The New Weird (Download new_weird_1.doc)
TTalkback: Harrison, M John: The New Weird
By MJH on Tuesday, April 29, 2003 - 10:39 am:
The New Weird. Who does it ? What is it ? Is it even anything ? Is it even New ? Is it, as some think, not only a better slogan than The Next Wave, but also incalculably more fun to do ? Should we just call it Pick'n'Mix instead ? As ever, *your* views are the views we want to hear--
By Neil A on Tuesday, April 29, 2003 - 01:44 pm:
Or NuWeird even, Noo Weiyerd for the Noo Yoikers.
By iotar on Tuesday, April 29, 2003 - 01:53 pm:
Is it a bit like science fantasy but with more than a passing nod towards horror? Presumably the "Weird" refers back to Weird Tales - a pre-generic pulp era where SF, fantasy and horror were less well defined. I'm guessing here, based upon the Mieville attribution. Personally I think "Weird Shit" would be a better label - I'd like to see bookshops with a Weird Shit section. Next Wave kinda smacks of suburban hairdressers. Stu-Stu-Stu-Studio Line!
By Jonathan Oliver on Tuesday, April 29, 2003 - 03:43 pm:
Hi MJH Who coined the phrase The New Weird? I haven't seen it in use before? Jon
By MJP on Tuesday, April 29, 2003 - 03:48 pm:
Actually it's a mis-spelling. It should read, Own Wired. It means it's like one of those do it yourself transistor radio kits.
By Al on Tuesday, April 29, 2003 - 04:24 pm:
Would definitely rush to Weird Shit shelves, think they should be balanced with Heavy Shit also. Dictionary Weird - 'Strange or bizarre... supernatural, uncanny' Uncanny's nice - makes me thing of unheimlich, which I suppose is a v. good definition of it - uncomforting fiction...
By iotar on Tuesday, April 29, 2003 - 04:30 pm:
I'm not sure I'd go near uncanny shelves. I've seen what sort of injuries falling books can cause. "Excuse me miss, can I see the Heavy Shit librarian?"
By MJH on Tuesday, April 29, 2003 - 05:24 pm:
Nuevo Weird ? Iotar, the Heavy Shit librarian, sums things up as ever. It makes that exact allusion to Weird Tales and especially the fact that, back then, in that marvellous & uncorrupted time of the world, everything could still be all mixed up together--horror, sf, fantasy--and no one told you off or said your career was over with their firm if you kept doing that. I heard it in conversation with China Mieville his self, and cheekily reapplied it in a preface to "The Tain" (mainly so I could use the title "China Mieville & the New Weird", which I thought was second in impact only to "Uncle Zip and the New Nuevo Tango"). He writes it. But who else ? And what are its exact parameters ? Indeed, do we *want* it to have exact parameters ? Do we even want it ? Is it, as Steph says, instantly rendered Old by being spoken of as New ?
By nick on Tuesday, April 29, 2003 - 06:50 pm:
Didn't I suggest to Andy that he should change the title of his flagship magazine, if he was going to change it to anything, to Weird Shit?
By Steph on Tuesday, April 29, 2003 - 07:45 pm:
The New Weird is a wonderful development in literary fantasy fiction. I would have called it Bright Fantasy, because it is vivid and because it is clever. The New Weird is a kickback against jaded heroic fantasy which has been the only staple for far too long. Instead of stemming from Tolkein, it is influenced by Gormenghast and Viriconium. It is incredibly eclectic, and takes ideas from any source. It borrows from American Indian and Far Eastern mythology rather than European or Norse traditions, but the main influence is modern culture – street culture – mixing with ancient mythologies. The text isn’t experimental, but the creatures are. It is amazingly empathic. What is it like to be a clone? Or to walk on your hundred quirky legs? The New Weird attempts to explain. It acknowledges other literary traditions, for example Angela Carter’s mainstream fiction, or classics like Melville. Films are a source of inspiration because action is vital. The elves were first up against the wall when the revolution came, and instead we want the vastness of the science fiction film universe on the page. There is a lot of genre-mixing going on, thank god. (Jon Courtney Grimwood mixes futuristic sf and crime novels). The New Weird grabs everything, and so genre-mixing is part of it, but not the leading role. The New Weird is secular, and very politically informed. Questions of morality are posed. Even the politics, though, is secondary to this sub-genre’s most important theme: detail. The details are jewel-bright, hallucinatory, carefully described. Today’s Tolkeinesque fantasy is lazy and broad-brush. Today’s Michael Marshall thrillers rely lazily on brand names. The New Weird attempts to place the reader in a world they do not expect, a world that surprises them – the reader stares around and sees a vivid world through the detail. These details – clothing, behaviour, scales and teeth – are what makes New Weird worlds so much like ours, as recognisable and as well-described. It is visual, and every scene is packed with baroque detail. Nouveau-goths use neon and tinsel as well as black clothes. The New Weird is more multi-spectral than gothic. But one garuda does not make a revolution… There are not many New Weird writers because it is so difficult to do. Where is the rest? Jeff Noon? Samuel R. Delany? Do we have to wait for parodies of Bas-Lag? MJH how many revolutions have you been part of?? The New Weird is energetic. Vivacity, vitality, detail; that’s what it’s about. Trappings of Space Opera or Fantasy may be irrelevant when the Light is turned on.
By Des on Tuesday, April 29, 2003 - 08:26 pm:
Vivid and clever, yes, and uncluttered. The text itself need not be untextured, though. Densely textured (or neo-Proustian) *and* limpid would apply to the New Weird at different times ... but always uncluttered by anything else or anything unconnected with the text. IMHO Des
By Steph on Tuesday, April 29, 2003 - 10:11 pm:
Des: I agree. So the text is not 'baroque'; style must be elegant even though it can be dense. On a practical level, the speed of reading is very important for action scenes! The surreal aspect is my favourite (I like colourful) but even in this the New Weird is not New - Moorcock's "End of Time" books. The sub-genre is a combination of all these traits. But let's not make it too proscriptive...
By MJH on Tuesday, April 29, 2003 - 11:05 pm:
MJH: "in that marvellous & uncorrupted time of the world, everything could still be all mixed up together--horror, sf, fantasy--and no one told you off or said your career was over with their firm if you kept doing that." You could also include 'realistic' fiction, thriller and symbolist fiction in that definition. The book I am reading, half way through it, Rain, by Karen Duve, uses alot of those categories. It's very sly about it, and very, very funny. It seems realist, straight sober, well-mannered fiction but it subverts the entire ball game. So far anyway. She is very talented.
By MJP on Tuesday, April 29, 2003 - 11:06 pm:
Whoops - knew something was wrong with that last post. It's me, MJP, not MJH. Clear?
By Jonathan Strahan on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 - 12:14 am:
On 29/4 MJH wrote: "The New Weird. Who does it ? What is it ? Is it even anything ? Is it even New ? Is it, as some think, not only a better slogan than The Next Wave, but also incalculably more fun to do ? Should we just call it Pick'n'Mix instead ? As ever, *your* views are the views we want to hear-- " Or is it the sound of one hand re-inventing itself? I can't believe anyone is proposing another possible movement title. I mean aren't you a New Wave Fabulist or something? Seriously...I think it's a load of old cobblers. 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 off if left unlabelled and left to grow in the dark where they belong. I certainly can't believe that you (MJH), China, VanderMeer, or anyone else would be better off if you were packaged up with some handy-dandy label. Best J (who obviously will do anything to avoid actually writing what he should)
By MJP on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 - 09:15 am:
I understand this idea differently. So called mainstream Anglo-American fiction tends to be very literal minded. A chair is a chair, a bus is a bus kind of thing. You can't have the vertical stripes of a John Lewis logo morphing into a vision of distant hills. It just wouldn't do. Thus you have mainstream on the one hand and science fiction on the other. Only in science fiction does the logo morph, etc. This bifurcation is less pronounced in European literature. The metaphysical *is* in the mainstream.
By Al on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 - 09:28 am:
Have been pondering all this myself recently - and ranting to people about it as non-realist fiction, ie fiction that's aware that it's not real (it's just ink on paper, at the end of the day) and does interesting things with this, at whatever level. I don't see the point in trying to make a literal representation of a reality (itself a doomed enterprise) to talk about that reality, when you can have a dragon stick its head through the window, or the ghost of a spacemen wander past. For me, abandoning strict definitions of the real (tho' I think you still need emotional / thematic / internal coherence etc) leads to more interesting narratives, richer imagery, and a wider field of view in general. I do hesitate slightly to put a name on things - tho' it's good to have an inclusive banner to march under, it's also problematic if that becomes an exclusive banner to judge with. My attitude - if it works, use it, if it doesn't, find out why, and use that knowledge. Having said that, there's definitely something developing out there...
By Steph on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 - 10:09 am:
Johnathan Strahan: yes, agree that these authors would be better off without labels at all. Each is so individual anyway: China is writing his own style, etc. But they're too smart to feel limited by the fact some reviewer has bounded them together. That the authors have ten labels thrust upon the authors by readers/reviewers/publishers probably makes them want to rationalise it into one label! It isn't the authors doing the labelling, or wishing to join anything. Perhaps the rest of us are just trying to make sense of it. This is not the crest of a high and beautiful wave - it's a sub-genre with a lot of developing to do. Good writers are going to do what they do regardless of others' labelling and they'll outlive any fad (if this really exists, and if it is a fad).
By Rick on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 - 10:23 am:
I have to confess that this thread represents the extend of my exposure to the New Weird. So far my initial reaction is similar to Jonathan S's. Apart from the new label (Oh good, another new label...), what is new? Judging by Steph's explanation above, Clive Barker and Christopher Fowler have been newly weird for years, and possibly Banks as well sometimes. You might even be able to get away with hiding some of Moorcock's antiheroic stuff in there too - although perhaps not stylistically. A list of influences and sources from which borrowing is identifiable does not bode well for an exciting new movement. The healthiest stuff has always mixed and matched or mismatched without regard for labels. With determined *dis*regard for labels. A new movement... Apart from stuff like cyberpunk and space opera, which have the definition built into the label thus making it really easy for everyone, many of the movements that have gone before seemed to represent more of a shape-shifting, natural mutation: magic realism, Brit new wave, slipstream. All reactionary, but with blurred or easily disposable manifestos. New labels and sub-genres encourage people to try to write what fits fashion. Cyberpunk should have made that clear (shudders). Don't like labels. Don't like canons. Like beer.
By Jonathan Oliver on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 - 10:33 am:
I think that Rick sums up that argument nicely: "Don't like labels. Don't like canons. Like Beer" I'll second that and, what's more, I'll drink to it. (When I get home, obviously I'm not allowed to drink beer at my desk. BASTARDS!)
By MJH on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 - 11:04 am:
Hi Jonathan. The old dog learns to amuse itself wherever it can, sometimes by learning new tricks, sometimes by the copious use of irony, sometimes both. I believe I'm an honorary New Wave Fabulist, yes, along with about twenty other puzzled people. Generous of Brad Morrow to bestow that laurel on me after I so repeatedly savaged his New Gothic in the TLS in the 90s. As Steph remarked, "MJH, how many revolutions have you been part of ?" Two or three, I suppose, and sometimes I was there and sometimes I wasn't. That history gives me satisfactions, along with a point of view on names and naming, that you can't have. One thing is, I think it reductive to describe China or Justina or Al Reynolds (neither do I think you will be able to describe Steph herself), as a mere regrowth from some buried root. You may be able to describe many US Next Wavers as that, I'm sure. Were you intending to be reductive there, Jonathan, or was that just an accident of prose ? Reductivism can be so close to belittling, can't it ? Don't you find ? Another thing is, in misreading my opening post here (and ignoring the actual information contained in my second one) you underestimate not just the cheerful ironic glee of new-movement-naming; you underestimate the amount of agenda involved. If I don't throw my hat in the ring, write a preface, do a guest editorial here, write a review in the Guardian there, then I'm leaving it to Michael Moorcock or David Hartwell to describe what I (and the British authors I admire) write. Or, god forbid, I wake up one morning and find *you* describing me. There's a war on here, Jonathan. It's the struggle to name. The struggle to name is the struggle to own. Surely you're not naive enough to think that your bracingly commonsensical, "I think it's a lot of old cobblers" view is anything more than a shot in it ? One more question, and I think very pertinent to that last one-- Why do you want us to remain in the dark where we belong, Jonathan ? What might your unconcscious motive be for wanting that, do you think ?
By Neil A on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 - 11:32 am:
By Rick on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 - 12:09 pm:
Steph: "they're too smart to feel limited by the fact some reviewer has bounded them together".. definitely. The danger is probably for new writers who have yet to build confidence, literary identity and voice. Mike: your last post is scary. You decribe a literary/political struggle that cries out for canons. Another weapon of ownership surely. For the record, I thnk China M is brilliant both as a writer, and in his willingness to stand up and be counted where his politics are concerned. Justina is brilliant too. Neither can be described as "mere regrowth from some buried root". You've said yourself that there is nothing but influence. The trouble with labels and movements is that they imply parameters. They encourage people to disassemble what is a fully synthesised whole in a quest for its building blocks, its influences. To de-embed (?). There is plenty that's new or fresh... or that *feels* new and fresh. What are we after? To define it so we can break it down into identifiable components? What then? Understand the bits in a stab at literary determinism. Study enough bits and all possible texts will emerge? Ownership... Re-reading the above I make no sense at all. Sorry. But *I* know what I mean so I have to post it anyway. Okay, I'm bracing myself...
By MJP on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 - 01:12 pm:
Structure is what I think we are after. (What I am, anyway.) Handke: "Work is almost all structure ..." You get the structure, you can do the essay. The story. Or whatever. It falls into place. You can complete. No structure, no completion. (Eg hard to write an essay on what science fiction is without limiting terms to structure it. On the other hand, what does limit it? Nothing? On these grounds - no essay.)
By Justina on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 - 01:48 pm:
It's like Venn diagrams, isn't it? Everyone involved in artistic creation has a whole lot of things going on at once. Some are big footprints over predecessors and some come in from the quirky sidelines of whoever's life it is and taken all together you have a full picture of what someone's doing at a particular moment. Trouble is, all of those Venn circles are politically charged and economically charged, like it or not. The assignment of value (quality) is something you have to do because you're human and everything has to be categorised somewhere on the scale of Important To Me/Not Important To Me. We all know, mostly to our cost, exactly what the Science Fiction/Fantastic stamp is worth in the contemporary economy of literature. It's so powerful a stamp that Margaret Atwood's publicist has gone to enormous lengths (and has been aided) to make sure it doesn't appear in any review of Oryx and Crake in mainstream press. (I say this because as far as I've been able to track it through a discussion on FEM-SF, MA herself has never derided SF). Saying these divisions are cobblers expresses justified exasperation but it's disingenuous. This is a war, the winners get all the loot and to name the Truth. I think MJH is right. It's also why his stand to claim the right to define, and China's stand, and my stand (see ICA May 14) is pissing in the wind unfortunately as none of us has Recognised Power of Naming. I think that Literature is going to come to SF and try and take the entire thing over by main force in the next 5 years. Compare, for interest, two recent publications; Jeff Noon's Falling Out of Cars and Don De Lillo's Cosmopolis. (Personally I think the main difference will be that one is fun to read and the other isn't, but that's not what I'm getting at. I think these 2 books are about exactly the same thing.) I think this has to happen, because the world has turned into an SF world. This won't prevent SF itself remaining marginalised and associated with Trek and Buffy conventions, sigh, and the reason is that if you cold read a new book by an unknown author from a devalued genre then you will never set it up alongside a book from a well known author from an overvalued genre (see peer pressure, psychological weakness of human species, consensus etc...)
