New Weird Feed

The New Weird Archives

499255918_fbd86dabfd_m No one has centralized copies of the discussions of what "cyberpunk" should be. Bits and pieces exist in sources like Bruce Sterling's Cheap Truth. But the real discussion is mostly lost.

But electronic archives of the discussion of The New Weird do exist despite their disappearance from the Web a few years ago. There is a sad little "404 - Not Found" message at the pages where these discussions used to be, which has been there for a number of years. I've decided to host copies of the New Weird files that have been floating around in the aether.

So. HERE THEY ARE! (Back to haunt the lot of us.) The discussion happened in 5 segments:

  • 1 (The New Weird)
  • 2 (Function follows Form: New Weird 2)
  • 3 (The New Weird 3: The New Weird)
  • 4 (The New Weird 4: Own Wired)
  • 5 (New Weird 4.5 : the net on both sides)

The discussion is quite long and some of the formatting gets lost in translation, but I've included links at the top of each page to text files with better formatting.

At the time I declared the exercise "The Mad-Hatter's Tea Party of literary discussion" and vowed never to do such a thing again. For more on my thoughts about it at the time, see my New Weird category.

MEANWHILE, Jeff & Anne VanderMeer have an anthology coming out on this subject which is sure to straighten us all out on what all the fuss was about.

(I gather that a computer game of telephone has mangled China Miéville's name throughout. I'll try to fix that this evening.)

(New Weird polemicist M. John Harrison shown above. Photo by Pat Cadigan.)

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party of Literary Discussion

I woke up from a dream that Peter was attending a writers workshop with a bunch of people I knew. I was very worried that he couldn't actually literally write, but Kathy Goonan assured me that his stories were good so they'd find a way around the writing part. He'd brought to the workshop an enormous beautiful blue beetle, which escaped, but after a long confusing dream sequence in which Peter's rabbit also escaped, the bug was caught and I could go. So I left and walked around town while he was at the workshop, and found myself at the counter of a line of cosmetics designed by M. John Harrison. The saleswoman was very eager to apply samples to me, and I was resisting. When I looked at the clock, it was just before 6, so here I am.

I think I'm done discussing the New Weird for now. I've feel like I've been the Mad Hatter's Tea Party of Literary Discussion.

I as I said yesterday, I was willing to entertain M. John Harrison and China Miéville's whole post-Seattle No Logos stance for the purpose of discussion, but what the whole exercise proved to me was that you can't really discuss literature in those terms unless you are talking only about a single author. I think I've learned my lesson and won't be drawn into a literary discussion on those terms again.

For the uninitiated, post-Seattle refers to the Seattle WTO thing as a pivotal event and No Logos apparently refers to Naomi Klein, who has codified post-Seattle politics or some such. It is the globalization of anti-globalization.

I have other problems with what I understand to be post-Seattle politics, but as a literary impulse, I think post-Seattlism is DOA. It energized the discussion by creating suspense but prevented most of the actual discussion from taking place.

In the interests of rejecting potential commercial globalization of their movement (or its symbolic exploitation or some such), they were very coy about who was in it or what works they were discussing, wanting instead to discuss matters of principle and say what their movement wasn't.

You just plain have to be able to say what you are talking about to have a meaningful discussion of literature. I think the noses out of joint are largely a result of the failure of this experiment.

Now that we've celebrated the unbirthday, I think I'd like my cup of tea, please (or coffee, actually).

MEANWHILE, Greg van Eekhout's readers discuss the Harrison interview in Strange Horizons in which he says,

I think it's undignified to read for the purposes of escape.

(Via Patrick Nielsen Hayden by e-mail.)

Well, enough lit-crit escapism and screaming literary class anxiety! Let's regain our dignity and see what's been going on in the world while I've had my head buried in people's fantasies about fantasy.

Tecnhonrati's breaking news appears to be broken at the moment, which is unfortunate, since that is my favorite way to read news.

ON HUMAN ORIGINS, there have been a couple if interesting news stories in the past few days.

This morning in the Financial Times, I see

The oldest known fossils of modern humans have been discovered in Ethopia. An international team led by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found the skulls of two adults and a child dating from 160,000 years ago - 40,000 years earlier than the previous oldest remains of Homo sapiens.

