The Weird by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer

The Weird by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer

Published by Corvus Books, November 2011

1128 pages

ISBN: 978 1 84887 687 3

Review by Mark Yon

Some of you may remember that my first ‘official’ review at SFFWorld was a collection of short stories by China Mieville (Looking for Jake, in 2005.) There I talked about the term ‘New Weird’ and whether it was relevant these days (‘these days’ being 2005.)

Six years on, we have the most comprehensive and eclectic story collection of the sub-genre to date. Many will comment on this book’s size. It is over a thousand pages of fairly small text, usually in two columns per page (Weird Tales style), 750 000 words of weirdness from writers in over eighteen different countries. There are stories that are known, stories that are much less known and some stories translated into English for the first time.

A huge collection of stories and a variety of authors from all over the world, Ann and Jeff here not only try to show what they consider to be a collection of the best representations of the subgenre (if we can call it that) in the last one-hundred years but also try to show readers what weird fiction is, what are its origins and how it has developed.

 An ambitious target, but one which has been supremely realised. Of the old favourites, many will recognise:

F. Mar­ion Craw­ford, “The Scream­ing Skull,” (1908) , Alger­non Black­wood, “The Wil­lows,” (1907) , Saki, “Sredni Vashtar,” (1910 ), M.R. James, “Cast­ing the Runes,” (1911), H.P. Love­craft, “The Dun­wich Hor­ror,” (1929), Clark Ash­ton Smith, “Genius Loci,” (1933), Fritz Leiber, “Smoke Ghost,” (1941), Ray Brad­bury, “The Crowd,” (1943), Shirley Jack­son, “The Sum­mer Peo­ple,” (1950), Jerome Bixby, “It’s a Good Life,” (1953), Daphne Du Mau­rier, “Don’t Look Now,” (1971), George R.R. Mar­tin, “Sand­kings,” (1979), Stephen King, “The Man in the Black Suit,” (1994) and China Mieville, “Details,” (2002). All are good tales and as good as you could expect, as are stories by F. Paul Wilson, Clive Barker, Caitlin Kiernan, Lisa Tuttle, Garry Kilworth and many others.

Where this collection really scores is that there is a lot here even the experienced expert will find new. Many of the tales have been translated from other languages, especially for this edition, and so were new to me. Authors I have heard of (Belgium’s Jean Rey, for example) I was now reading for the first time. There’s Kafka and Borges here, but new to me were France’s Michel Bernanos, Spain’s Merce Rodreda, Italy’s Dino Buzzati and Japan’s Ryunosuke Akyutagawa. What this confirmed to me was that there is an amazing world of the Fantastic beyond the English prose. 

The Weird, being in chronological order, also gives us glimpses into the latest ‘new’ weird writers: or should that be ‘new, new weird’, as the ‘New Weird’ grouping, if it ever existed, seems to date from the later 1980’s to early 1990’s. Clearly names to look for in the future are Laird Barron, Steve Duffy and Reza Negarestani, many of whom I hadn’t encountered until this volume. The final ‘Afterweird’ by China Mieville is as brain-stretching as I’d expect.

I haven’t even tried to review the tales in depth here. I was pleased to read some old favourites but was more pleased to read stories I’d never heard of before. Consequently there was a joy in just not knowing where a story was going to lead.

There is enough here for everyone. It is awesomely weird. There are stories of drama, of fantastic mythology, of creepiness and unease, of tales in the past and ones that might just be happening now.

Even in such a major-sized tome there are omissions, some because of space, some because the editors couldn’t get the permissions. (I’ll mention Thomas Disch, JG Ballard and Arthur Machen, for example.) But these are minor quibbles, considering what is covered.

This is essential for anyone with a remote interest in what readers see in weird fiction. It covers the width, breadth and depth of what readers might see as the sub-genre, as well as no doubt some other dimensions usually beyond the traditional three. It has taken me nearly two months to read this, but it has been an amazing read. This is a book to wallow in, to delve into, to pick stories from at random. It is a book, once read, readers will keep coming back to, as I have since finishing it the first time.

As the book’s remit would suggest, not every story will be well liked, not every tale will be understood. It will cause debate, and some confusion as to what was and wasn’t included. Nevertheless, I suspect it will be high on the ‘best of’ lists at the end of the year. I think already it is one of mine. 

SFFWorld Interview with Ann and Jeff about The Weird is HERE.

Mark Yon, October – December 2011

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