By Neil A on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 - 02:32 pm:
Or you could take the Nemonymous route... Not that the world is going to, but that would be a supremely brave direction for a movement to take... find a few decent publishers, TTA for example, who are willing to alter their marketing and follow Des' example, and a step can be taken towards Mike's 10 books in a library that you know nothing about but actually, yes, do want to read. I know I got a similar pleasure from reading Nemonymous as MJH described... ah, it wasn't on this thread, maybe it was on the canonicity one.
By Henry on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 - 06:26 pm:
It seems to me that to describe the New Weird as a movement or a school is to fall into a trap; one immediately starts trying to categorize, to reduce, to say that writers of the New Weird are x, y and z, and that x, y and z are what is important about them. It's only one short step from there to self-published manifestoes, official goals and Five Year Programmes. I reckon that it's more useful to think of the New Weird as an argument. An argument between a bunch of writers who read each other, who sometimes influence each other, sometimes struggle against that influence. Who don't ever agree on what the New Weird is, on where it starts and stops, but are prepared to harangue each other about it. Describing the New Weird in these terms involves its own kind of codswallop, but at least it's a less constricting kind of codswallop. But I'm an academic rather than a writer; I -look- and -read- but I don't -do- so I'm writing this from the outside.
By Cheryl Morgan on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 - 10:53 pm:
Labels are marketing gimmicks. I've been asked to be on a panel about the New Wierd (although it isn't called that) at Wiscon. The main reason the panel exists is that China is one of the GoHs and lots of eager Americans want to know where they can find "more like this". So yes, Jonathan, it may be a load of old cobblers from a literary theory point of view, but it is also an opportunity to sell more books, and perhaps even secure a US publishing contract or two. So who wants me to claim them for the New Weird?
By Rick on Wednesday, April 30, 2003 - 11:14 pm:
I could live with that as an alternative interpretation, but then it becomes an in-crowd in-joke. MJP: I think there's scope for debate about carts and horses here. Structure is often something that is only seen in retrospect. Depending on the method favoured by the writer, it is not unusual for structure to be the last thing on an author's mind. In these cases it emerges from the struggle and the resolution. Completion occurs and then, later, the structure is perceived. I'm still mulling over Justina's post. It's the one that's made me think my opinion may be more flexible than I realised. It's taking me longer to think through than it took Justina to write... I'm a slow thinker. Nemonymous is a labour of love and genius. I see Des Lewis as a splendid example of a brilliant label- and movement-resistant writer. There was a time when the British small press could have been defined in terms of the man. It's starting to sound to me like it's time for a resurgence of the punk spirit that drove the late 80s/early 90s small press. I've just experienced a strange thing that nearly made me cry: a feeling of pausing to look around to get my bearings... and finding that I'm in a strange land of chattering classes, buzzwords and general post-modern style-over-contentness. Metawriting. I can't be clever enough, because it just doesn't interest me. I'm off.
By Al on Thursday, May 01, 2003 - 12:13 am:
Hmm - labels certainly marketing gimmicks, and with my marketing hat on New Weird v. useful label, clearly defined area of fiction appealing to clearly defined target marketplace etc. But I don't like talking about fiction like this, hold onto notion that you write what you need to write and that the great struggle as a writer is not to write like a part of a school but to write like yourself. Other considerations certainly present, but secondary. If people can be recognisably grouped, it's I hope because they share concerns / strategies / effects / etc, because they share these they create fiction that has a common mindset - that overlaps with each other - not because they've taken a market driven or insecurity driven decision to do so. I hope that you are a certain type of person, with certain interests, certain concerns, therefore become a certain type of writer as a natural expression of where you are. Perhaps naive - certainly economically so. Therefore label useful as a means of identifying that sharedness, but something that comes after the writing, not before it or driving it. Rick - totally agree - structure (at least, critical structure) often retrospective - a post rationalisation of something that was intuitive when carried out. But naming is power (as MJH points out) because it defines the thing named, includes certain things / people / etc, excludes certain things / people / etc. But if the name doesn't work it will be shortlived. There has to be an interaction, a sense of appropriate relationship. If the name is wrong, created for short term political reasons, whatever, it will drop away. Hype great but temporary, it never lasts, it's quality that endures. Hmm.
By JP on Thursday, May 01, 2003 - 03:09 am:
And what about - "Straight! It's the New Weird." Novels of piercing insight and clarity into everyday life, written by people who look suspicously like David Byrne.
By Jonathan Strahan on Thursday, May 01, 2003 - 07:06 am:
Hi Mike - >The old dog learns to amuse itself wherever it can, sometimes by >learning new tricks, sometimes by the copious use of irony, sometimes both. I certainly saw the irony it, and even wondered if there was more than a little desire to struggle against the labelling impulse by throwing more labels out there just to mischievously confuse the labellers. >I believe I'm an honorary New Wave Fabulist, yes, along with about >twenty other puzzled people. Generous of Brad Morrow to bestow that >laurel on me after I so repeatedly savaged his New Gothic in the TLS in the 90s. I don't think I've heard of a single NWF who was pleased with or felt some connection to the label. I don't even think Straub had anything to do with it, so it's a little unfortunate it is gaining any currency. >One thing is, I think it reductive to describe China or Justina or Al Reynolds >(neither do I think you will be able to describe Steph herself), as a mere >regrowth from some buried root. You may be able to describe many US Next Wavers >as that, I'm sure. Were you intending to be reductive there, Jonathan, or was >that just an accident of prose ? Reductivism can be so close to belittling, >can't it ? Don't you find ? No, I wasn't attempting to be reductive or to in any sense belittle the achievement of any of the writers mentioned in this forum. What I was suggesting though, is that the endless search by a small-ish group of commentators to label and sort what is happening in the genre is a) reductive itself and b) ignores the fact that many of those writers are wholly or in part influenced by existing traditions. I would also add that I strongly feel that any label reduces and limits perception of a work of art, and so is often less than helpful. I also note my own tendency to a) label and b) use labels. It's something I try to fight >Another thing is, in misreading my opening post here (and ignoring the actual >information contained in my second one) you underestimate not just the cheerful >ironic glee of new-movement-naming; you underestimate the amount of agenda involved. Well, I would say that rather than misreading, I took a particular approach... >If I don't throw my hat in the ring, write a preface, do a guest editorial here, >write a review in the Guardian there, then I'm leaving it to Michael Moorcock or >David Hartwell to describe what I (and the British authors I admire) write. >Or, god forbid, I wake up one morning and find *you* describing me. Mike, the only way I'm interested in describing you is as you. Fiction by Mike Harrison is Mike Harrison fiction. It may echo something here or there, but it's still mostly Mike. As to the need to seize the labelling day, as it were - I understand and sympathise. I guess it's just my instinctive reaction to try to beat back the labellers and and prevent the very war you mention. >There's a war on here, Jonathan. It's the struggle to name. The struggle to name >is the struggle to own. Surely you're not naive enough to think that your >bracingly commonsensical, "I think it's a lot of old cobblers" view is >anything more than a shot in it ? Not at all. I understand, but it wrankles. I don't think the war is a productive or intrinsically worthwhile thing because it leads to a reductive view of art rather than an attempt to understand what is actually being achieved by the artists in question. >One more question, and I think very pertinent to that last one-- >Why do you want us to remain in the dark where we belong, Jonathan ? >What might your unconcscious motive be for wanting that, do you think ? I think this is your sense of mischief coming to the fore. I don't think you seriously believe that by ridiculing an attempt to drum up a label for work that may have some vague commonalities that I'm in any way trying to keep anything in the dark. If I have an unconscious motive, it's to not have to go through the whole stupid cyberpunk thing again and live through a decade of people with very little talent dressing their latest trilogy up in new weird drag. Besides, what's the matter with the dark... J
By Jonathan Strahan on Thursday, May 01, 2003 - 07:14 am:
Cheryl - I certainly take your point re: marketing. I just don't like labels. J
By MJH on Thursday, May 01, 2003 - 10:33 am:
I agree with everyone here on the basic point. It would be difficult not to, having said so many times that fiction should be written by individuals. But two things: there *is* a struggle to name, whether we like it or not, and that struggle is also a struggle to define and own. I think labels are crap, but I'm not willing to give up my own definition of what's going on without a fight. Especially, paradoxically, since one of the best things going on with this form of fiction is its genuinely unlableable (is that a word ?) quality, the sense I have of real, lively writers doing exactly what they want to do. So please excuse me, all of you, if I go over the top a bit about this sometimes. I think I agree most with Justina and Cheryl's pragmatism here: anything that does a job for the fiction, I'm in favour of. Steph, I take your point about ownership: I just don't ever intend to wake up being owned by someone else--otherwise, why be a writer in the first place ? The New Wave named itself (or stuck itself to the best label it could find from those on offer), not just for publicity purposes, not just as a flag, but because to name yourself is to take responsibility for your ideas. That's a way to prevent commercialisation and carpetbagging, especially now, when we're surrounded by middlemen who live by that kind of parasitism. Henry: I so wholly agree with this: "I reckon that it's more useful to think of the New Weird as an argument. An argument between a bunch of writers who read each other, who sometimes influence each other, sometimes struggle against that influence. Who don't ever agree on what the New Weird is, on where it starts and stops, but are prepared to harangue each other about it. Describing the New Weird in these terms involves its own kind of codswallop, but at least it's a less constricting kind of codswallop." Jonathan: you're right, of course, there was deliberate mischief-making in both my posts; and, yes, it was designed to get us all baying at one another; and yes, I wish to God we could have our cake and eat it. This whole process is as undignified as hell, especially right at the start of something that might get no further but which has to describe itself (and thus nurture itself) somehow. Justina: Speaking of carpetbagging from the mainstream, I think you're absolutely right, and that a big convulsion is in the offing. We need to take the advantage and get our act together, certainly. But I'm not as convinced as you that we'll lose. (After all, we have Battleship Mieville.) It's up to us, as individuals and as sharers of some labelled or unlabelled umbrella, to make ourselves as strong and feisty as possible. There *will* be a melting pot, at some level, although personally I think it will take the form of a steadily-enlarging slipstream. Up to us to allow for that and see it as an opportunity, not a defeat. To be honest, I'm in favour. The prospect shakes me out of my old guy's lethargy. I'm ready to swim or drown. As you say, we begin this process at the ICA on the evenings of the 14th and 15th of May, times to coincide with the Arthur C Clarke Awards on the 17th. Two panels of very determined people will be arguing the toss on all this, led by TTA's own Muriel Gray-- 14th: Muriel Gray, Justina Robson, the novelist Toby Litt and Jon O'Connel, literary editor of Time Out clash on and around the question, "Is genre the new mainstream" ? 15th: Muriel Gray, Paul McCauley, Gyneth Jones and Andrew McKie (sf critic of the Telegraph and totally-committed supporter of what's going in new British f/sf), discuss just that, the state of British f/sf. Kim Newman has found us, and will introduce, the original TV version of Nigel Kneale's "Quatermass & the Pit", which we'll show in two groups of three episodes after the panels. China Mieville (with Kim's help) has found us Nigel Kneale himself, and Kim will be interviewing this living legend before the showing on the 14th. Tickets from the ICA, who have a website at-- http://www.ica.org.uk/ --although at the moment they seem rather confused about both the nature of the event and its actual dates! More on that. Please come along if you can, and join in the shouting. China Mieville and John Courtenay Grimwood have worked like heavy horses to organise the event and will be introducing the items. So you can shout at them too.
By Jonathan Strahan on Friday, May 02, 2003 - 06:05 am:
Hey Mike You win. Just used new weird in a book review. Let's do a definitive anthology to celebrate! J
By MJH on Friday, May 02, 2003 - 10:11 am:
OK Jonathan. Now, what shall we call it...
By Jonathan Strahan on Friday, May 02, 2003 - 12:18 pm:
Why The New Weird, of course. Or maybe Old Worlds: The Best of the New Weird J
By Jonathan Strahan on Friday, May 02, 2003 - 12:20 pm:
That be Odd Worlds: The Best of the New Weird. J
By MJH on Friday, May 02, 2003 - 06:33 pm:
Hi Jonathan. The Worst of Both Weirds ? For full details, including where to book, prices, etc, on the ICA event, go here-- http://www.mjohnharrison.com/ Thanx Zali!
By Zali on Friday, May 02, 2003 - 07:06 pm:
No problem, yr 'onor!
By Jonathan Strahan on Saturday, May 03, 2003 - 12:51 pm:
Mike - So the next obvious question is, who are the new weirdos? We have China and Jeff and ... J
By Cheryl Morgan on Saturday, May 03, 2003 - 04:16 pm:
Thank you Jonathan, that's exactly the question I need answered for my Wiscon panel. (And you have the two names I have.) Suggestions would be appreciated. By the way, I have suggested to Wiscon that "New Weird" be used in the panel title.
By MJH on Saturday, May 03, 2003 - 04:55 pm:
Hi Jonathan. I think naming names would be making rather too much mischief, for me, at present. The Wiscon panel Cheryl mentioned will surely produce a list we can all argue over. Instead I've been mulling over Justina's point above, trying to match it to my own sense that something is happening here (but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr Jones ?) which I see as really quite new in the history of the ghetto's relationship with the mainstream. As Justina says: it's a science world now, & they're just waking up to that out there, also how to speak about it, or let it speak itself through you. This is in a way a development from the highly fashionable science & the arts movement which has been going on in other dsiciplines since the mid 90s (and of which we, bless our little cotton socks, though we're clear inheritors of that label, have taken no advantage at all). Part of the problem there is that we have taken absolutely no part in the discussions, and never insisted on having a place in things. You can't expect people to come to you in this life, and if you don't make moves of your own, you can hardly complain if things seem to change very suddenly around you in a way you weren't prepared for. I was sitting in on informal meetings on the South Bank in 1997/8: everyone else there was a scientist or someone in the plastic arts. One of the things we need to signal in the ICA discussions is that we've got a lot of experience no one else has, and we're not frightened to use it for their purposes as well our traditional ones. This point extends further. Life in the West now is a crossply of fantasies. Because we understand fantasy from the inside, we're the people to write about that, too. It seems to me that as a result we should open this front of the struggle-to-name, the front that faces out from the ghetto, with a certain confidence. I'm aware here that I'm not talking directly about the New Weird, & that I've bundled it with Brit SF. Deliberately, because I see them both as responses--or not quite that, probably some better word--to the same situation, which is the increasing convergence of concerns between literary mainstream fiction and f/sf. Thus back to Justina's point: they are soon going to be tackling exactly the same subjects as us. I don't think we can beat them, in the sense of taking them on directly; but I don't think we have to. I'm in favour of a melting pot--in fact I think it already exists, partly because "slipstream" has been quietly doing just that for a whole new generation of readers who are as happy with Travel Arrangements as with a David Mitchell novel--although I'm very aware that both China and Justina have different views here. All of this concerns me more than how the new developments in f/sf represented by China, Al Reynolds, Justina, myself, et al, face *inwards* into the genre. I suspect that may become in some sense irrelevent. So I'm less interested in filling the contents list of an inward-facing collection, than in wondering how we organise and present ourselves when we face outwards. How we capitalise on the out-there response to The Scar or Light, or the fact that the broadsheets review pages are so suddenly interested in us all. What concerns me is who, in the New Weird, etc, is capable of speaking outwards with confidence, not inwards.