The discovery, described on Thursday in the journal Nature, fills a big gap in the human fossil record: the absence of accurately dated hominid remains in Africa between 120,000 and 300,000 years ago.

(I should have read my e-mail from Nature more closely, otherwise I would have known this already!) Here's Nature's summary:

Evidence for the 'Out of Africa' hypothesis for the origin of Homo sapiens has been questioned because of the lack of African hominid fossils from a critical period, between 100,000 and 300,000 years ago. New finds from the Middle Awash region of Ethiopia have filled that gap. A near-complete adult skull and a partial child's skull have been dated to about 160,000 years old, making them the oldest remains that can be firmly assigned to modern Homo sapiens. In addition this shows that morphologically modern humans had emerged long before 'classic' Neanderthals vanished from Eurasia. The series of illustrations on the cover, by J. Matternes, are reconstructions based on the fossilized adult male cranium from the Herto locality.

Also, and more significant in a science-fictional way, is the suggestion that we are all descended from a human population of about 2,000 which lived about 100,000 years ago and that there was a point when our species nearly went extinct. This is based on lack of genetic diversity among humans as compared to our closest relative, chimpanzees.

There's a novel in that. (Paging Rob Sawyer!) I can't find the version of the story I was reading yesterday, but here's the ABCNews version.

ONE FURTHER NEW WEIRD REMARK: I just encountered an interesting Naomi Klein quote about the post-Seattlism: This is a movement that has declared it has "no followers, only leaders." This was exactly what was wrong with the New Weird discussion; an attempt to follow that model when discussing literature stood this inclusive discourse on its head.

THE LIGHTER SIDE OF SPACE OPERA RESEARCH: Found as a reply to what must have been a bit of porn spam inserted into the Yahoo Space Opera Discussion Group:

Look, if we wanted great sex lives, we wouldn't be reading space opera, so go find a more appropriate group to post in!

I'm still wipping the tears out of my eyes.

And check out this reader testimonial in praise of reading for escape:

One of my greatest loves in SF is the Space Opera. You can't beat it for sheer mindless entertainment, and sometimes, you just don't want to have to think about the hero's motivation. Or the alien's. You just want to blast things. Space Opera is perfectly suited for that.

For sheer space operatic fun, I don't personally think that anyone beats Edmond Hamilton. You can't get any more operatic than the works of someone nicknamed "The World Wrecker."

We Need a Broader Discussion of Genre Boundaries

The New Weird conversation is interesting and energetic. But a discussion of genre boundaries needs to encompass more writers, works, and publications than can be accomodated in a discussion of the New Weird. Defined by process of elimination, the New Weird is rapidly shrinking. Remaining New Weird writers are, by my count, M. John Harrison, China Miéville, Justina Robson, maybe Gabe Choinard, and one or two drafted posthumously. Everyone else has been shot down or left.

Alastair Reynolds is irretrievably New Space Opera unless he can be wooed away from accomodating reader expectations. We should pay very close attention to Jeff VanderMeer's departure (taking with him the crowd he publishes, I think), Jeff having concluded that he will not be using the term New Weird. With Jeff's departure, a significant majority of writers negotiating a new relationship with genre are out.

As I stated (in my June 4th post in the New Weird discussion), there is a widespread change in writers' relationships to genre boundaries that is different than Slipstream. I am now convinced that this is not the New Weird, but something else which is perhaps in need of naming.

There is a thriving movement of small press magazines, antholgies, and web sites publishing off-genre fiction, fiction in dialog with genre while outside the parameters of what the major magazines can publish: Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Polyphany, Conjuctions: 39, Leviathan, Fantastic Metropolis, etc. These, too, are not New Weird.

Neither Miéville's nor Harrison's influence can be conflated with the New Weird. The New Weird is narrow but the influence of Perdido Street Station and Miéville's other novels is broad. And while Miéville's work seems to me strongly in the tradition of Dhalgren, Delany is definitely not New Weird because he thinks genre boundaries serve a useful purpose (and I agree with him).

Harrison is widely influential in his lifelong attack on fantasy and science fiction tropes and his violating of readers' expectations. Some credit him with having destroyed the old Space Opera in the early '70s. But again, we cannot count influence as equivalent with the New Weird.

Influence, after all, is a function of reception rather than writer's intent.

