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  1. #1
    Webmaster, Great SF&F owlcroft's Avatar
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    "The Weird", an anthology

    The Weird is a collection of 110 stories (including some novellas) selected by editors Ann and Jeff Vandermeer to represent the development of, yes, the "weird" tale over the past century or so. The included tales are of a generally good or better quality (as is to be expected, Vandermeer himself being a writer of note in the current "New Weird" school), and not a few are gems. Owing to its diversity, the book offers a number of interesting views of the "weird tale" phenomenon (plus an solid Introduction by the editors, an interesting "Foreweird" by Michael Moorcock, and a curious "Afterweird" by China Miéville).

    There has always been some question whether horror fiction is a constituent part of "fantasy" fiction or is a category parallel to it. My own feeling is that the two do not much overlap, despite the doings in horror tales being "fantastic" in nature (that is, involving doings outside real or supposed laws of nature); the crux, I suggest, is that horror tales have a specific and relatively narrow goal, which is to evoke a sense of horror (or terror) in the reader, while fantasy tales can and at their best do involve all the many complex thoughts and feelings that fiction in general seeks to evoke in readers. Curiously, "the weird" cuts across that bound: it encompasses tales that are fairly plainly "horror" tales, but also includes fantastic tales that are not "horror" per se in their nature. The late Robert Aickman, a paragon of the weird-tale author, called them simply "strange stories" (he is well represented in this anthology by his indeed strange story "The Hospice"), and those "strange stories" are the ones I feel best fit into "fantasy" rather than horror (though all such distinctions are necessarily quite hazy).

    In The Weird, the least effective stories are the ones most plainly of the "horror" variety, and correspondingly the most effective are the "strange" (but not overtly horrific) tales. Most of the weaker horror stories are those from the period between the wars, a time when pulp magazines flourished. That era's work is by no means uniformly of the "and then it . . . !!" sort, but too much of it (to me) is. Such tales suffer especially from being anthologized, and most especially chronologically, because they become repetitious, endless repeats of the same dull hammer thump banging on our distaste for the squishily monstrous.

    A pleasing aspect of this collection is that it includes a good number of translated works, making available authors who did not write in English (Kubin, Sakutaro, Schulz, Mitra, just to name off the first few that occur), and some of the very best tales here are from such authors. There is also a sampling of authors who, though writing in English, are not yet well represented in the Western literature (such as Amos Tutuola).

    All in all, this is an excellent collection, and should, for almost every reader, be a good starting point from which to develop an appreciation of a number of fine authors not previously known (a reader who is well familiar with virtually all the authors included here would be a nonpareil indeed). Though by and large, the contents here are samplers, consisting of individual short stories or more or less standalone extracts from longer works, there are a few novellas that are complete and just by themselves justify acquiring the book (perhaps the most notable being Leena Krohn's Tainaron: Mail From Another City).

    If there is any complaint to register about this work, it is a sheerly mechanical one: at 7-3/4 by 9-1/2 inches and well over 1100 pages--roughly 3-1/2 pounds' worth--it is very literally heavy going. My lady, who has small and slightly arthritic hands, simply could not comfortably manage reading it. A two-volume version might have made more sense.

    Anyway, I highly recommend the work for the library of any aficionado of the fantastic in literature.

  2. #2
    In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, "You realize, of course, this means war?"

    Or maybe not. We've had this discussion before and while I agree there is horror that isn't really fantasy, there is quite a bit that is. Horror being an emotion, it cuts across genres, as you concede with "weird," and many writers who strove for the weird achieved not just awe but dread, not least among them Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood and, for some of us at least, Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith.