By MJH on Saturday, May 03, 2003 - 04:58 pm:
Sorry, Cheryl, I must have been writing my post as you posted yours...
By Jonathan Strahan on Saturday, May 03, 2003 - 05:03 pm:
Cheryl - I'm not sure who I'd add. Zoran Zivkovic, Jeffrey Ford, Paul Di Filippo, Mike Harrison, Elizabeth Hand, Mike Moorcock - you could probably make arguments that would have any of them fit a little. I'm just not sure who fits a LOT. I don't really have a very clear picture of what the New Weird is yet, other than I'd describe it as the stream of fantasy that evolved parallel to, and at least in part in opposition to, Tolkien-esque fantasy, and that has somewhere at its roots the work of Mervyn Peake. I should add I'm wary of suggesting this in this forum because I haven't given the subject enough thought yet, because I don't want to be reductive, and because I think the perception of what the New Weird may be is still in the process of forming and I think ideally it should be left to do so free of imposed descriptions by the likes of me. Best Jonathan
By Jonathan Strahan on Saturday, May 03, 2003 - 05:45 pm:
Mike - I made the mistake of not stopping to read Justina’s clear-eyed and well reasoned post earlier, for which my apologies. If we set aside discussion of how the recent boom in British SF and fantasy (be it in the New Space Opera or the New Weird or whatever) is perceived within the genre, and instead turn our attention, as you and Justina both suggest we should, to how it is seen outside the genre and how that may be best exploited so that the winners do get all the loot and a chance at naming the Truth, then these are dangerous times indeed. Justina says “I think that Literature is going to come to SF and try and take the entire thing over by main force in the next 5 years”. I think she’s partially right. I don’t think that Literature is coming to SF to take things over. Rather, I think the world has evolved to a point where we are so intensely future shocked that day-to-day experience (the stuff of Literature) has become the stuff of science fiction*. Now, I’m not talking ray guns and spaceships, but the notion that the future will be completely unlike the present is now a common perception. That’s science fictional, and what it means is that when Literature reflects life, it reflects SF. But it’s not SF approached from within the confines of the genre. It’s SF that lies completely outside that tradition. And, writing this on the fly, I wonder if that’s also where the New Weird comes from. Not so much specifically from Peake or anywhere else, but from writers steeped in the traditions of the genre trying to make sense of science fictional 21st world. How does that get us in the running to have a chance at being in charge, though? Justina refers to pissing in the wind, but hey, what else can you do? Give up? I’m not someone writing in the field, but I’m a passionate observer, and I think there’s a slight chance, and that chance is that you straighten your metaphorical tie, put down the cup of Earl Grey and start coming at the reviews editors and commentators and whoever else who control perceptions of what literature is. And you keep coming at them. And you’re fucking relentless. You do it through books like THE SCAR and LIGHT and NATURAL HISTORY and MORTAL LOVE and THE LAST WITCHFINDER and QUICKSILVER. And through smart manifesto anthologies that aren’t published as disposable genre paperbacks, but are instead pitched at places like the OUP where the mainstream is paying attention. If you do that. If you’re relentless, if you’re good, if you don’t stop, then there’s an outside chance that what will happen is that when Literature swallows SF wholesale and turns it holus bolus into the mainstream that it will have to, at least in part, resemble SF. It will have to, at least a little, contain us. So, can you picture an anthology that doesn’t come out of Tekno Books downtown offices, but is instead smart and savvy, aimed dead smack at the heart of where science fiction and “literature” are going through this metamorphosis. Because THAT is the kind of thing that needs to be done if there is to be a chance of winning. Jonathan * I want to add (though it's not particularly relevant here) that I don’t think that science fiction has somehow “won” as I’ve heard a number of people say. Science fiction, to the extent that we’re talking about Hugo Gernsback sourced convention attending SF, has been completely bypassed. Yes, SF looked at how the future might be. But then the future happened, and the question there is what now?
By MJH on Saturday, May 03, 2003 - 06:29 pm:
Hi Jonathan. You wrote-- >>and what it means is that when Literature reflects life, it reflects SF. But it’s not SF approached from within the confines of the genre. It’s SF that lies completely outside that tradition. >>And, writing this on the fly, I wonder if that’s also where the New Weird comes from. Not so much specifically from Peake or anywhere else, but from writers steeped in the traditions of the genre trying to make sense of science fictional 21st world. Absolutely. Couldn't agree more on both points--especially the second one. 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. I can't fault your conclusion either: we have to get out there and do the absolute best we can in what will be a Darwinian environment. In fact, I'm optimistic enough to think we've already begun to do that. Iain Banks, China Mieville and Jon Courtenay Grimwood certainly have. Aside from their books, they are very, very good at relating to the "out there" in the practical ways that are neccessary. Our best ambassadors for a generation.
By Cheryl Morgan on Saturday, May 03, 2003 - 08:28 pm:
Wow, we have some good stuff going on here. Thanks folks. Good list of names, Jonathan. Liz certainly, though I suspect that Winterlong is the most New Weird thing she's done and she's rather steadily more Fantasy since. Must read some Zivkovic. Gene Wolfe has of course been blurring SF and Fantasy for years. As to Justina's stuff, a number of questions occur to me. Firstly one of the things that we often forget is that what We mean by SF is often not what They mean by "science fiction". Sometimes they mean the sort of thing you would see in Flash Gordon as opposed to the sort of thing you might find in Asimov or Clarke. Mostly they mean Star Trek, Star Wars, X-Files, X-Men and a pile of bad Bruce Willis movies. Disturbingly often they mean "people who believe in UFOs". None of this has any great bearing on what we do. Next question, when Justina says that the mainstream is going to "take over" SF, what does she mean? Does she mean that a lot of good mainstream writers will produce books like those written by Mike, China, et al? Then great, I want to read them. That's why I have a mainstream book featured in each issue of Emerald City. If she means that a lot of bad mainstream writers will come along and produce books like David Eddings and Robert Jordan, well who cares? I guess it will be tough for the existing genre writers who are doing the same thing, but maybe a bit of Darwinian pressure will be good for them. Alternatively Justina might mean that the mainstream guys will write SF&F, have their stuff put on the genre shelves, and crowd out the likes of Mike, China and herself so that none of us can get contracts any more. I can't see that happening. I don't think they will want to be ghetoised, and I our existing stars have a good enough reputation to survive that sort of thing. Finally I guess that she might mean that SF as a genre will disappear (as I understand from a delegate to ICFA is already happening in Germany). That would then mean that our people would be competing with theirs for shelf space and whichever writers' books sold best would survive. Here we have to trust to the fact that, as Mike says, We are addressing the important themes and They are not. Of course They have to understand that we are addressing those themes. With apologies to Jonathan who I'm assuming is in Australia, did anyone else read the review of Pattern Recognition in today's Independent Magazine. As far as I could see the reviewer didn't really understand the book at all, and I find it depressing that mainstream reviewers are still that a book can't say anything important about life unless it includes direct references to current political issues. There is still a gulf between out understanding of the world and theirs, and people who are unable to imagine anything beyond the end of their noses will never appreciate what we have to say. By the way, good point about Gernsback and "fandom", Jonathan, but that's another discussion entirely.
By Jonathan Strahan on Sunday, May 04, 2003 - 04:03 am:
Cheryl - The Gibson review is online here (http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/books/reviews/story.jsp?story=402553) and I've had a glance at it. Whatever the faults that PATTERN RECOGNITION may have, I think it's considerably more elegant than the reviewer suggests. I would say, though, that it's a fascinating snatch of a dialogue that is happening all around us: GIBSON: I'm a writer living in a world influenced by a novel that I wrote and trying to write novels that attempt to address that world. REVIEWER: I don't understand. The world has moved on. What are the protocols that you're using to try to explain this? GIBSON: The tools and protocols of the mainstream. I'm writing a novel that has a science fictional understanding of the world set in an alternate history version of last year to try to understand the trends that are happening around us. In a sense this dialogue is taking place on the very cusp of the moment. More soon on other stuff... J
By Justina on Sunday, May 04, 2003 - 09:01 pm:
Cheryl, Jonathan and MJH you all make excellent poitns. I agree with Jonathan's attitude and Mike's plan to take the battle out there, although I've been negative about it because I'm a kind of Eeyore person. Also had a great anthology for sale for 5 years that I thought was really interesting stuff - no takers. Anyway. To clarify my meandering point on Literature vs SF mortal kombat. I think that all writers will have to do what Gibson claim's (soundbitily) that he's doing. It's not that the future will be different at all, the scary thing is that this is yesterday's future and it is just like yesterday in every way except that the inside of our heads is radically altered by information and technological possibility and our emotional selves are racked by unprecedented tsunami of compassion and terror due to this. Our future will be even more like this - on the outside, looks like contemporary life, on the inside FUCKKK!! And the individual prole has ever dereasing circles of comprehension and control. From the SF angle we have a lot of scope for examining this - we're a veritable clinic of excellence -0 but mainstream writers haven't studied us much, so they're wallowing and mainstream readers are way behind the game on how our work works (and does that mean that it doesn't, I wonder?) Literature will necessarily swallow our portion of SF (Cheryl, you make a good point that we aren't talking about all of it, only the high-end lit part) because the world we live in _is_ realtime SF. I guess I'm redefining Literature. No, I can't see Martin Amis starting to rewrite AE Van Vogt's greatest hits. What's the point? The stuff they're already writing will stay firmly in their bit of the shop (proper books) and we will have to fight tooth and nail to get into it or else perish alongside Smallville tie-in novels. Look at PKD's history - STILL not accepted as the US greatest writer of the 20th century. John bloody Updike, I ask you (no, no shut up, he is very good but all teh same...). It IS important that we get to say 'look, we've got this entire toolkit already worked out. No need to reinvent the wheel, kids.' It's important for US that we are recognised or yes, we'll get utterly trampled flat and ignored and it will be a pity (not least for our wallets, careers, and the entire bloody point of our lives). From their perspective we must look like a lot of geeks from the back of the class who are trying to mumble 'hey, I know somethin' 'bout technology.' As MJH says we need articulate and strong-minded frontmen. He has the pick of them in Jon CG China and himself. We have to be able to talk coherently with Mainstream art before we can do anything else at all. But I wonder if the 'rest' of SF, who are happy as things are, care two hoots for all of this. Who are we speaking for here? The entire genre or a few people?
By Cheryl Morgan on Sunday, May 04, 2003 - 10:05 pm:
Justina has a good point in questioning whether the mainstream will understand what we do. It is all very well having them recognise that the thing they have to be writing about is the impact of technology, it is quite another for them to recognise that we are already doing that. (Remember, they think we all believe in UFOs.) Obviously we are getting there in having people like JCG doing reviews in high profile places, which helps, but there's still a long way to go here. So as I see it there are two possibilities. Firstly, the mainstream folks could continue to fail to understand, in which case their writers will mainly produce bad SF and their reviewers will pan the stuff that is good because they don't understand it. Which leaves us pretty much where we are now. And given that what is in the mainstream will be mainly bad I don't accept that SF publishers will suddenly stop publishing the good stuff. Alternatively they will get it, in which case they will recognise that we do it very well and we can all look forward to slightly fatter pay packets. But Justina is right when she says that we are by no means spoeaking for the entire community here. The sort of people who continually vote Robert Sawyer and Kim Stanley Robinson onto the Hugo ballot don't want literature and are very happy in their little Gernsbackian ghetto. As I said to Jonathan, there's a whole other conversation there.
By Jonathan Strahan on Monday, May 05, 2003 - 12:07 am:
Hi Justina, I'm going to skip a lot of interesting stuff in your post because I need to think about it some more (living here at the ends of the Earth it's tough to find people to talk to about SF in any meaningful way), and cut right to your last point, where you say: But I wonder if the 'rest' of SF, who are happy as things are, care two hoots for all of this. Who are we speaking for here? The entire genre or a few people? I think we're talking for a VERY few people. I think that as science fiction has increasingly become part of the day-to-day visual and conceptual language of the 20th and 21st centuries both the people who create SF and the people who consume it have splintered into smaller and smaller groups, and those groups have much nothing in common. This leads to one group of writers producing books that pretty much only speak to their intended audience, whether they be adventure fiction writers producing Star Trek novels, romance writers producing bodice-ripper fantasies, or serious, intellectual SF writers producing novels and short fiction for what I would for want of a better term call the core audience that subscribe to magazines like Locus and are aware of the history of the field. The key point here is that I think there is almost no overlap between these groups. I would imagine that someone like Laurell K. Hamilton or Sara Douglass is very happy and thinks things are going swimmingly, and wouldn't see the need for this conversation. They're selling books, making money and have lots of fans. On the other hand, I'd imagine that writers like Mike, China and dozens of others might be less than satisfied with the status quo and how things are evolving, and are looking very concerned at how things might turn out. So, what I think we're actually suggesting is necessary here isn't a revolution for science fiction at all, but rather a way for the best written, most challenging (these descriptions don't really work, but you know what I mean) SF to essentially abandon the rest of the field and meld with the conceptual high end of Literature, creating something new that follows our agenda, recognises our talents and people, and doesn't doom us to either sitting on bookshelves alongside Smallville or a lifetime of Don de Lillo does Silverberg. J
By Jonathan Strahan on Monday, May 05, 2003 - 12:20 am:
Hi Cheryl - A question that I'm struggling with at the moment is whether we are dealing with the situation that you describe where mainstream writers produce bad SF and the genre's best work gets either panned or ignored, or if we are actually dealing with a different situation completely. I suspect that what is happening is that we get mainstream writers attempting to write fiction that comes to terms with today's future shocked world and, in doing so, producing something that LOOKS like bad sf, but is actually something ELSE. I'm not quite sure what, but something that's not-SF. The principle characteristic of not-SF is a complete lack of SF's genre protocols, which are the things that make good SF seem like good SF to an SF reader and make it unreadable to a non-SF reader. I suspect, for example, that an average volume of Gardner's Year's Best would actually be unreadable to someone unfamiliar with genre protocols. We are literally talking to ourselves, when this happens. If I'm right (and I may be completely wrong), then if SF writers want to make the move from the SF world to the Lit world part of what they need to do is to find a way to write SF that either translates genre protocols for readers at large, or that achieves essentially the same effect without actually using those protocols at all. I have a suspicion that this is what Gibson, however successfully or not, is trying to do. As to whole other conversations, some time we're going to have to talk about Stan Robinson. I think you're giving him a little bit of bum rap over on Emerald City and are completely unfair to in any sense compare him to Sawyer. Stan may have his flaws, but I don't think he's really part of the Gernsbackian ghetto. Best J
By Cheryl Morgan on Monday, May 05, 2003 - 03:34 pm:
You are worrying me, Jonathan. If SF-ness is a function of containing genre protocols then presumably more genre stuff means greater SF-ness and you are essentially making a case for fossilization. As a corollary you would end up defining much of the Conjunctions anthology as not-Fantasy. I invoke Gary K. Wolfe (and the interview I've just done with Mike).
By Dan on Monday, May 05, 2003 - 11:03 pm:
J. Strahan said: "If I'm right (and I may be completely wrong), then if SF writers want to make the move from the SF world to the Lit world part of what they need to do is to find a way to write SF that either translates genre protocols for readers at large, or that achieves essentially the same effect without actually using those protocols at all. I have a suspicion that this is what Gibson, however successfully or not, is trying to do." Think you are probably right, Jonathan - assuming SF writers DO want to make that move. JG Ballard did it, as have others (MJH, in particular, as a fellow New Waver, has shown he can do it through his short fiction. Sorry, MJH, this might possibly count as my first ever pisspore attempt at a "review"). I've enjoyed Gibson over the years (though I've read nowhere near his complete fiction) and I'm looking forward to reading Pattern Recognition. Interesting fiction always deviates from the safety of the genre. Dan.