Hard SF & Space Opera Spillover

The discussion of the New Weird and it's relation to genre keeps spilling over into hard sf and space opera, both topics I'm very interested in, so I'm inviting long digressions beyond the limits of social acceptability over to my place. As soon as I can put Elizabeth down, I'll add extracts.

So, what do we think is happening with regard to genre boundaries in the new hard sf and the new space opera that is too long to say (or really not relevant) in the context of the discussion of the New Weird?

Here are selected quotes about Space Opera and as discussed in context of the New Weird

Jonathan Strahan (April 30, 2003):   

Much like the new space opera (a term invented by a bunch of critics to cover the fact that they got distracted by cyberpunk and didn't notice that no-one had stopped writing the other stuff), the new weird/new wave fabulist/slipstream whatever seems to be a pretty happy and healthy outgrowth of some things that came before which would probably be much better of if left unlabeled and left to grow in the dark where they belong.

M. John Harrison (May 03, 2003): 

My increasing sense is that both the New Weird & the New Space Opera, although they have clear and acknowledged roots, are a response to *now*, rather than a kind of inturned, in-genre historical development, or just a development from an alternative but equally historical root. Those writers are writing about the world now. That's why I like what's going on so much, that's why it's all so invigorating: that's also why I want to be careful who defines it.

Alastair Reynolds (May 07, 2003): 

One thing I think worth adding is that - judging by remarks in interviews and so on - a lot of the new writers have a very ambiguous relationship with the genre they're most likely to be associated with. China clearly has a bit of a love/hate thing going with fantasy (I loved his remark about consolatory fantasy making him "puke"!!!!). I feel a bit the same about space opera/ hard SF etc. A lot of it I can't stand, but it's still the area that I'm most interested in working in.

Jonathan Strahan (May 08, 2003): 

. . . it seems fair to say that the New Weird is secular; politically-informed and  culturally-aware; incorporates action and detail; and is intensely visual. It also is aware of its genre antecedents without being bound by them. I'd add that it is pretty clear that the New Weird and the New Space Opera are at least sibs, if not actually the same thing. And it seems to be more UK-based, for some reason (though it certainly is coming to the fore in the US).

Paul J. McAuley (June 04, 2003): 

Alternate cultural frameworks is something I've been banging on about for some time, ever  since I was outed as a ringer bending space opera to my own fell ends; that is, trying to make  space opera do something that didn't reinforce the hegemony of American capitalist democracy.  I don't make any extraordinary claims about this; it's an attitude that Brits are likely to assume as a matter of course, since they're outsiders in a genre that's characteristically American.  Brian Aldiss was Third Worlding it long before most everyone else in a genre which is supposed to be open to all kinds of ideas and weird points of view, but is too often open only to those which reinforce American triumphalism.

Alastair Reynolds (June 10, 2003): 

I think the New Weird/New Space Opera discussion is very interesting because it forces us to take a good hard look at what we're doing, ask why we're doing it and if it's what we want to keep on doing. The problem (*if* it's a problem) with the New Space Opera (or the New Radical Hard SF, or whatever we want to call it) is that, by its nature, it can't ever be as weird as the NW unless it becomes the NW itself. This is because the New Space Opera will always exclude anything it can't rationalise. If I have a ghost walk on in chapter five of my new book, there will be a vast weight of expectation for that ghost to be susceptible to rational explanation within the framework of the story because I have a rap as a hard SF writer. I don't think the New Weird has this problem - the grab-bag is open and it's a given that anything goes. It's like that fantastic bit in (sorry) PSS, where the authorities reluctantly contact Hell to see if it can help them out with the moth problem (which of course sets up the utter awfulness of dealing with the Weaver, my favorite of all China's characters).

(I do suggest reading them in context and encourage further New Weird discussion. I don't want to interrupt Mike's party.)

IN THE COMMENTS: Charles Stross makes a radical suggestion.


A piece on Samuel R. Delany in  LA Weekly:

Delany views science fiction as not a literary but a "para-literary" genre. "Many people think of it as a kind of disposable text that doesn't have any stylistic, intellectual or aesthetic merit -- and I think it does," he explains. "I think the fact it's been considered this way for a long time has had a great effect on how the genre writes itself, thinks itself, puts itself together. Obliterating the distinction between para-literature and literature is probably not a good thing, because it obliterates a great deal of the history of the genre."