    Quote Originally Posted by owlcroft View Post
    [I][...]There has always been some question whether horror fiction is a constituent part of "fantasy" fiction or is a category parallel to it. My own feeling is that the two do not much overlap, despite the doings in horror tales being "fantastic" in nature (that is, involving doings outside real or supposed laws of nature); the crux, I suggest, is that horror tales have a specific and relatively narrow goal, which is to evoke a sense of horror (or terror) in the reader, while fantasy tales can and at their best do involve all the many complex thoughts and feelings that fiction in general seeks to evoke in readers.
    Just as there is a lot of horror that tries for the big "BOO!" and doesn't achieve any "Boo!" there's plenty of fantasy that uses unicorns and dragons and remains as prosaic as a suburb. If you're only reading horror that tries for the big "BOO!" then all horror will seem one-dimensional. But if you read books that incorporate horror and don't acknowledge that they are both horror and whatever else they are, you're falling into the "It's good so it can't possibly be horror" trap.

    While it's possible that you just don't care for the sense of awe and dread that comes from the horror story that is also fantasy, yet in the past you've admitted to enjoying Aickman, Machen, Shirley Jackson, Jonathan Carroll and Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood among others. And, really, is there a better example of horror/fantasy cross-over than some of Jonathan Carroll's work? You also cite Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House as a great work of fantasy, yet it is very decisively a haunted house/ghost story as well as a psychological profile.

    [By the way, I cut part of this I meant to keep: I've heard of Tutuola for years and chanced on two of his books not long ago. I do look forward to reading them.]

    Curiously, "the weird" cuts across that bound: it encompasses tales that are fairly plainly "horror" tales, but also includes fantastic tales that are not "horror" per se in their nature. The late Robert Aickman, a paragon of the weird-tale author, called them simply "strange stories" (he is well represented in this anthology by his indeed strange story "The Hospice"), and those "strange stories" are the ones I feel best fit into "fantasy" rather than horror (though all such distinctions are necessarily quite hazy).

    In The Weird, the least effective stories are the ones most plainly of the "horror" variety, and correspondingly the most effective are the "strange" (but not overtly horrific) tales.
    For you as a reader. I haven't read the entire collection yet, but I'm going to bet that the majority of the list of stories at the following link -- several of which are discussed in the rest of that thread -- are probably among those you liked least.

    The Weird
    Scroll to the bottom of post #61

    Most of the weaker horror stories are those from the period between the wars, a time when pulp magazines flourished. That era's work is by no means uniformly of the "and then it . . . !!" sort, but too much of it (to me) is. Such tales suffer especially from being anthologized, and most especially chronologically, because they become repetitious, endless repeats of the same dull hammer thump banging on our distaste for the squishily monstrous.
    Aickman is generally acknowledged as a horror writer. While I'd tag "The Hospice" as more satire than horror -- although a couple of the images near the end certainly evoke a dread of death -- other stories like "Ringing the Changes" and "The Inner Room" are certainly horror stories as well as weird, the former evoking the Wild Hunt as I recall, the latter inviting a psychological reading.

    For instance, in that thread I link to above, I go on rather extensively about Michael Shea's "The Autopsy," and if there's a better example of the squishily monstrous, I'd be hard pressed to cite it. And yet I think it a fine story, one that harks back to older s.f./horror and remains both frightening and yet does more than just frighten.

    [...]If there is any complaint to register about this work, it is a sheerly mechanical one: at 7-3/4 by 9-1/2 inches and well over 1100 pages--roughly 3-1/2 pounds' worth--it is very literally heavy going. My lady, who has small and slightly arthritic hands, simply could not comfortably manage reading it. A two-volume version might have made more sense.
    That's a sound suggestion. In the past Tor has done this with The Dark Descent. One of the recent Otto Penzler anthologies also did this, coming out in three mmpbs that had decent sized print and were less cumbersome to handle.

    Anyway, I highly recommend the work for the library of any aficionado of the fantastic in literature.
    Even though I haven't finished it, I agree.


    Randy M.

  3. #3
    It never entered my mind algernoninc's Avatar
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    I must get this, it's been published years ago and I keep seeing it hailed as the one of the best works in editing and putting together a repsentative sample for the genre. As regards the weight, I'll look for it in the Sony ebook store so I don't have to worry about weight and width.