By Jonathan Strahan on Monday, May 05, 2003 - 11:50 pm:
Cheryl - You can't invoke Gary - he works for me . Seriously, though, I don't think that your response follows automatically from what I've said. I think science fiction is, to some extent, comprised of a number of well-developed protocols that are understood by both writers and readers. These protocols are an intrinsic part of the evolution of science fiction over time, starting with how we look at a Gernsbackian ray gun and ending up with what we already understand about the implications of a Vingean singularity. If science fiction didn't possess any of these protocols, I don't know that it would be SF. And to say that I'm making a case for fossilization ignores that the fact that the evolution and deployment of these protocols has been one of the key developments in SF texts from "The Black Destroyer" to LIGHT. As to the corollary with fantasy, I'm not sure it follows in quite the same way. Fantasy has different roots to sf, employs a different language, and many of the protocols that are the basis of fantasy are closer to what underpins non-genre fiction. I would add that I'd actually define more of Conjunctions as not-good than as not-fantasy. At this point I'd also add that I'm in the camp that is undecided about the genre-ness of Crowley's "The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines". It's a wonderful, wonderful story (easily the best thing in the book), but I'm not sure that setting up a situation where the reader is expecting the fantastic to enter the story but it never does qualifies. I would add that this part of the argument is where I tend to drift into the "who cares?" camp. Crowley has written a magnificent story. Who really cares if it's genre or not? I honestly can't see how it matters at all. Best J
By GabrielM on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 04:32 am:
In terms of the genealogy of "New Weird", we shouldn't forget that it stems from "weird fiction", a term that has been in use from before Lovecraft but that he popularized and found especially useful to describe his own work and that of certain writers he admired, such as Blackwood, Machen, Ashton Smith. (See, e.g., his "Notes on Writing Weird Fiction" or his chapters "The Weird Tradition in America" and "The Weird Tradition in the British Isles" from his seminal essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature"). Critics and writers did not begin using "weird" because of the title of "Weird Tales" -- it was the other way around. I like very much the fact that China has rescued the term "weird", but I appreciate even more the fact that he's given appropriate credit for the term to Lovecraft and his contemporaries.
By Jeff VanderMeer on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 04:55 am:
The marketing part of this discussion is relevant but not interesting. The literary part of this discussion is interesting but not relevant. I think a lot of us would prefer no labels at all, and to be considered part of the wide spectrum of fiction. It certainly would clarify issues quite a bit, although I'm sure some would disagree. But then at least what I write and what others write could be understood in the context of both its genre and non-genre influences. And this is a more complete understanding. When I read Mike H's work, some of the pleasure derives from the fact that he does find his influences everywhere. Which results in new combinations and thus mutation. Light's a perfect example. Labels, to me, are almost always inaccurate. At best (although again, this isn't an interesting topic), an effective label might sell some more books. But on an artistic level it's a load of crap. Theoretically, if you're really good and if you really stay committed and don't get sidetracked, you're a moving target anyway. You don't stay in one place for too long. So you're left with a label that leads to misunderstanding, and which might never have applied to you even when you were first lumped in with the other literary convicts. Let's examine specifics. Recently, Jeffrey Ford, Paul Di Filippo, China Mieville, and I have all created specific city-based fantasies. Because they share an urban setting, they seem similar. Because in the case of Jeff, China, and me these cityscapes include a healthy dose of the Decadent and Surreal, there also seems to be a similarity. But it's really like saying all painters who use oils and paint cityscapes are alike. The application of the paint, the brushstrokes, the colors, and much else are different. The philosophy behind the books is much different. Sticking these examples into the same file folder marked "Surreal Cityscape Subgenre" doesn't do that much good as far as I can see. I kind of like "New Weird" because it acknowledges the pulp influences in the work, but it's still amorphous and inaccurate. Now I'm going to go back to writing my novel. It doesn't particularly care what it's called as long as when I finish it it doesn't have five arms and no legs. Jeff V.
By Justina on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 09:35 am:
Jeff, of course your points are artistically perfect - as a writer how could I disagree? But is an SF novel a bad novel full stop if it's so written that any average reader can't 'get into' it because they aren't soaked in genre habits? I think that question is artistically interesting and marketing interesting and relevant on both counts.
By MJH on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 11:04 am:
>>I think that question is artistically interesting and marketing interesting and relevant on both counts. Me too, Justina. Jeff says, "I think a lot of us would prefer no labels at all, and to be considered part of the wide spectrum of fiction." I thought this discussion was getting into some of the practical aspects of that. There has to be a connection somewhere between theory & praxis, what you want & how you get it. Jeff's mentor, Mike Moorcock, was one of the most talented writers I've ever met at making that connection. Unfortunately he seems to have left behind him a definition of the process which Jeff translates as, essentially, if you're wonderful they'll come and find you; your job is to write the books & not think about anything else. This is massively self-limiting and not at all what happened with the New Wave, as a result of which MM was very successful. His apprentices (like myself) didn't do much, because they allowed the inverted arrogance of the "artistic" to leak into the praxis of being a writer, part of which is marketing. Jeff's argument here is grounded in self-defeating assumptions like that. >>Theoretically, if you're really good and if you really stay committed and don't get sidetracked, you're a moving target anyway. You don't stay in one place for too long. So you're left with a label that leads to misunderstanding, and which might never have applied to you even when you were first lumped in with the other literary convicts. I certainly agree. But again, as Justina points out, we're talking praxis here. I think Jeff's being a bit mischievous himself (must be catching): he's never been slow in coming forward on behalf of his own work. I think he's also missing the point of the discussion. We've got quite close in the last two days to describing the situation on the ground, ie the structures of thought which cause f/sf/h writers to use the word "mainstream" at all. *They don't use it out there.* You only need a word for "outside the ghetto" if you're in a ghetto. We are getting close to noticing this when Jonathan, Cheryl and Justina can work towards phrasing Justina's question, "is an SF novel a bad novel full stop if it's so written that any average reader can't 'get into' it because they aren't soaked in genre habits?" At the moment those structures are holding an unneccessary distinction in place from "our" side. The whole point of the melting pot is that all the different sets of protocols break down. I've been after that since I was twenty. And what *about* China ? The success of his work in the broadsheets (& to an extent the success of Light, which certainly wasn't shy in advertising itself as not just sf but *space opera*), along with subsequent increased coverage & sales, hasn't depended on his learning to write outside Jonathan's protocols, but, it seems, by steeping himself in them, or at least some of them. This is new. As Dan says, I can expect my short stories to be received well in the mainstream; what I didn't expect was the burst of applause they gave me for Light. It's more complex than we think, guys. That would always be my message. We never get enough factors into play. Our models are too simple & reductive. But that mustn't stop us from choosing a direction to move in (the very point, or one of them, of Light) while we sort the model out... Who wants to get labelled ? No one less than me, who's made a career out of refusal. More fun to do exactly what you want. But even more fun to do exactly what you want *and run off with the pot anyway*. That's what China's doing, and I want us all out there getting some. Because (altogether, girls) WE'RE WORTH IT. Not that I'm claiming we can get it by labelling ourselves "the New Weird" or anything else. All we're trying to do here is think outside the box.
By Jonathan Strahan on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 11:19 am:
Mike I wonder, and I'm definitely not sure of the accuracy of this, if that one of the reasons for China's success (beyond the quality of the work, it's intrinsic merits etc) is that he takes the time in his story to unfold those protocols, to explain himself sufficiently as he goes, so that a reader unfamiliar with genre protocols can understand and appreciate what he does. I wonder if that's one of the reasons his books are so long? Jonathan PS: Could you email me at email@example.com?
By MJH on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 12:40 pm:
Cool, Jonathan. Try & write every book as if it was the first book written. We're bad at that because the opposite--build every book on the assumption that every reader has read every other book like this--is at the very basis of all genre (and of all in-genre theory). Genre becomes, if it's allowed to, infinitely self-reflexive. Lazy writers freeload on that prepared audience. While loonies of invention just spin-off notions from notions already spun off from previous spun-off notions: result total unreadability except by the cognoscenti. Ever heard that complaint before ? Oh yes. It's the one made most by sf people about mainstream lit-fic... If you do Pick'n'Mix, you have to bring the reader into a new world every time you write a book. Sf used to do that. It used to understand how to do that. It used to be a kind of travel writing. Now no-one does it. This is part of addressing the idea of "them" failing to understand "us". We may have to do it by understanding how they read & think, not the other way round. They aren't going to do it. We can forget them coming to us. That's part of doing nothing & waiting for them to discover us & sanctify us & realise their mistake & beg for forgiveness for not understanding how cool we were all along, etc etc. Forget it. There's no practical *reason* for any of them--writers, critics, lit eds, readers--to do that. PS: I don't think bringing the reader into your world neccessarily means writing longer books. There are lots of other ways of doing that at lengths as short as the short story.
By MJH on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 01:09 pm:
PPS: Horror fiction was always good at that, too, bringing the reader gently into a world that would only exist as long as the story. Actually, fuck it, that's what *every* kind of writing is good at. Know Patagonia ? Ever been to Patagonia with Bruce Chatwin ? Ever been Bruce Chatwin ? No to all of those, but you can still read In Patagonia. That's because he's a writer and doing his job, ie writing for *people*, not some lazy fucking Patagonia-freak trading off the existence of other Patagonia-freaks as a cheap audience... My problem is, if I think about this for a second too long my anger knows no bounds.
By jeff ford on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 02:11 pm:
My two cents on China's success with readers -- I think that Perdido and The Scar, as much as they are brand new in many ways, are really the culmination of what has long been promised by "fat fantasy" and never really delivered. These two books are truly epics. They are highly cinematic (I mean this in relation to the reader's inner eye) and a rich rewarding repast of charactrer and concept, whereas in the relatively recent past books that promised this scope were usually so much sawdust. What he has that draws readers is a comprehensive and unyielding power of vision. That energy excites readers. The weird, the fine writing, all add to relaying that vision, but I think the world he writes about is truly alive for him in his own imagination. This is something that can't be duplicated, although I'm sure there will be many who will try. Best, Jeff
By Jonathan Strahan on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 03:02 pm:
Justina & Jeff Ford: Couldn't agree more. Mike: I'll have to apologise for whatever in my post irritated you so much. I'm half jet-lagged by a three year old who hasn't slept the night through in a week, and I'm fitting these posts in where I can (and, unfortunately, not always able to find the time to respond to all of them that I'd like to), so they're not always as well-reasoned as they might be. I should clarify as a position that I don't support laziness or infinitely self-reflexive genre fiction. I don't believe a writer should do, or needs to, go back to first principles every time. I don't believe you need to talk down to or simplify what you do for a non-genre audience. I do believe that excellence will be recognised and that it may even be recognised widely. That said, I think science fiction has a language and if you speak it densely it makes it hard for the unitiated to parse what you're attempting. I'm actually torn on a lot of this stuff, to be frank. On one hand, I think a writer should write whatever they want, and do it as well as they possibly can. Then they put on their marketing hat and find a way to make it stick in the larger world. I don't think labels are artistically useful, though I do recognise their marketing value. I don't believe in limiting or reducing an artist, either through what they are allowed to do or by how you describe them. What else? I agree completely when you say "I don't think bringing the reader into your world neccessarily means writing longer books." I don't think I was suggesting that with my comment re: China, but it may have read like that. On horror fiction and travel fiction: neither tends to speak its own language quite so densely or self-reflexively as science fiction can at times. Maybe that's the problem with my comments, though. I don't know. Maybe good science fiction shouldn't be so self-reflexive, though I think a lot of it is. I guess the question to ask back is what should writers be doing then, to achieve what we've been talking about? J
By jeff ford on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 03:11 pm:
In addition, I think in the work of the other writers mentioned above, VanderMeer, DiFillipo, MJH, and I'll throw myself in here if you don't mind (I won't hold it against you if you do), the sense of artifice is much more evident in the reading experience than in a work like Perdido or The Scar. I'm not saying that we lack vision or that China lacks craft, but what is breathtaking to me as far as a story like "Egnaro" is concerned are the choices that have obviously been made by the writer. In China's epics there are scenes that, if taken individually, would seem like they should be cut, but in the overall flow and effect of the book it is obvious they have to be included because what one is reading for is the entirety of the vision. In Jeff VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen, the artifice becomes in a way the vision. I'm not say ing that one of these types of writing is superior to the other, they both render great works (here I'll recuse myself), but the overwhelming vision type of writing is very rare and its uniqueness is something readers seek out. I found the same to be true for Phillip Pullman's Golden Compass. Ok, no more from me. Fire when ready.
By MJH on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 04:34 pm:
Whoa, Jonathan, we're at cross purposes here. I was agreeing with you! I really have to *signal* more in these posts, clearly. My "Patagonia" rant was an ill-judged attempt to add emphasis to what I'd already said. (Just shows you should leave well enough alone.) No, I think that in the posts of the last few days we've come up with some really valuable insights to do with sf & the mainstream, & this self-referentiality of sf is one of them. I'm really anxious we shouldn't lose that insight, or fall into misunderstanding. I was agreeing with you, but just noting that there were ways of quickly drawing a reader into a world. That led me off on a typical rant, and I do apologise. Jeff Ford makes a good comparison of methods/intentions-- jeff, hi: I can only speak for myself here, of course. The gift about the Egnaro idea is that it works for both sets of readers--the idea of a kind of Edgar Rice Burroughs mysterious country is one that generic readers take in with their mothers' milk; but it can be made to reflect or metaphorises a yearning *everyone* feels. That yearning in itself enables you to condense, minimalise, pull the reader in fast then swat them with the ending. I think we're all pretty much agreed now that one of the central ways sf has previously described itself--ie, a genre interested in catering to sophisticates of itself--is a bit of a limitation if you'd like to appeal elsewhere. To go back to one of the earlier conclusions of this thread--now that we find ourselves in the Darwinian confines of the melting-pot, competing with mainstream authors for the same subject matter & the same audience, we had better give up or modify those protocols that limit us. One of the ways to do that might be to try & write each piece as if a piece like that had never been written before. Egnaro certainly was, and I think that--ironically, considering how steeped China is in genre and his sense of genre--PSS and The Scar were written that way too. As Jonathan says, they bring the reader into the world carefully and gently. The Scar has the very basic Victorian/Edwardian mechanism of "letters from a journey" to do that.
By Faren Miller on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 05:10 pm:
Thanks, Jonathan, for directing me to this discussion! Interesting to read it all at once and find so many sub-threads. From a US perspective, some of the internal quarrels remind me of squabbling Democrats (though "genre" isn't so directly threatened, or discouraging, as those pols at present). As a reader/reviewer, for me the "label" topic is important because there's currently a great surge of "stuff I like", and the authors mentioned and/or participating in this discussion are part of that amorphous(?) group. As someone who's sticking my toe back into writing my own stuff at the fantasy end of Weirdness, I find the (fiction) writers' comments particularly interesting and cogent. Regardless of literary politics and "box office clout", more and more writers are turning to the Weird and I wonder what's driving us that way. Call the fantasy end retro -- hell, you could call it "Neo Calvinoism" if you want -- but I'd like to hear more about it.
