Thinking of “Weird Music”, the name of American composer Philip Glass comes to mind. His works include operas La Belle et la Bête (based upon Cocteau’s film, after Leprince de Beaumont), In the Penal Colony (Kafka), The Witches of Venice (Montresor), Orphée (Cocteau), Fall of the House of USher (Poe); film music for Barker’s Candyman, Neverwas, Dracula; theatre music for Poe’s Descent into the Maëlstrom; piano pieces based upon Kafka’s Metamorphosis and more.

  18. Philip k. Dick, Darrell Schweitzer, Alganon Blackwood, M P Shiel. All touch strongly on themes and moods of the “Weird”

  19. Pingback: “Genre Predispositions and The Weird” by John H. Stevens — A Dribble of Ink