Michael Underwood, author of Shield and Crocus, discusses how works from the New Weird has influenced his style of writing.
The summer of 2004, I took my first graduate seminar. Except it wasn’t a class, and I wasn’t in school. I was participating in a book group with David Higgins and Darja Malcolm-Clarke, SF scholars and friends.
Without that extracurricular seminar, I would not be the writer I am today. I certainly wouldn’t have written a New Weird novel of my own.
But what did the New Weird do, and what does it have to say now, more than five years after the release of The New Weird, regarded as the definitive collection on the sub-genre, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer?
When we look at the works grouped loosely under the quicksilver & cog umbrella of the New Weird, we can see some notable commonalities:
1) The bold melding of genres. Many works of the New Weird combine science fiction, fantasy, horror, and elements of the pulps, using one genre to re-interpret another. These works blow straight past neat taxonomies and embrace a plurality of influence.
2) The movement away from Tolkeinistic fantasy. New Weird frequently works directly against many of the dominant tropes and assumptions of fantasy. Tolkeinist fantasy tends to be anti-industrial, pro-monarchic, and concerned with the elite. Many New Weird protagonists are characters on the fringe, anti-establishment agents – dissidents, convicts, artists, rather than the shining knights and noble princesses of the establishment. The New Weird also tends toward cynicism, frequently refusing the eucatastrophe that Tolkien praised in his seminal essay “On Fairy Stories.”
3) The City as Character. New Weird stories revolve around cities, the fight for their figurative soul, and the heterogeneous effect of city life on cultural exchange.
4) Transformation. From The Remade, Grey Caps & Partials, and the bodies as maps in Palimpsest, transformation and change is common and central to the New Weird. Bodies are canvases, laboratories, and prisons, acted on as a literalization of state power, or rendered protean, possibility twinned with uncontrollable change.
There have been New Weird works since the VanderMeer’s anthology, such as The Half-Made World, Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch, and 2014 has works such as The Waking Engine (David Edison) and Unwrapped Sky (Rjurik Davidson). The New Weird is no longer the hot topic sub-genre that it was, but we can see its influence elsewhere in the genre, as more boundary-crossing works crop up, as revolutionary politics work their way into the spotlight. It’s become a symbiote living alongside and within other works and cultural threads in the genre, its subtle influence transforming the whole organism of the fantastic.