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Review of two anthologies of the "New Weird" posted 16 July 2004 in ReviewsReview of two anthologies of the "New Weird" by Aldarion, Sorcerer-of-Rank

Recently, I received and read two anthologies, Conjunctions 39: The New Wave Fabulists and Breaking Windows: A Fantastic Metropolis Sampler. While each is different in content, style, and format, each purports to represent a sampling of what is now being called the New Weird, a hybrid style that combines elements of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and other assorted odds-and-ends in a way that projects a certain attitude toward the speculative fiction field that is very different from, and in some cases antagonistic toward, the Tolkien-influenced fantasy forms.

Conjunctions 39 is a more formal anthology. Published by Bard College (side note: very prestigious liberal arts school), Conjunctions aims to be around the cutting-edge of new literature. Published twice a year, for the thirty-ninth issue, they asked noted horror writer and frequent contributor Peter Straub to guest edit that issue. He chose to focus on the burgeoning movement that China Miéville, among others, had started to call the New Weird. However, not all of the picks were strictly new writers. In fact, a great many included (Gene Wolfe, M. John Harrison in particular) were chosen more to show an evolution in this movement's direction than just to highlight new writers.

As many have said elsewhere, Dangerous Visions this is not. And yet...there's just something about this collection that should appeal to those here who enjoy reading non-conventional fantasy stories. In particular, I found Neil Gaiman's "October in the Chair" to be a bridging sort of fable, one that purposely envokes the magic of Ray Bradbury's prose and drags it kicking and screaming (or maybe being led gently back would be a more apt description) into a mileau that is itself a progeny of the dystopic langscapes that dot many of Bradbury's stories.

Kelly Link does an excellent job with "Lull" of creating false moments of security before exploding the full force of the story in our faces. Miéville forsakes Bas-Lag to create the vivid and ultimately chilling "Familiar". Karen Joy Fowler displays her talent for characterization in the excellent "The Further Adventures of the Invisible Man."

The other authors included are Jonathan Carroll, John Crowley, Andy Duncan, Joe Haldeman, Elizabeth Hand, Nalo Hopkinson, John Kessel, Jonathan Lethem, James Morrow, Patrick O'Leary, Paul, as well as two essays by John Clute and Gary K. Wolfe.

Certainly a worthwhile collection of stories, even if it is uneven and unfocused in terms of intent.

Breaking Windows, in contrast, is a much more focused collection of stories, interviews, and essays. This first collection from the Fantastic Metropolis website, edited by Luís Rodrigues, certainly has the style and attitude of the New Weird, at least those elements of it that are featured on the site. This printed collection serves as a quasi- Best of Fantastic Metropolis for its first couple of years (through early 2003). As such, all of the material I mention here can be read for free on its site.

Michael Moorcock begins the collection with an essay he wrote for a Christmas edition of FM. In it, he explores the subversive possibilities of speculative fiction and how "sanitized" the field has become since the 1950s. He gives a nice overview of genre developments and how it relates to contemporary literary movements and attitudes. Whether you agree with his views or not, Moorcock's "Christmas Editorial" is well worth a read.

Jeff VanderMeer then follows with an essay on what he calls "the Shadow Cabinet," which is an anti-canon of those works that are too imaginative for easy mass consumption, yet which are well worth the effort needed to explore the ideas and images that they conjure in the reader. L. Timmel Duchamp closes the editoral section with a short essay on the passions that can be invoked in a private (and even sometimes rebellious) reading of a work, rather than the following of a public reading trend.

The stories that follow vary wildly in tone and effect. I personally found Andew S. Fuller's "(All That Happens) Before the Epilogue" to be a great read, not just because of its experimental use of the English language, but because he manages to envoke a variety of emotional responses from me over the course of his story. Zoran Zivkovic (of The Fourth Circle fame) has an excerpt from The Book printed here, one that serves to make me want to buy it ASAP.

Yet some of the other stories reflect weaknesses in their styles. For some authors in the collection, the imagination, while vivid, is not properly harnessed to the structure of the story to create the desired effect. For others, the characterization is just not strong enough to carry the plots. But as a whole, these stories read like beginning efforts toward something grand.

Finally, Breaking Windows closes with some reviews and interviews, many of which cast the stories before in the context of the movements from which they sprang (or which they are rebelling against). Zivkovic gives a very thoughtful review of Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End that is much more positive than the one I gave it. Miéville gives an updated list of fifty books that socialists should read in the spec fic field. And then are some intriguing interviews with Dan Pearlman and Tony Daniel to close out the collection.

So which of these two collections should be read first? I believe that Breaking Windows does more to place the New Weird in an editorial context and would serve as a good introduction to what that movement has been about. However, Conjunctions 39: The New Wave Fabulists contains some really moving stories and probably will be the better-suited read for those who want samples of authors that have already established themselves in the field. But I certainly do recommend both collections to people here who enjoy reading non-traditional fantasy stories. view post


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