And Mark Tiedeman responds to Sven Birkerts:

Why is psychology so all important that it displaces all else in consideration of what constitutes "Literature" with a capital L?

Don't get me wrong--if you don't do the characterization right, everything else starts to crumble. But there is more to art than one lens. And more than one thing on which to focus those lenses.

What Birkerts criticizes Atwood's novel for is a sacrifice of deeper character study for the sake of examining the social and technological concepts she's deploying. So what? This seems to me a question of degree--how much of what do you put in to make the story work and work well? A little less character so the consequences of the human will as worked on the world at large can be examined? The deeper reactions should then take place within the reader's imagination. Rather than prescribing an emotional content, it evokes it. That's how fiction should work anyway.

But lyrical writing, deep description, and serious examination of concept can be every bit as eloquent and evocative as study of character. To the extent that humans are part of the world--and the world both acts upon and responds to humans--where comes this idea that applying the same artful gaze to the landscape as we might to the personality of the characters renders the book less?

Because that's what Birkerts suggests. That, ultimately, in spite of the fact that he likes Atwood's book, it is necessarily less than her non SF work, because she's paying attention to externalities.

Well. Henry James--and obviously Sven Birkerts--was obsessed with psychology. And not everyone's, but a narrowly-defined type, exemplified by upper middle-class to upper class Victorian white people of the 19th Century. Other issues simply didn't attract his attention, not to the same degree. He took his own highly refined sensibilities--and considerable gifts as a writer--and handed down the pronouncement that this was the only worthwhile endeavor of the serious novel.

(Via LocusOnline.)

New Weird Discussion Continues

The discussion of the New Weird has just acquired a fourth URL, so I'll give all four links for the uninitiated. This is good stuff!

The New Weird
Function follows Form: New Weird 2
The New Weird 3: The New Weird
The New Weird 4: Own Wired

Go read!

I've got to hurry Peter off the church to be an animal in a play of Noah's Ark this morning. Geoff, Peter's great big brother, will be playing with the backup band. (It is extremely rare that Geoffrey is spotted out of bed at this hour of the day!)

Too Much Fun

A chipmunk just peered through the sliding glass door at me. I think it was the chipmunk that's spent two days in here that we couldn't manage to catch. I think it went ouside when I intended it to, and was now trying to come back inside to its newfound "home."

I've been having too much fun posting on M. John Harrison's forum discussing the New Weird, getting into heated discussions of whether genre boundaries are good or evil, whether we would be willing to die for our literary beliefs, and generally hashing out what the New Weird is. I've arrived at a formulation I'm rather pleased with (though someone may chime in in radical disagreement at any moment): the New Weird is deeply opposed to is the corrupt linkage between marketing category and genre product.

New Weirdness

There's an interesting discussion of new trends in fantasy fiction in the TTA Press M. John Harrison discussion forum: The New Weird and Function follows Form: New Weird 2. There's a lot to read here, and I've just gotten started. One of the highlights is a long manifesto-like piece by China Miéville in the second portion. (Via Gallowglass.)

ELECTRONIC ARCHEOLOGY: Here are two pretty but deeply trivial pictures I found on my hard drive when looking for something else. Peter wanted me to scan in Vinyl, one of his Australian White's tree frogs. This species of frog is not only unusually personable but also photogenic. (One frequently sees them presented on TV or in movies as wild frogs on continents and in climates where they have no business being.) This is, however, not Vinyl's best angle. The frog was in a plastic creature keeper, and it moved a bit during both scans.

MEANWHILE: Ari Fleisher resigns. Any number of smart remarks occur to me, but I suppose I should just say that I wish him well in the private sector and hope for a more candid successor. OK, I can't resist. Here's the headline I'd like to see: Press Secretary Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception. (Via Whiskey Bar which also has an irreverent graphic.)

IN FURTHER WEIRDNESS: Hatfill Hit by FBI Car While Under Surveillance

WASHINGTON�-�A scientist identified as "a person of interest" in the investigation of the deadly�anthrax (search)�attacks was slightly injured in a traffic incident involving a federal agent who was following him.

Dr. Steven J. Hatfill suffered a bruised foot and abrasions after the incident Saturday but wound up getting a ticket for "walking to create hazard" that carries a $5 fine, according to a copy of the citation provided Monday by Washington police.

Who are these jokers? Did they tell him his novel sucked, too?