November 4th, 2012, 05:42 PM
Webmaster, Great SF&F
"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.