  4. #4
    Next to Arch Stanton ezchaos's Avatar
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    I bought "The Weird" over the summer and have loved it. I read the first 20 or so stories in a row and since then have jumped around to whichever stories catch my interest. Every story has been enjoyable and when I've finished most them, I have to pause and just say "Wow!". Some of the standouts for me which I can recall were "Sredni Vastar", "The People of the Pit", "The Mainz Psalter" and "The Shadowy Street". This volume will be providing a lot of enjoyment over the coming years.

    I wanted to get a paper copy of this book but when I saw how big and awkward it was, I just opted for the ebook version.

  5. #5
    Webmaster, Great SF&F owlcroft's Avatar
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    To war! To war! We're going to go to war! ("Duck Soup")

    Just as there is a lot of horror that tries for the big "BOO!" and doesn't achieve any "Boo!" there's plenty of fantasy that uses unicorns and dragons and remains as prosaic as a suburb.
    Those things are so, but I don't think they're germane. The crux is the writer's intentions. My argument has always been that in any flavor of speculative fiction--which I define as any tale in which one or more rules of nontrivial consequence, whether natural law or human societal, work differently than has ever been observed in consensus reality--the point of the difference in the rules is not just to generate zippy wallpaper for the story but rather to allow the author to better or more readily say what he or she has to say about Life, The Universe, and Everything (also known to travel on passports saying "The Human Condition").

    Fantasy that uses unicorns and dragons can be of that flavor (as with Lord of the Rings, to take a blindingly obvious example), or it can be something, as you well put it, as prosaic as a suburb, wherein the "magical" elements have no real relation to the heart of the tale and are just there to provide pretty window treatments (so to speak). But that is a distinction between well-crafted and poorly crafted fantasy fiction. With the horror tale, it seems to me that the basic intent of the author is qualitatively different: it is not primarily to comment on Life, The Universe, and Everything, but rather is focussed on creating a single emotion and mood. A skilled horror writer can craft a definite feeling of unease and even fear, but that is like a fine brandy compared to a meal: it may be elegant to the taste, but it does not, and cannot by its nature, nourish. (I know, I know, arguing by analogies is a slippery slope).

    That is my distinction: the ultimate goal (or nominal goal) of the horror writer as opposed to the fantasy writer; the second is just larger than the first. That does not disparage horror: Heaven knows fine brandy is a wonderful thing. But it does, i feel, provide a reasonable critical tool with which to meaningfully divide "horror" fiction from "fantasy" fiction.

    The "weird"--or "strange stories"--seems to me a category that includes both types, horror and fantasy. You correctly point out the "It's good so it can't possibly be horror" trap, but I don't think it's "good" or "bad" that is the distinction. A fantasy, as I use the word, can contain aspects of horror or terror, but it is by its nature larger than that. The Shirley Jackson classic The Haunting of Hill House is well-stocked with horror (actually, as the Wikipedia article on it points out, terror rather than horror), but though commonly called a horror story, the book's focus is not at all on the terror of the supernatural, but rather on the terror of a human psyche that is badly damaged: it is a psychological study, and has a lot, indeed, to say about The Human Condition, and that saying is enabled by the supernatural framing, which is exactly what fantastic fiction ought to be: insights enabled by the fantastic elements.

    Is Robert Aickman a horror writer or a fantasy writer? To me, he is probably as borderline a case as there is. His works most often do not evoke "horror" in the reader so much as a deeper (and more affecting) sense of profound unease, bordering on (and occasionally crossing into) fear. That sounds like an elegant variation on horror, but there is also the issue of his protagonists' responses to the strange events they experience, and a colorable case can be made that he is exploring a deal more than merely how to get his readers to squirm.

    Well, this is all, I suppose, sempiternal.

  6. #6
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    sounds as though horror is being a bit discredited with remarks like "I suggest, is that horror tales have a specific and relatively narrow goal, which is to evoke a sense of horror (or terror) in the reader, while fantasy tales can and at their best do involve all the many complex thoughts and feelings that fiction in general seeks to evoke in readers."

    I didn't realize horror writers had no desire to involve complex thoughts that may stray from horror solely.

    I wouldn't tell them that.

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