By Cheryl Morgan on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 07:35 pm:
Ah, the sound of buttons being pushed! Mike's are to do with lazy writing, and I suspect we all agree there. Mine are slightly different. When Jonathan talks about "not-SF" my first reaction is to think of those people who believe that fandom and Worldcon sprang fully formed from the brow of Ghod sometime in the 1950s and who scream "not part of our community" when it suggested that either of them might evolve. So Jonathan, while I'm always happy to study the past, for the purposes of this discussion I'm more interested in where SF might be going. And if fantasy protocols happen to be closer to those of the mainstream, maybe that's because the mainstream has been more comfortable with what fantasy is doing, but hasn't seen the need to adopt any SF protocols - until now. Because now people are starting to realize that technology is an issue, and if you want to write about it then you'd better that thinking SF. Which is, I think, one of the main reasons why a bunch of us are going to be at the ICA next week getting treated seriously by The Establishment for the first time I can remember. With regard to bringing people into a novel, those of you who haven't done so should go listen to Mary Doria Russell talking about "The Sparrow". She understands. And on the subject of Weird, I've just started reading Tad Williams' "The War of the Flowers", in which Faerie appears to have adopted Victorian industrialism (they being always a bit behind us in fashions). Very promising.
By MJH on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 08:18 pm:
>>getting treated seriously by The Establishment for the first time I can remember Well, Cheryl, we shall have to wait & see whether they do actually treat any of us seriously... But at least it's an announcement; and for China it makes a powerful closing of the circuit they opened when they *publicly* turned him down for inclusion in Granta's "Top Twenty Young Novelists" just--and only--because he's "genre". Time to come back at them. I think I'd like to put my pick'n'mix hat back on now. I do think it's important we don't define ourselves as retro, precisely for the reasons you mention. It's retrograde *just* to be retro, and neither the New Weird nor the New Space Opera is that, in Britain at least. You cannot define either Justina or China as anything but of their time. Retro is imitable by people who don't care about anything: what China does is done from a viewpoint that can only be described as politically aware. Imitate the Weird aspect of what he does and you will miss entirely the New aspect. I think Jonathan said somewhere above that he dreaded the appearance of dozens of Epic Fantasy writers smearing the Fake Weird over their rubbish just too look new in a flagging market. As critics we could come down like a barrel of cement on that. One of the other reasons I'm not sure definitions are a good idea is that I wouldn't want to help make an operating manual for carpetbaggers. I saw enough of that post New Wave in the 70s.
By Justina on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 08:58 pm:
Re: China. I've kept quiet on my China views until now. (drum rroll) But I think that what China has, apart from the talent, the craft, the imagination, the background, the education, the political smarts, the intellectual enquiry and the heavy throb of dark romance is self-confidence. I don't know whether this is innate to his character or the product of his education and it really doesn't matter but it transforms his writing into something almost magisterial, in every sense of the word. With confidence you take your time to do the job of introducing and developing your world at your own pace in the sure knowledge that this is the right pace and this sense of 'being in safe hands' lets readers relax and enjoy, knowing they will be rewarded. It's one of the most important things you can have. Who knows if it comes easily to him or not, but it's the difference between great work and merely very good work and that's an ocean of difference. China is exceptional because he DID fulfil the promise of large-scale fantasy and at the same time it wasn't just an escapist jump into consolation. aside: Nobody can carpet bag anything of value anyway, at least, not to anyone who's SEEN the real thing.
By Cheryl Morgan on Tuesday, May 06, 2003 - 10:17 pm:
Mike: I'm not expecting an instant victory. Indeed, I'm expecting a long, slow campaign. But when I am hoping to get out of this is a few friends and allies on the inside.
By MJH on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 10:23 am:
Hi Justina: I think confidence is fantastically important for everything going on at the moment. It takes confidence to be inventive. It takes confidence to back your own imagination. It takes confidence to pull off whatever bizarre relationship with the real you've decided your world should have. That confidence was long ago lost by epic fantasists, who gave it retrospectively to Tolkien & a couple of other mentors, encouraging canonical texts to make their decisions for them. I think confidence is a brilliant explanation of China's ability to expand slowly into his own invented world (also why we feel as if we've been so completely drawn in--his narrative confidence grips the reader as well as the text): but actually, we all have bags of it in different ways. So that's another parameter of the New Weird and the New Space Opera: they're written by confident people. Nice one. Carpetbagging: once the New Wave parameters were codified, there was a general softening-off as second generation writers stripped out the edgier stuff. I mean, I think it's inevitable that people seeking to understand a movement select the similarities rather than the differences between exponents. That drives you towards the mean--the main stream. New writers imitate that, & before you know it, the energy's gone, because it lay in the creative tensions between the different exponents. Cheryl: "a few friends and allies" is what we need. Faren: hi, welcome to the blind leading the blind. Are we going to let the received shape of it remain as amorphous as its methods & techniques ? I hope so. I think we should certainly split methodology, intent and history. I'm not so interested in history, myself; and it's difficult to identify a methodology when pick'n'mix is one of the parameters. That leaves us with intent... Oh, and personnel of course.
By Jonathan Strahan on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 11:50 am:
Mike - I guess these things happen when you're posting to notice boards at the end of a very long day. I agree that the discussions here are both interesting and worthwhile. - Jonathan
By Jonathan Strahan on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 11:51 am:
Cheryl - The button pushing thing is interesting, indeed. I understand your reaction intellectually about not-SF, but not really emotionally. I don't really come from a fandom/Worldcon background and have found some of that tradition's tendency to claim the genre a little excessive. In any case, I agree that we're mostly talking about the future. The only reason it's worth touching on the past is to understand where we're coming from so we can better understand where we might go from here. On THE WAR OF THE FLOWERS: I'll be interested to see what you think. I read it because I was struck by what an interesting and intelligent commentator Williams was at the recent WorldCon. The book has interesting points, but is a little flabby. - Jonathan
By Jonathan Strahan on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 11:57 am:
Mike Did that REALLY happen to China. I know I'm out of touch here in the farthest reaches of the modern American Empire, but I hadn't heard that they'd turned him down and done so for that reason. Pathetic. I think you touch on something very important when you say what China does "is done from a viewpoint that can only be described as politically aware." Although this is a pretty vague response, I think it amounts to writing genre fiction as though you actually lived in this world and were engaged by it. To often genre fiction is purely escapist (there is nothing wrong with escapism, but I wouldn't want to live on lemon sherbet either), and part of the reason for that is the writers don't appear engaged by the world, and don't write fiction that appears to be. On the Fake Weird, I have no doubt it will happen. I also have no doubt that you're right - the more what the New Weird is gets codified the more imitable it is. I don't doubt, in fact, that someone is already beavering away on TOLEDO STREET JUNCTION and THE WOUND. The key here is, apart from trying our patience, it doesn't matter. As I think you're saying, someone always comes along in the wake of the people working out on the edge. Let 'em. Stay out on the edge, and keep fresh and new and alive. That's part of how you win the war we're talking about. J
By Jonathan Strahan on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 12:03 pm:
Justina - I think you've touched on something important. I think you cover why China is successful on the page well. It is confidence and character and smarts and savvy. It's also making promises in your fiction that you not only deliver, but routinely exceed. China offered wide-screen epic weird and threw in so much that you could have written a dozen other books with the ideas he didn't bother to develop beyond using as local color. The other thing we shouldn't overlook is that China is pretty uniquely promotable. I mean, can you imagine the publicity folk at Pan Macmillan sitting around when China came along. He's pretty near infinitely promotable from dozens of angles, and that's without even trying. And then, when they met him and found out that the tough looking guy in the photo was this really sweet puppy of a guy, the must have fallen in love. I think other people can go, in their own way, where China has gone. But a lot of why China is successful is China. J
By Al Reynolds on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 12:29 pm:
Hello all I've been following this discussion with great interest, and feel the urge to wade in and make a total prat of myself. So here goes! Re: China's work: I couldn't agree more with all the good things being said, especially the confidence in the pacing. The slow, loving, cinematic zoom-ins to the teeming cityscapes - brilliant! Confidence is indeed part of it; you feel like you're in the hands of a really skilled, slick stage conjuror, teasing and withholding at the same time. Re: genre protocols: fascinating stuff. If a book needs to start somewhere familiar before veering off into the weird (if it is to have any hope of attracting a larger audience than genre readers) does that more or less rule out "the future" as a choice of venue? Or does it mean that the future has to at least feel familiar, in the same way that China's alternate reality has a vague 18th/19th century feel to it? I'm interested because my stuff tends to be set in the future, and I'm interested to know whether this choice of setting is always going to alienate more readers than it interests. There's more to it, for me at least, than using the future as a setting purely to facilitate a certain type of story or achieve a particular degree of estrangement. I'm genuinely interested in the future, and if I stopped writing about it, I'd be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It's often said that SF is a response to now, and it isn't intended as a predictive literature at all. I agree with this, but I think there's also some middle ground: we can't predict THE future, and it would be futile to try, but couldn't one function of SF be to map not THE future, but the envelope of all possible futures? And if so, how far can you get before you get tangled up in protocols? Al R
By MJH on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 12:33 pm:
Jonathan, on China & Granta: When they made public their deliberations they included the names of a few who had been considered but not quite made it. China was on that list, with the Red Letter branded squarely on his forehead. I mean, it was actually a good publicity opportunity, which his team took advantage of immediately. Interestingly, one of our panellists at the ICA is Toby Litt, who actually made it to the list. So that should be interesting. >>China offered wide-screen epic weird and threw in so much that you could have written a dozen other books with the ideas he didn't bother to develop beyond using as local color. Some writers, some worlds, seem infinitely mineable. Real imagination seems to have this fecund quality. As Steph Swainston said above, the New Weird has high levels of particularity, colour, specificity, a real sense of a world. Part of the trick of doing that is to know when an idea is foregroundable or should stay as background. The cruellest thing I ever heard said about an f/sf writer came in response to a boast he made that he had twenty or thirty new ideas in a morning. Someone said quietly from the back of the room, "Yes, & the problem is you develop all of them." You need to know how to keep detail distinct, & your background in the background, even--in fact especially--in widescreen. Part of the carpetbagging syndrome is the mining by a second generation of the background ideas & characters of great imaginers.
By Al on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 12:39 pm:
Jonathan - Yup - you're only ever successful on your own merits, not if you live according to a formula. That's what worries me about establishing a 'new' genre in too defined a way; the work becomes formulaic, you create the mean that MJH describes above, and that's what people start to write to. More broadly, when someone like China - or in fact when a group of writers like the various folk referenced above - appear with a bang, I think that creates another problem. China (I assume) writes from his involvement with Marxism / Max Ernst / Mervyn Peake / whatever else - MJH, you've talked about Katherine Mansfield / HE Bates / post structuralism etc above - Justina, I'm sure you have similarly wide roots. But the risk is that people will come along and not immediately see the roots, and just go 'I want to write like China / MJH / Justina / whoever' - rehashing not newly creating. For me, part of the richness of the current flowering comes from the fact that so much of what powers it comes from outside narrow limitations of genre / group. This has turned into a bit of a confused ramble! I suppose the point I'm making is that (for me) a key component of any successful grouping is a sense of permanent encouragement to read and think beyond the limits of that grouping. For the New Weird Movement (ahem) to really fulfil it's promise, ie generate new thought, new writing, new creativity, whatever, and not just be a handy marketing tag, it has to encourage people to actively engage with the world - not just read certain narrow types of fantasy / sci fi - on it's own, ever curious, magpie terms. Ideally, I suppose, 'New Weird' should be an open ended mode of thought and creation, not an exclusive canon of works and writers. A way of working, not just the work itself.
By iotar on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 12:52 pm:
'I want to write like China / MJH / Justina / whoever' Well that's how everyone starts out, isn't it? The old "I saw the Sex Pistols and formed a band" syndrome. If New Crobuzon becomes the new Minas Tirith or whatever it doesn't really matter - there will always be imitators and the more imaginative ones will learn their trade through playing old Viriconium riffs until they develop something else, something stranger something, further off the edge when the New Weird is ancient history.
By iotar on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 12:59 pm:
(apologies for the mad punctuation)
By MJH on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 01:28 pm:
Al Reynolds: Hi Al! Great to hear from you. Futures: Even your futures are seen through an implicit screen--very faint & semiotically tenuous but definitely there--of now. That comes in background detail, in assumptions about the economics etc of the invented world, in assumptions about how people will be different but still remain people, in a sense we have of the writer's lively entanglement with his own time. I don't know how to express this. Help! Good imaginative fiction of any sort reflects the zeitgeist, somehow, through its writer's concerns. Some of this might be deliberate, some of it might be unconscious & even "accidental" (I'm not sure I actually believe that). Readers pick it up. Anyway, I think we should take control of that aspect of fiction the way we take control over the narrative aspect, and help the reader on the way a little... Would a truly represented future, ie one encoded in its own terms, be decodable to us ? This is the singularity thing, no ? The struggle to represent the unrepresentable. I always remember how alien Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality seemed to me when I first read it; thirty years later I returned to one of the stories ("Lost C'mell" I think) and its humanity, the present day concerns of its author, its sheer decodability in terms of 1960, amazed me.
By Al on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 01:34 pm:
True enough - but it would be a shame if that became the only motivation, as seemed to happen with some of the sub-Tolkien people. I suppose the ideal is the New Weird as currently constituted should act as a gateway as well as just a destination in itself. China's a good example of this - I've seen very few interviews with him where he's not enthusing about other writers, ancient and modern. Tho' arguably this is what any literary movement does - it brings previously disparate bits and pieces (from wherever) into a single clear point of focus, and then uses them to build something new. If you're at all curious, you'll go exploring the precursor bits and pieces as well as the movement. Btb, if you are a New Weird person, does that make you a New Weirdo?
By Al Reynolds on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 02:11 pm:
MJH: >> I always remember how alien Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality seemed to me when I first read it; thirty years later I returned to one of the stories ("Lost C'mell" I think) and its humanity, the present day concerns of its author, its sheer decodability in terms of 1960, amazed me Mike, I still find Smith's stories to be brilliant little nuggets of total weirdness - stories like "A Game of Rat and Dragon", which seem to have plopped into the pages of fifties magazines via a wormhole from some bizarre far-future. But in a way, their very strangeness - and the fact that the usual toolkit of reader's assumptions just doesn't *work* on them - make them no more inaccessible for non-genre readers than genre readers, if you get my drift. They're just out there. It's a while since I read any of them, I must admit. 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. Clear to planoform, Al R
By jeff ford on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 02:21 pm:
One thing is for sure, New Weird is a much better label than some of the others I've seen floated lately for other movements. I definitely prefer it to Old Weird, which is how my students refer to me. Here are a couple I've seen around: "Soft Slipstream" -- Sounds like a trip to the toilet after a night of drinking cheap beer. "Interstitial" -- That operation I'll have to have when I go in to get the knees done. "The Hard SF Renaissance" -- This definitely has something to do with Viagra. I can see now that what I was going on about above, discussing the writing of Mr. Mieville, was really kind of off topic, but if what is really being discussed is how to parlay this New Weird thing into a greater market share for all of us, count me in. I don't know if I qualify now, but, hey, I'll get weirder. Only the opposite at this point in my life might be a problem.
