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CROSS-CRAFTING WITH A VENGEANCE: THE NEW WEIRD
Genre labels. Librarians love them because they can quietly signal new finds to readers of genre fiction. They're a kind of library shorthand, much as Dewey Decimal labels are-- a subtle signpost for the knowledgable browser. Still, genre labels have their limits. It can be hard to discover a new author when your favorite titles are thinly scattered throughout a much larger general fiction collection, labels or no. We created the Speculative Fiction area at New City Library with the intention of fixing this problem. By bringing the three related genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror together into their own space, we hoped to support the kind of happy serendipity that only happens in a small browsing collection. As it turns out, there's been an unexpected side benefit.
You see, there's another limitation to genre labels: nothing requires an author to stick to a single genre when telling a story. Dark fantasy-- fantasy with a seasoning of horror-- has been around for a while now. So has science fantasy, in worlds like Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover, where technology is frequently indistiguishable from magic. Dark SF has been gaining in popularity with titles like Star Wars: Death Troopers and the forthcoming post-apocalyptic thriller The Passage by Justin Cronin. And of course, any of the speculative fiction genres can (and do!) blend quite smoothly with romance or mystery or historical fiction, or any other genre you can name. (Who says there can't be cowboys in space?) Although we still use genre labels, we're well aware that they don't always show the entire picture-- there's only so much room on the spine, after all!
That brings me to the topic of this month's blog. Most recently, we've seen authors transcending the conventions of genre entirely, giving us what some are calling the "New Weird." Authors like China Mieville and Jeff VanderMeer are introducing us to strange and often unsettling new worlds that blend futuristic technology, magic, and the supernatural... while Neil Gaiman and Elizabeth Hand are bringing those elements home to us in stories set disturbingly close to own reality. The one thing they all hold in common-- aside from a love of the fantastic and the surreal-- is a refusal to be bound by the standard conventions of genre. Be advised, and take their genre labels with a grain of salt.
A quick plug, before I continue with this month's list of "New Weird" fiction: New City is adding a new library-hosted book club this summer that's right up your alley (that is, if your alley is plastered with weird alien sigils, or hides the entrance to a wizard's hangout). "In Other Worlds," hosted by Veronica Reynolds and myself, will be meeting on the third Wednesday of every month at 7 PM to discuss works chosen from science fiction, fantasy, horror, and everything in between. An Asimov short story will start us off in June (available at the Adult Reference Desk at the beginning of the month). Our July selection, China Mieville's Perdido Street Station, can be found on the list below (how's that for a segue?). If you haven't read it already for One Book, One Twitter (or even if you have), come chat with us about Neil Gaiman's American Gods in August. Look for further details in the upcoming summer newsletter. I hope to see you there!
And now, on with the list...
Heart of Veridon by Tim Akers (PbkFantasy Akers)
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes (Fantasy Barnes)
Scar Night by Alan Campbell (Fiction Campbell)
The Wooden Sea by Jonathan Carroll (Fiction Carroll)
Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow (Fiction Doctorow)
Vellum: The Book of all Hours by Hal Duncan (Fantasy Duncan)
The Emperor of Gondwanaland: And Other Stories by Paul Di Filippo (SF Filippo)
The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford (Fiction Ford)
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (Summer Reading Gaiman)
Thunderer by Felix Gilman (Fantasy Gilman)
Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory (Fantasy Gregory)
Saffron and Brimstone: Collected Stories by Elizabeth Hand (SF Hand)
Things that Never Happen by M. John Harrison (Fantasy SS Harrison)
Mainspring by Jay Lake (Fantasy Lake)
The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet by Kelly Link, ed. (SF Best)
The Light Ages by Ian R. MacLeod (SF MacLeod)
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville (SF Mieville)
Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton (Fantasy Newton) (forthcoming!)
Last Call by Tim Powers (Fantasy Powers)
Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Horror Priest)
Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia (Fantasy Sedia)
Resurrection Man by Sean Stewart (SF Stewart)
The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston (SF Swainston)
Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente (Fantasy Valente)
The New Weird by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Fiction New)
City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer (Fiction VanderMeer)
* For the curious, yes, there is an old "weird." Early 20th-century authors such as H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Howard, Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith were writing before the speculative fiction genres had really been established, and they frequently criss-crossed all over today's genre boundaries. Many of them were published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales-- hence, "weird fiction." Fhtagn's the word! Now back to the topic.