kw: book reviews, story reviews, fiction, fantasy, horror
An image of one of Mike Libby's Insect Lab creations adorns the covers of The New Weird, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. I didn't know there was a new weird. In the overly long introduction, Jeff V. belabors the death of the Old Weird, exemplified by H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, and the arising of the New, among writers whose work is exhibited in this volume.
Starting in 1967, at a lonely period of my life, I went to the local library, found the Science Fiction section, and checked out the first five books. A few days later I brought them back and checked out the next five. This went on for months until I got halfway through the L's. The first story I read by Lovecraft spooked me so badly that I got quite a bit more selective and began to read the blurbs in the book jackets. Fortunately, I had Doc Smith to look forward to (hear year's end), whose over-simplified space opera was just what I needed. Since those days I have avoided the sorts of material one finds in Weird Tales and similar rags.
Though "Weird", new or old, encompasses horror, that is only a small part of its territory. The necessary element is the supernatural, or at least the unexplainable. Much horror writing, then, does not fit in the Weird bailiwick, and vice versa.
I have, so far, read the first section of The New Weird (it's a big volume), titled Stimuli. Of the six stories in this section, "The Luck in the Head", by M. John Harrison, is all style (overwrought style) and no substance; it goes nowhere and leaves its protagonist as empty as he began; "In the Hills, the Cities" by Clive Barker starts out as overly-erotic fantasy, so I skipped it; "Crossing into Cambodia" by Michael Moorcock is an exaggerated soldier story, speculative fiction of global war and nuclear exchange but no particularly weird element; and "The Neglected Garden" is straight supernatural horror that I skimmed, very lightly.
"The Braining of Mother Lamprey" by Simon D. Ings is of more interest to me. It explores the world after a Change that inverts much of the natural order of things: science doesn't work any more, magic does; spontaneous generation is the order of the day; and children are born precocial instead of altricial (they can take care of themselves) and are exiled to a fenced region to duke it out…those who survive until they are tall enough escape over the fence into the Adult world. The protagonist is faced with a dangerous dilemma and a deadly opponent. In a triumph of magical ju-jitsu, he exploits the weakness hidden in his enemy's strongest talent.
Finally, "A Soft Voice Whispers Nothing" by Thomas Ligotti also doesn't seem to go anywhere, but it did remind me of something. The protagonist moves from a somewhat ordinary place to a city "in the north" that is predominantly gray. The language loses color with the progress of the story. This was a device used by Albert Camus in "The Stranger", which also goes nowhere, but leaves the reader with a certain sympathy for a suicide, though Camus's protagonist is effectively committing suicide by judicial process.
In the three images above, one has exaggerated color saturation and one is nearly grayed out, but not completely. The closing sentences of "Soft Voice" bring back a hint of literary color, just as seeing a low-saturation image a few times will make it seem more colorful. To many people, who don't pay much attention to what they see, the third image above might seem quite normal. One expects the story's protagonist will not live long.
I'll continue piecemeal reviewing as I read them.