By Al Reynolds on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 02:28 pm:
New Weird as opposed to Old Peculiar? sorry. Al R
By MJH on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 02:31 pm:
Al R: and yet "Lost C'Mell" begins, I think-- "Lost C'Mell was a Girly girl." Something like that, anyway. Lots of easily-decodable semiotic in that. (Anyone got a copy to hand ?) But I agree: those stories were like injections of some genuine Other to me, trapped in Warwickshire in 1960: a real upper, straight into the vein; and their strangeness held equally for tutored & untutored readers. Rat & Dragon--the *memory* of it raises the hairs on my arm. Totally agree that the new writers have an off-the-edge relationship to their nearest genre. This has to be to do with the point the other Al made, above (Hi Al!), ie to do with being creative rather than just rehashing. We're saying, in effect, "Hey, yes, there's something interesting here, but I'm doing what I want with it, not what you lot want..." In the end, of course, we'd go further if pushed, and disassociate ourselves from one another: we're a knouty lot, and quite prepared not just to speak a dialect but an idiolect. Or are we ? Certainly it's what happened as the New Wave aged.
By MJH on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 03:53 pm:
Speaking of Old Peculiar--not to say Jeff's list--there was a character in one of Thorne Smith's novels who kept by him a collection of pornography he called "My Old & Rare"...
By John Dodds on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 04:25 pm:
Mike - Ah, yes, Cordwainer Smith. I haven't read him for many years, but I do recall the "feeling" of reading stories like "Lost C'Mell" - that true other worldly quality which few writers I can think of actually achieve. The only other writers that immediately spring to mind are RA Lafferty and forgotten wondersmith David R. Bunch (the Moderan stories). Ok, yes, there are loads of others, just shooting from the hip here.
By John Dodds on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 04:27 pm:
Al - I've had a pint or two of Old Peculiar in my time. Great stuff, but too much of it rots your guts, I am sure.
By Steph on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 08:35 pm:
*Old Peculier*, please, gentlemen. As a Yorkshire lass I feel bound to point this out, with respect. MJH - idiolect. Damn. Wish I'd thought of that. And yes, there is more to the New Weird than China. New Weird writers have clocked up a lot of experience (*zeitgeist* haven't all writers?), and they want to let this experience out; and they choose to use a genre form for backdrop (or gateway or argument, as described above). So the New Weird will comprise the experiences of people who have travelled far, seen many relationships, suffered many careers. Those who play riffs on the work of highly creative writers can still produce a great deal of readable text - a very rich mine is being tapped. Any Weird is hard to do and I haven't seen anyone copying yet.
By Steph on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 08:58 pm:
There _is_ such a word as idiolect. How cool is that? I thought you made it up. D'oh!
By JeffV on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 09:58 pm:
I'm going to print out this whole thread and reply in the morning. MJH: You're rather mischievous yourself, painting me as a disciple of Moorcock just because he's a friend who has championed some of my work. Re the marketing--briefly. It's not mischievious to make the statements I did. I'm two entirely different people, and I intend to keep it that way: one person who writes fiction and one person who aggressively markets that fiction. This is a fascinating discussion. JeffV
By JeffV on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 10:42 pm:
A fascinating discussion, I should add, for a subject that isn't very interesting. LOL! JeffV
By MJH on Wednesday, May 07, 2003 - 11:34 pm:
Jeff: Quite a mischievous one, too. Steph, I'm finding your original definition/description more & more relevent & useful. Idiolect: everyone should have one.
By Jonathan Strahan on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 12:49 am:
Hi all - This conversation is growing so quickly I can barely keep track, so I printed it all out and sat down with it for a little while and had a think. First up, as Mike says in a recent post, I think Steph did a great job of outlining some of the key characteristics of what's happening in the post of April 29. From that post, 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). This leads us to several threads on: + what is actually going on; + who is actually doing it; + how do you describe it; and + how do you sell it? I think the marketing angle is crucial, but the others shouldn't be overlooked. After all, if we do have some kind of canon then we can better sell it. If we can name who is doing it, we can gain momentum both within and outside the genre. I realise this means that a second generation will come in who will co-opt the most obvious features of the movement, but so what? Every writer I've heard mentioned here is talented and savvy enough to have moved on to whatever's next (evolving and developing as the best writers do) well before that kind of entropy sets in. So, is anyone willing to engate in a little canonisation? Or do we need an idiolectic first? Jonathan
By J on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 12:52 am:
Hi Al, Great to see you come aboard. A couple thoughts on your post. You write: "If a book needs to start somewhere familiar before veering off into the weird (if it is to have any hope of attracting a larger audience than genre readers) does that more or less rule out "the future" as a choice of venue?"
By Jonathan Strahan on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 12:53 am:
Erg. Sorry for that posting error. - J
By Jonathan Strahan on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 12:58 am:
Hi Al, Great to see you come aboard. A thought on your post. You write: "If a book needs to start somewhere familiar before veering off into the weird (if it is to have any hope of attracting a larger audience than genre readers) does that more or less rule out 'the future' as a choice of venue?" I don't think so at all. A book doesn't need to start somewhere familiar, but it does need to unfold in a manner that is decodable to the reader. One of the functions of genre protocols is to act as a kind of shorthand for the initiated. This is fine, but it excludes many readers and makes texts less accessible. The challenge for the New Weird/New Space Opera writer is to either deploy protocols in such a manner that they don't exclude readers, or to avoid those protocols where possible. None of which in any way prevents discussion with the future. In fact, I'd argue that engagement with the future is a characteristic of the Movement. Jonathan
By Jonathan Strahan on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 01:28 am:
Al - You write: "what worries me about establishing a 'new' genre in too defined a way; the work becomes formulaic, you create the mean that MJH describes above". I understand your concerns and agree. But I also think it's an evolutionary path we're already on. When writers began unwittingly beating the weird/space opera path on the way to the New Weird Movement they put texts out there that influenced and continue to influence other writers. When some of those texts became successful, they ensured imitation. The only real question here is that, as the Movement becomes codified, do the people who are its real practitioners gain some benefit, or does it acrue to the second generation imitators. Hopefully one of the purposes of this discussion thread is to find a way to make sure that doesn't happen. J
By Jonathan Strahan on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 01:35 am:
I'd also echo Al, Mike and everyone else's sentiments re: Cordwainer Smith. His work blew me away when I first stumbled on it 20 years ago, and it's still amazing. J
By JeffV on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 03:43 am:
I have a few comments and questions that I hope will be useful in some way. Some of the questions may be rhetorical in a sense. My post the other day, as MJH guessed was too quick and bit bloody-minded; when you are working on fiction, these other issues really do seem somewhat unimportant. And I agree with everything MJH says in his May 6 post re the complexity of the issue, the idea of a melting pot, etc., except the supposed defeatism of my initial response. In a sense, MJH says everything in that post, and eloquently, that needed to be said. I use the term New Weird below just to accept the terms of the discussion, not because I necessarily think it is useful. At heart, deep down, I would be reluctant to be associated with any term besides the ever useful and simple “fiction”. Jeff V. Questions: (1) Is “New Weird” a phenomenon unique to the United Kingdom? Several people posting to this thread seem to imply this. (2) Is New Weird really a kickback against jaded heroic fantasy (Steph’s April 29 post)? Or is it more that, in China’s case at least, it fulfills the expectations of the Epic in ways that most “heroic” fantasy hasn’t in recent years? (Jeff F’s post) (3) Are Gormenghast and Viriconium really the core influences of the New Weird? Or do the New Weird writers reach back to the Decadents, the Surrealists, etc? Because surely if they rely on Peake or MJH influence, it’s diluted from the source. (Steph’s April 29 post, I think) (4) Is the New Weird really secular and politically informed? (Steph’s April 29 post) Or does this just describe China’s work? (5) Is there a danger in forming a kind of sycophantic cult around China as New Weird poster boy, even if he deserves it in part? (See several posts) Especially if we’re then just defining what China writes? No—don’t answer that. (5) Is it wise to define New Weird by how it is in opposition to bad writing technique? For example, the idea that New Weird includes careful descriptions (Steph’s post again, I think). Isn’t attention to detail, the capturing of precise detail, the building block of all good fiction? Surely saying New Weird isn’t bad writing doesn’t help us much. (6) Is it true that there are “not many New Weird writers because it is so difficult to do?” (Steph’s email) Wouldn’t it be more correct that some writers have a certain mindset or pseudo-decadent/gothic/surreal way in which they view the world, which becomes part of how they express themselves in their writing? Otherwise, if it’s a choice, then it’s affectation. (7) Does “mainstream Anglo-American fiction” really tend to be “literal minded”? (MJP’s April 30 post) Are writers like Denis Johnson an aberration or an example of a “subgenre” in the mainstream that isn’t “literal minded”? Also, isn’t “literal minded”ness a disease commonly found in “genre” fiction as well? Isn’t this the main reason that so much of all fiction, regardless of genre, is boring and two-dimensional? (8) Is it really important that Atwood “diss”-associated herself from SF? (Justina’s April 30th post re Venn diagrams and circles) Isn’t that a kind of guerilla tactic, too? Doesn’t that mean that more people are going to read her SF book than if the SF label had been applied? If not being associated with New Weird would mean I had more readers, not less, then guess which I’d pick, as long as I didn’t have to change my work. Isn’t the “name” of a work in a sense hardwired into its every word? Isn’t it true that regardless of whether Atwood calls it SF or not, readers will recognize it as SF? (9) What’s the logic behind this vaguely-expressed fear of mainstream taking over SF? (Justina’s April 30 post) Doesn’t this just mean that SF will be acceptable to the mainstream in any form? Are those of us in “genre” being subsidized by somebody? Is that somebody going to subsidize mainstream authors who write SF instead? If the mainstream takes over SF doesn’t that mean we all get a bigger audience? (10) Is there really a war between “mainstream” and “genre”? (Justina’s April 30 post) And if so, who are the actual combatants? Is it authors? Publishers? The media? Universities? Is it some monolithic entity called The Mainstream that employs secret agents to undermine genre’s value in the real world? (11) Are New Weird writers really writing about the present or are they in fact invested in the past as well? (MJH’s May 3 post) Doesn’t China’s work partake of an antique Victorian steampunk sensibility in addition to the perhaps radical politics? Couldn’t a reader ignore the Marxist subtext entirely and just read The Scar as a ripping good adventure yarn? (12) Are the readers of Laurell K. Hamilton and China Mieville truly as separate as we would like to believe? Isn’t it somewhat snobbish to assume that there isn’t some overlap, even if it is a small overlap? And isn’t even a small overlap of importance in a field where 10,000 copies sold can make the difference between success and failure? (13) Is there room for humor in the New Weird? Isn’t the lack of humor in much of the New Weird (whatever the New Weird is) a kind of failure of the imagination? Comments Re the comment that “the speed of reading is very important for action scenes”—I’d direct interested parties to the long, drawn out, utterly beautiful Flay versus Cook action scene in Gormenghast. Re Al’s April 30 post re “non-realist fiction” as “fiction that’s aware that it’s not real.” Not true—China’s fiction is splendidly unaware it’s not real. I think this is a confusion of “non-realist fiction” and “metafiction”. Re Justina’s April 30 post yet again: This whole idea of this discussion being a “war” disturbs me. Again we hear echoes of “us” versus “them”, of mainstream versus genre. Again the argument seems false to me. There is already a meeting of minds, a gathering of individuals on the fringes of both traditional mainstream and of genre. Individual writers like Kelly Link, Carol Emshwiller, Lance Olsen, and Rikki Ducornet are one conduit for that. Anthologies that mix mainstream and “genre” work are another. Mainstream writers are assimilating SF tropes and vice versa. A cross-pollination occurs that transforms both and creates beautiful mutations. I can’t see that as anything other than wonderful. I can’t see this as a war of us versus them. It reduces a complex issue to a simple one. (For one thing there is more and less resistance to genre from certain elements of the mainstream, and the same for certain elements of genre resistant to mainstream.) Re Henry’s April 30 post: I agree with this entirely, re not reducing the New Weird to a movement or a school. (Look how quickly we pick up the term—it’s like a literary SARS, and perhaps just as deadly on a metaphorical level; which is to say, only somewhat.) Re Jonathan’s May 1 post: A small group trying to label and sort what is happening in the genre is reductive itself and ignores the role of existing traditions. This makes a lot of sense to me. This work didn’t sprout and take root in a vacuum. Re Cheryl Morgan’s May 4 post: “Justina has a good point in questioning whether the mainstream will understand what we do.” Doesn’t this apply mainly to SF that uses a SF shorthand in terminology or trope? What does it have to do with the New Weird? Re Cheryl’s May 6 post: I disagree about Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow being an example of a good way to “bring people into a novel.” Russell jettisons most “SF” elements in the first part of her story in order to lure mainstream readers in. However, by doing so, she also unbalances and destroys the integrity of her novel. I would also argue that China’s success has been aided more by his ability to gain access to mainstream media outlets (like NPR here in the U.S.) than by his ability to gently guide the reader into his novels. For one thing—he’s still guiding them into a bizarre fantasy world. If he wrote magic realism in which an element of the fantastic entered the real world, I’d agree.
By Al Reynolds on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 10:07 am:
Re: JeffV's point about going back to sources: I'm going to tick off the surrealists as a personal influence, or at least an imaginative catalyst. Magritte in particular, more so than Dali. Give me steam trains coming out of fireplaces over burning giraffes any day. I'll also lob in di Chirico and Gustav Moreau. Has anyone read Magritte's correspondence, by the way? Hilarious stuff. If he was writing a letter to a friend in August, he'd write "January" in the date, then cross it out and put "August" underneath. Nutter! As another unifying factor, what about a rejection - or just disinterest - in Tolkein? When we were on holiday a few years ago, my partner and I agreed that I'd have a go at the LOTR and she'd have a bash at The Book of the New Sun. We both read one book of each and that was it: no burning desire to finish either of the things. I've still got nothing against JRR, but his work still forms a huge influence void in my own reading. As for Peake, well I took Gormgenghast on the same holiday. But I still haven't read it. I can bluff my way pretty convincingly, though. "Steerpike"? Hmm, yes. Rubs chin and nods. Al R
By Al on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 10:21 am:
Wow! Moving on very quickly. Jonathan – your May 8 post – yes, I think I’m probably being a bit negative about the problems of a new genre being over-formulaic. And, I suppose, any such explosion will inevitably throw up in its second, third, whatever waves, both practitioners who genuinely bring something new to the party and those who are just riding the current. So, as you say, the problem is to make sure that the up and coming people who get the attention are the originals, not the copyists. At the moment, the concept / area / movement that is the New Weird is very much in control of the writers; my worry is that it could become a commercial term, which will encourage investment in copyists (stick with what you know, it makes money!) rather than a literary term, encouraging creative collision between classically literary considerations and genre conventions, strategies and subject matters. How to prevent the hijack? I suppose make sure that the writers stay louder than the publicists! Jeff V – ‘fiction that’s aware that it’s not real’ – I think I’ve been a bit vague here. Perhaps a clearer way of putting it is, fiction that expresses the real (whether recognisable emotional / political / philosophical / etc truths) in non-realistic terms. Fiction that explores our literal, lived experience using images and events that are absolutely not real, partially just because it can (and it’s fun to do so!), and partially because using unexpected means to talk about the daily grind refreshes and revitalises it, makes it new. I’m not sure that I’m arguing for metafiction here – rather, if I’m going to suspend my disbelief, I want to make sure that I suspend it for something really outrageous, not just a literal translation of a world I already live in and know well!
By Al Reynolds on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 10:22 am:
Re: lack of humour in the New Weird - says who, Jeff? I thought PSS was very funny. The Scar less so, but there was still a great deal of mordant observation and drollery. What about City of Saints...? Lots of japery there, especially with the footnotes. In fact one of the things that most excites me with the new stuff is precisely the sense of fun it gives off; the feeling that the writers are having a blast. Al R
By Al Reynolds on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 10:36 am:
One other thing: in Britain a couple of years ago we had this New Puritan movement (namechecked from a Fall song, but never mind). Is it possible to see the New Weird as embracing many of the things rejected by the New Puritans? From what I recall, they advocated a very austere, stripped-down approach; hyper-realist, with a total rejection of genre. It was very kitchen-sink: you weren't even allowed flashbacks. Reminded me a bit of the Dogme movement. Al R
By Al on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 10:41 am:
Never saw the point of the New Puritans, tho' I have to say I didn't read any of it. Just from the description, it looked utterly un-attractive. A bit like Dogme - but Dogme's always had strong roots in the fantastic - witness the ghost story elements of 'Festen', or the awesome proto-Dogme 'The Kingdom', or even the mythic ending to 'Breaking the Waves'. For me, Dogme's closer to New Weird than New Puritan - at its best using fantastical elements to reflect on and describe day to day reality.
By Cheryl Morgan on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 10:53 am:
Wow, great post Jeff. That should keep us busy for a day or two. Here's just a few comments. I suspect that if we were to get into any serious analysis the only thing we would find in common about New Weird writers is a willingness to stretch the boundaries of the genre rather than write to expected formulae and protocols. People who do that tend to be the better writers anyway, which is where the "good writing" thing comes from. As to the "war", it might not seem like one where you are, but in the UK it is very real. In my (admittedly limited) experience, the US literary community is much broader and somewhat more broad-minded than in the UK. Here there is a very real sense of apartheid. I don't want to get into a discussion of the literary merits of "The Sparrow". The important point here is that Mary made the effort to draw in mainstream readers. How you do that well is clearly a topic for discussion, but first we need to agree on whether or not it should be done. As genre readers, of course, we like weird stuff. I enjoy things like "A Year in the Linear City" as much as anyone. But I also recognise that people who are not used to the flexibility of SF worlds would be completely bemused by it. If we want to sell to a wider audience we need to make a few concessions to them. Like you I wondered about China, because Bas-Lag is a very different and at times quite bizarre world. But then I thought about the introductions to PSS and The Scar and realized that we were being led into the world by people. The surroundings might be odd, but Ygharek and Bellis Coldwine are real people with real emotions with whom we can identify to some extent. Far too much SF and Fantasy is about the world rather than about the characters in it, and is therefore only approachable by people who are comfortable with strange alternate worlds. (And no, this is not a manifesto for the Young Trollopes - I'm as nervous about works that obsess on character as I am on ones that ignore it.) And before Jonthan says anything, yes, I am well aware that there are people who like obscurity and who would like to keep it that way so as to prevent the mundanes from sneaking into our ghetto.
By Jonathan Strahan on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 11:50 am:
Hey Al So, confessions about classics and influences, huh? . Well, I'll join in to the extent that I'll admit that I've tried three times to finish Tolkien (like taking your medicine, you should do it, but still...) and have never made it. It took me four goes to get through book 1 of The Book of the New Sun and nothing is likely to get me through the rest of it (though I do like some of his work very much). As to Gormenghast - rank me among the folk who watched the tv series because he couldn't get through the books, but was vaguely curious. Now, I admit that all three of these works are tremendously important, influential etc etc, but I can't quite imagine why you'd want to read them. Best J
By MJH on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 12:34 pm:
Bloody hell, Jeff, you certainly know how to take a discussion by the scruff of the neck and set an agenda! Respect. I’m not going to answer all your amazingly crisp points because if I did I would be accepting that agenda, & I don’t. I’m not interested in any discussion about influence. Everybody here knows my views on the f/sf cult of influence, & I think your use of the term “dliute” (point 3 on your agenda) just reinforces my sense that f/sf is being (deliberately ?) naive around the subject. Influence is not linear, it is combinative; and it isn’t simply “literary”. You haven’t got a clue what actually “influenced” Viriconium, or how, because you haven’t read ten percent of the books I read between being six years old and writing it; and you share even less of its experiential input (I mean, I’m assuming you’re not a horse or anything, so you share some). It’s therefore impossible for you to isolate what China or anyone else might have picked up in a “dilute” form through reading Viriconium. It’s just tosh to claim you can. Similarly, I’m not really nterested in any defintiion of the New Weird as a consciously retro fiction: it may be, in some aspects, but I don’t care. I don’t personally give a toss about “the role of existing traditions”. If a new movement considers ideas like this, it has rendered itself academic--ie, dead--before it takes its first step. A live fiction breaks the glass, grabs what it needs, and turns to face the world. I’m more interested in the New than the Weird. Two components of the New, as far as I’m concerned, are (a) the leak from reality & personal experience, and (b) the politics. Neither is new in the sense of this being its first outing in f/sf: both are new in the sense that they reflect the world view of a new generation. I find this amazing and delightful and it fills me with energy, and a sense that things can change. I don’t ask much more from a political fiction than that (except that its politics agree roughly with mine...). Or from an experiential one, either. To the extent that I see this more in the British New Weird (and New Space Opera) than in the American, then I would have to say, yes, I do believe we are looking at a primarily British phenomenon. Part of your crisp, beautifully presented agenda is designed to question that, perhaps redefine the phenomenon to include US fiction which I would think of as a different type. That’s one of the reasons I introduced, early on in this discussion, the idea of defending one’s own definition of things. That’s why naming is owning. You & I are aware of that. Aren’t we, Jeff ? As to sycophantic cults around authors, well I know a very great deal about them. A very great deal indeed, from the inside, and over many, many years. So I don’t think I’ll say everything I know about that, except that it isn’t happening here. I think we’re all aware that China has become two or three different types of icon. In this discussion, this process has gone a stage further and he’s become a kind of shorthand, a metonymy. By allowing that to happen, I agree, we risk defining the New Weird as only China. But I think we all know that China is just the best shorthand we can find so far; as well as the best ambassador to the outside world. (I’m at an unfair advantage here because I’m reading Steph’s novel, so I know something more about the British New Weird & the directions it can go in.) I agree wholeheartedly with your point-- “This whole idea of this discussion being a “war” disturbs me. Again we hear echoes of “us” versus “them”, of mainstream versus genre. Again the argument seems false to me. There is already a meeting of minds, a gathering of individuals on the fringes of both traditional mainstream and of genre. Individual writers like Kelly Link, Carol Emshwiller, Lance Olsen, and Rikki Ducornet are one conduit for that. Anthologies that mix mainstream and “genre” work are another. Mainstream writers are assimilating SF tropes and vice versa. A cross-pollination occurs that transforms both and creates beautiful mutations. I can’t see that as anything other than wonderful. I can’t see this as a war of us versus them. It reduces a complex issue to a simple one. (For one thing there is more and less resistance to genre from certain elements of the mainstream, and the same for certain elements of genre resistant to mainstream.)” --My sentiments exactly. I think I’ve said that myself, one or twice or three hundred times, on these boards. But Justina’s call to arms is professional, and to do with the reception side of the UK industry--ie, publicity, reviewing, etc, especially in broadsheet newspapers. There is a clear sense in which, once the melting pot gets under way, we will be in competition with writers who are much more adept at finding & using public space. I’ve been working all my life for the creative melt-down you describe, and I agree that the terms we’ve been using here are reductive from the creative point of view, as well as limiting us to the very “them & us” definition I don’t believe in; but I don’t want to see good writers lose out on the professional side because they’re brilliant but unprepared. One of the many reasons for China’s continuing success (I think we’ve named them all now, & he’s useful for that, too) is that he’s tough & astute enough to use what God gave him--just as Mike Moorcock, that other cult author, did in his day. Again, I get the feeling that you’re asking us to lie down and roll over here, Jeff. Use literary definitions when we should be using professional ones. I take the beauty of the experience for granted, and ask: What’s next ? One further thing. You quote Cheryl, ““Justina has a good point in questioning whether the mainstream will understand what we do,” and then say, “Doesn’t this apply mainly to SF that uses a SF shorthand in terminology or trope? What does it have to do with the New Weird?” Well, we find it difficult to disentangle the two forms of fiction: the melting pot, we think, is already on the way. We want it all, we want to take a bit from here, a bit from there. I personally, junked the limts years ago: I mix’n’match exactly as I want. If I want to confuse the New Weird with the New Space Opera, then make no mistake, Jeff, I will: and I’ll make it stick. Are you betting me I can't ? So I wonder, perhaps, how your amazing, indeed almost anal, ability to make distinctions (with lists, & numbers & all), jibes with your faith in the breakdown of categories. I’m astonished & gobsmacked by your ability to be both the academic and the total, head-banging, drive it into the corner at 90 & see what comes out the other side *creative* you so obviously are... I say that in a spirit of mischief, of course.
By Al Reynolds on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 12:44 pm:
Cheryl (Hi!): I agree with what you say, but as soon as you start chucking around words like "apartheid", doesn't it just help to reinforce the idea that we all have a huge persecution complex? When I think about apartheid I think about electrocutions and burning car tyres, not sniffy reviews in the broadsheets. Do other genres suffer from this perceived ringfencing? Two of my favorite writers, Robert Littell and Michael Dibdin, are both associated with particular genres (espionage and crime fiction, respectively), without in any way being constrained by them. This goes back to Justina's Venn diagrams, I suppose. Al R
By Cheryl Morgan on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 01:46 pm:
Mr. Reynolds, sir, delighted to hear from you! And you are right, I overstated things. Of course some of us do suffer from a persection complex, but actually I used the word "apartheid" to try to get through to Jeff that things are different here. At the risk of boring people who have heard me banging on about this too much before, crime and espionage fiction are not marginalised in the same way as SF and Fantasy because they are much more approachable. A mainstream reviewer can pick up one of those books and get a fair idea of what the author is trying to say. The same will probably not be true of an SF or Fantasy book. Mike: I promise not to tell Farah that you described academic discussion as "dead". :-)
By Jonathan Strahan on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 02:04 pm:
Perhaps because I'm not in the UK and maybe because I work for a US-based inward-looking genre magazine, I don't have enough of a grasp on this, but I wanted to ask the participants in this discussion a question: if the New Weird (and it's sib/sf mirror image the New Space Opera) is predominantly UK-based phenomenon, why? What's particularly happened there to bring this about? As a commentator on the field you would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to miss the extraordinary flowering in the UK this past five years or so, but why the dominance of this new thing? I'd be fascinated to hear thoughts on the subject. J
By MJH on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 02:21 pm:
Hi Cheryl. Well, it isn't when Farah does it. I've nowt agin academicism, but fiction isn't a form of academicism. It should look to the world, jump about, get in the fresh air & get some exercise, not just poke around in its own past. Make it new, try to write each piece as if no one ever wrote that kind of thing before, whether they did or not. >>A mainstream reviewer can pick up one of those books and get a fair idea of what the author is trying to say. The same will probably not be true of an SF or Fantasy book. Absolutely. Jonathan & Al R: I think we ought to have a whole new thread for that, "Genre classics I freely admit I didn't read." I threw Little, Big at the wall three times before I gave up. The failure is mine, I'm sure: but there you go, if your head won't read, it won't read.
By Al Reynolds on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 02:25 pm:
God, Little, Big - yes! Ruined a holiday in Portugal lugging that bloody thing around. Keep meaning to give it another go, however. Even now when I pass it on the shelf I get a shudder of guilt. Jonathan: it's a bit impolite of me to mention another magazine on TTA's very generously allocated forum, but I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Interzone. Al R
By MJH on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 02:29 pm:
>>As a commentator on the field you would have to be deaf, dumb and blind to miss the extraordinary flowering in the UK this past five years or so, but why the dominance of this new thing? I think it's because these guys are just all-round hip, Jonathan. But I expect they have other explanations. So why *are* you so timely, Al & Justina ? And so damn lively ?
By Justina on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 02:40 pm:
(meekly) The War thing - I don't think there is a war. I was being flippant. My concerns are professional because of the reception of SF/F/H in the mainstream literary reviewing venues and associated junketry (awards, must-read-lists, collections of best writers etc etc). Perhaps I'm only jealous and egomaniacal, but it irks me to have genuinely great books dismissed and unread with the pompous arrogance they are dismissed and unread in the press here in the UK (I'm specifically thinking of Ian Jack actually, but it's been widespread - you never get genre on the Booker list.) I would like to see people who have made their careers on critiquing literature and who have the power to make literary careers actually display critical intelligence in this matter. I suppose you could simply mark it all down as column-inches jealousy. But that's the difference between me and Zadie Smith, and that's quite a difference career wise. She writes about normality though, so I guess that has a lot to do with it. Oh wait, so do I... Hmm, I'm quite surprised to be included as part of this club of the New Weird as I don't think I'm the least bit weird. I do my best to pursue what interests me, to make it accessible and aspire to all the usual literary values that make my automatic exclusion from serious consideration all the more painful. I'm sure a lot of people do. Those who don't won't care anyway. However, Publicity aside, there does not appear to be much of a bias against genre in the wider literary world (mileage varies depending on age and ossification), it's just that a lot of people don't like SF, period. I don't like a lot of it and I can't stand most of what's called fantasy either, so I take their point. I have another question: Why is the discussion of SF a separate issue from Literature academically? WHy is there a new promotion service only for women starting up now (for a fee on the internet, very well-meaning) to push women's work in SF/F/H? Are we all hurtling backwards at the speed of sound? I can't see that Margaret (A) is going to make any converts. They might read it because it's her but they won't read SF because Mags penned something akin to it. Jeff - you make some great points but you're trying so hard to get control of all of this at once you're being scary. Justina.
By Jonathan Strahan on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 02:49 pm:
Mike - This may sound dumb, and if so I can live with that, but is the for want of a better word "Renaissance" in British genre fiction some kind of weird post-Thatcherite after-effect? Is it remotely possible that enough time had passed between her political demise and the first appearance of some of the writers we might consider New Space Opera/New Weird that some kind of cultural flow through was happening? I genuinely don't know, but from here in Australia the Thatcher years looked pretty bleak and I can see a response to that in Gwyneth Jones's recent couple books. - Jonathan
By Al Reynolds on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 03:15 pm:
Mike, Jonathan et al: I don't feel the least bit timely, unfortunately. I've been banging on about more or less the same thing since I started selling stuff to Interzone in 1989, with a story I wrote in 1988. I hope my writing has improved since then, but my interests and obsessions haven't changed all that much. If I go back to my old copies of Interzone from 10 or 15 years ago (ie back into the deep Thatcherite era) there's tremendous and obvious excitement about the writers who were emerging then - the first Interzone generation, if you like. But back then there was no Web to stoke up enthusiasm; no online review zines, no discussion forums (apart from newsgroups, which only spods knew about then). I don't think you can overstate the influence the web is playing in the sense of something happening now. Rather than wait three months for an Interzone editorial and letters page. we have something like this forum. It's fantastic! Al R
By MJH on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 03:19 pm:
Jonathan-- I honestly don't know. I date my own awareness of the new stuff to about the same time as my awareness of the post-Seattle movements. But everyone who's doing it is a lot younger than me; they see what's happened in the UK in the last 20 years in totally different ways. I have a sense of having lived a closed-down life during the Thatcher period: but they may feel quite differently. (The other thing here is, I'm not sure I'm seeing all that much difference between the Thatcher period & the Blair period. Things continue to be grim: the difference is we put on that psychotically earnest expression of Tone's and pretend they aren't: it's the spiritual version of credit card debt.) The new writers bridge back differently, too, through different chains of cultural awareness. One of the things I love about the whole thing is that I don't really understand it because of that. I just welcome it, & I'm having fun rediscovering my own imaginative exuberance in the shadow of theirs. It's a tonic for the troops.
By jeff ford on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 03:26 pm:
In the past couple of years I’ve read remarkable books and stories by MJH, Jeff VanderMeer, China, and a whole host of other contemporary writers. With MJH’s work, I had not been aware of it until very recently. Both JeffV and Nick Gevers mentioned it to me in passing as being exceptional. China, when I saw him at his reading in NY last summer told me that it clearly influenced him. I went out and read Viriconium and the new story collection and enjoyed both enormously, and was greatly impressed by the range exhibited in the two books. But when I thought of China’s claim of influence what I was struck by was that the link between his work and MJH’s was not obviously evident to me. I saw them as separate, enjoyable reading experiences. The thing I admired most about these works and JeffV’s fiction, Rhys Hughes’, Geoff Ryman’s, Kelly Link’s, etc. is the idiosyncrasy of each vision. The differences were what attracted me to the works. I believe that when we speak of influence, it is usually thought that the influence comes in the form of imagery and idea, but instead I think the case is that the influence that is passed on is simply the courage of originality. When I read a great story by Rhys Hughes or MJH or JeffV, my first thought isn’t, “I want to go now and rewrite that story.” They influence me to have the courage to tell my story in my own way. That is what I think is going on in fantastic writing these days. There is a surge of idiosyncratic talent, the differences of each more important than their likenesses. The movement is basically one of – (and I hate to sound like a sixties flim flam man here but to quote Emerson…) “I will know you when you do your thing.” Writers are picking up on this from each other and stepping out in all different directions. If you want to call that The New Weird, no sweat, and in many ways it is weird compared to where things seemed to have been previously, otherwise, I think I would already have heard of MJH by this point in my reading life. From my own perception, it does seem like there is a great concentration of it now in the UK, but it is at work in the US as well. It is also spilling out and over into all different forms and genres of writing, creating a huge mess of past borders and distinctions, which is, to me, delightful.
By JeffV on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 04:26 pm:
Re Jeff - you make some great points but you're trying so hard to get control of all of this at once you're being scary. Justina. LOL! I've been accused in the past of skimming on message boards and then responding with less info on hand than I should have. So I wanted to be more complete this time, on a serious subject. It's not an issue of control--of wanting to understand. Yes, some of the questions are facetious--re the one about China. I posed that one because a little less chiming in about China's considerable virtues might actually bring more clarity to this discussion. MJH: Re the idea of it being British or not--I just wanted someone to state that they thought it was in fact British-only, or mostly British. In that case, then, it might be easier to define the term. I get a sense the British (UK) authors on the list get a sense of pride from the idea that it is occurring mostly in the UK. Again, I personally don't have a *marketing* stake in this--I want the flexibility for my own writing (regardless of what anyone might think of the quality) to be able to redefine it on demand for the marketplace. For that reason, getting in on this New Weird label isn't necessarily a good thing for me. If it even applies. If self-referential metafiction that wants to proclaim and buy into the reality of a world and simultaneously point out that you're reading fiction doesn't count as New Weird, then I'm not New Weird. As for influences, I've heard from several sources, including you, I believe, in an interview, that the Decadents were a big influence on your Viriconium work. I'm just making the point that the source material may go back beyond you, even though you have created unique work. Clearly, influences are a very tricky issue and I agree with your statement to that effect. Al: Good point re the humor. But what if we're only talking about British authors? If we exclude Jeff Ford, we've excluded about 1/3 of the humor in the New Weird, in my opinion. Black humor though it might sometimes be. One last point--although some of those questions seem pointed, I'm not trying to anticipate the answers in most cases. For my own part, I'm undecided on a lot of this, for what it's worth. But to not address some of those questions is to ignore some important issues. More soon. Got to go interview third graders about what superpowers they would like to have, for the day job... JeffV
By jeff ford on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 06:14 pm:
JeffV: Sorry for the scare. Just jotting down some thoughts. If there is anything I want, it's definitely not to be in control of this. I'm simply making observations from my own limited vantagepoint. What I go back to, though, is I really don't see a strong thematic, imagistic or philosophical thread running through and between these authors mentioned. I like the fact that they are all different. The New Weird, to me, is just another label that has little meaning. When you start applying these things, you can call for the Coroner. It's the readers' job to do this stuff anyway. Best, Jeff
By MJP on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 06:24 pm:
The concept of new weird: postmodernist? Where does that take us? The two sides to the discussion are both pointless and material to its sense. Mainstream v Sf. Sf keeps wanting to get to *be* Mainstream, it seems. (Although it already is in film.) Thus to contrast. Science fiction offers an 'escapist' consolation (so called); a consolation distinct from that offered by mainstream. Character, the sense of place, of history, of the ordinary, none of these things, which form the staple of mainstream fiction, describe the motive principle of sf: its central experience is one of *unreality*. Getting to grips with what sf is, or what it does thus seems as easy as falling off a log, critically. Because in critical terms (even if it sometimes happens that the detail contradicts this picture) there is a bifurcation: an Anglo-American tradition. There is something 'heated' (frictional) about sf. It is banal to reinvent the banal. Thus, on the one hand science, on the other the arts. On the one hand the real, on the other - fantasy. On the one hand theory, on the other practice. On the one hand metaphysics, on the other, Hollywood. Richard Ford v Gene Wolfe. A crossover is observable in certain writer's career paths; eg Sam Shephard, but the crossover is towards realism, towards maturity (eg early plays v late plays). A similar example is Moorcock. The later writing is the more realistic. However such a summary misses the fact that contemporary Western life is itself increasingly unreal. The consolations of realism, of whatever sort, begin to seem unfeasable as 'real' if say the portrait is of someone who spends all day playing computer simulations. In order to get to grips with this reality you need sf's toolbox (to echo a comment made by Gibson). Thus the two begin to fuse - or have long since been doing this anyway. One question is, how should they fuse? What do and what don't you keep 'real'? (Related to this discussion I can't help noticing how the Guardian Saturday Review over the last two weeks has been led by science fiction concerns.)
By JeffV on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 06:58 pm:
Jeff F: I was referring to Justina's comment in which she said I was scary. I agreed with all of your posts. Not scary at all--sensible. JeffV
By jeff ford on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 07:02 pm:
JeffV: Let's face it, when I try to make sense of an intricate argument like this with all kinds of interesting input from different voices, it IS scary. I'm going to fade into the woodwork and see what you guys come up with. My most coherent post was the one where I was joking around about the different labels. Most coherent, but not the funniest.
By Justina on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 09:50 pm:
MJP: you wrote "Getting to grips with what sf is, or what it does thus seems as easy as falling off a log, critically. Because in critical terms (even if it sometimes happens that the detail contradicts this picture) there is a bifurcation: an Anglo-American tradition. There is something 'heated' (frictional) about sf. It is banal to reinvent the banal. Thus, on the one hand science, on the other the arts. On the one hand the real, on the other - fantasy. On the one hand theory, on the other practice. On the one hand metaphysics, on the other, Hollywood. Richard Ford v Gene Wolfe. A crossover is observable in certain writer's career paths; eg Sam Shephard, but the crossover is towards realism, towards maturity (eg early plays v late plays). A similar example is Moorcock. The later writing is the more realistic. " Please explain this to me as I am too dimwitted to get it. SF as a genre may be infatuated with donning the unreal experience but that doesn't mean it doesn't do anything else. Whose banal do you mean? Science V the arts??? Real v fantasy??? I'm lost. You're talking criticism like the 20th centurty never happened, like people are straightfoward WYSIWYG creations... I mean, I guess you're not, since you always seemed to be one of the clearest thinkers on the boards, but I don't understand your idiolect. Finally you intimate that writing about reality as reality is somehow a more mature and developed reaction to life and its vicissitudes than writing with any displacement techniques at all. I have always found this attitude absolutely incomprehensible.
By Cheryl Morgan on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 11:03 pm:
Thank you, Justina. I was just too gobsmacked by that post to think of anything to say in reply.
By Map Boy Lost Again on Thursday, May 08, 2003 - 11:43 pm:
Jeff V-- Bear with me here, I came home drunk, after an evening with one of those mainstream-type persons we have been badmouthing here, and very nice he was too. Anyway-- The Decadents: By the end of A Storm of Wings I was bored witless by the whole thing. From then on the art reference is a bit more sophisticated. About then, too, I stopped talking openly about what "influenced" me, because I realised I was simply giving out an interpretive kit for lazy readers. That strategy rendered the allusive system of the second two Viriconium volumes opaque to most f/sf people. As as result, despite the clear & obvious references to Schiele and Munch, my British publishers stuck a faux Aubrey Beardsley on the front of IV. It's a no-win situation. The test for me is not, can you spot "the Decadents", or trace their influence, via me, on some other writer: but can you spot, without help, a few of the mainstream non-fictional "influences" on Climbers, The Course of the Heart, or, say, "Black Houses" ? Anyone can do that, I'll have massive respect for them. Otherwise, forget it. I'm sure I cited "the Decadents" as an influence in some embarrassing, inarticulate, utterly bloody interview when I was thirty. And I'm sure it's true of A Storm of Wings and The Centauri Device. But I didn't have the wit then even to make a distinction between "influence" and reference; and my understanding of it all was deeply linear. Tosh. I was just tosh. Wet behind the ears & green about the gills. I should be allowed to live it down. My original point stands. It's impossible for you to know what most of my influences actually are, because you haven't been in my head and you haven't read the same books as me. (For someone who *has* read the right books there might be very glaring & obvious evidence of influence or even acts of direct quotation. Indeed there are. Or is.) What worries me a little is, I see no influence--dilute or otherwise, direct or through Viriconium--by "the Decadents" on PSS. I see steam punk, sure. But I don't see squat I could lay unequivocally at Huysmann's door. Maybe I'm getting old. I don't care how I influenced China, anyway, if I did; or who influenced me. Saturn tries to eat his children. A good description of true influence, the kind I believe in, is this: the best thing the children can do is eat him first, digest him well, and get on with doing their own stuff. I don't require anyone to be saying grace over me day after day just because they once read a book of mine. Honey, the kids ate me, it's the old old story. I hope they get good lives. PS: I didn't know you liked Dennis Johnson! I really like him, although I've only ever read Already Dead. My agent used to be his agent over here, I think. I'm going to bed now.
By MJP on Friday, May 09, 2003 - 02:01 pm:
Justina, What I was trying to suggest by my post is an epistemology. Not mine. The one that all we have to live under. Whatever your view of the situation as a writer, and however much it may not be fair or correct, it is the prevailling one. Otherwise for example why would Margaret Atwood deny her book is science fiction? Or why is 1984 described as 'better' than sf? We live in a climate of critical incomprehension. That has to be understood first. The second part of my post suggested that circumstances are overcoming criticism.
By John Dodds on Friday, May 09, 2003 - 03:30 pm:
In my view, Margaret Atwood is a closet science fiction buff. Apart from The Handmaid's Tale and her latest dystopian novel, her novel The Blind Assassin featured a pulp SF writer, complete with pulp sf narrative running throughout the book. It's a great book, too. So, Ms Atwood, just 'fess up, why don't you?
By David on Saturday, May 10, 2003 - 12:57 am:
Fascinating thread. Some thoughts. Atwood - a clever, intelligent writer who recognises that labels and genres can sometimes inhibit sales and free thought - nothing wrong with that apparent contradiction. SF is not what ten different people perceive it to be. That's to say - the reality of SF is largely determined by marketing and historical perception, and is therefore subjective. To me SF is X, Y and Z. To others, it's A, B and C (to me, A, B and C are slipstream - whatever the hell that is). Perhaps these factors have been recognised by Atwood et al. Labels - fuck em and love em at the same time. For the defining labels skit, check out Derek and Clive - something involving polaroids, motorbikes, cement mixers and lipgloss.
By David on Saturday, May 10, 2003 - 01:01 am:
By the way (Al R) - in 500 years, will we have a New Fall, or any other kind of Fall tribute band? I think not-ahhhh. Unique-ahhh is the word that springs to mind-ahhh. ;)
By JeffV on Saturday, May 10, 2003 - 05:04 am:
Mike: I really wasn't trying to say I was zeroing in on your influences. I agree with what you say in your post, actually. Denis Johnson! Yes! He's great, isn't he? There are a couple of others of his I would highly recommend--don't have them in front of me right now, though, to type the titles. JeffV
By MJH on Saturday, May 10, 2003 - 09:56 am:
Hi Jeff V-- I'll take any recommendations you have, Dennis Johnson wise. I was impressed enough by Already Dead to read it twice. As you suggested above, it's exemplary pick'n'mix. There's a guy determined just to do what he wants, & if someone else calls it California Gothic, well that's fine. I think we all know where we stand with labels. As David implied, a couple of posts up from this one: We're grownups now, let's go out & get some of the sandwich.
By Tank Girl on Saturday, May 10, 2003 - 12:09 pm:
In the new weird order, no rules apply.
By Al Reynolds on Saturday, May 10, 2003 - 03:12 pm:
David: I can bore for my country when it comes to The Fall. Even gave a lift to a Fall guitarist once, and carried his kit into the venue for him. Of course he was sacked about five minutes later, but that's The Fall for you. Al R "Scientists and their bloody childish reading habits" - Mark E Smith.
By gabe on Saturday, May 10, 2003 - 04:55 pm:
I think there's a question that's being ignored here. WHICH do you wish to Name? Is it the author that is the New Weird, or is it individual works? If you slap a New Weird label on, say, THE SCAR, that works. But if China decides to write a modern day thriller a la PATTERN RECOGNITION, would that also be a New Weird novel? --gabe chouinard
By MJM on Saturday, May 10, 2003 - 05:36 pm:
No offence, but haven't you blokes got anything better to do ?
By MJH on Saturday, May 10, 2003 - 06:03 pm:
Gabe: good point. I have a feeling it's a bit of a seamless argument--which can best be prised apart by suggesting that if China wrote a modern day thriller a la Pattern Recognition, it would be so China-ish that it wouldn't be a modern day thriller a la Pattern Recognition--but a good point nevertheless. MJM: I don't know about the others, and no offence of course, but I decide what I do and whether it's worth it.
By David on Sunday, May 11, 2003 - 01:20 am:
Al - let's start a Fall thread. Oh no, we'll be rambling for years! Gawd bless Mark E Smith. David.
By gabe on Sunday, May 11, 2003 - 04:55 am:
MJM, Of course, you're right. Why waste precious moments considering ways to impact the careers and better the lives of some writers when they could be writing? Back to the slave pits, cretins! Churn more words for us! I, however, think this is a better use of time than, say, staring at the rain outside (which, while occasionally beautiful, is also a fabulous waste of time). --gabe chouinard
By gabe on Sunday, May 11, 2003 - 05:30 am:
Alright. Let's see if I can do this without a) offending anyone or b) looking like a complete ass. I've only spent two years or so considering the place of movements within literature, so I'm certainly no expert. Still, perhaps I have one or two thoughts worth your time. At its root, I think the important things to consider about the New Weird (or whichever name you wish to ultimately give) is that at its heart, it is only a *marketing tool*, no more and no less. As you've already deduced, Names have Power... and if you don't believe that logos and slogans and labels are powerful, go talk to Naomi Klein. She seems to have her head wrapped around the concepts. However, logos and slogans and labels aren't automatically horrible in themselves. They're only tools, which can be used however one wishes. Let me tell you why I think New Weird is important. One school of thought is to view such labels as pigeonholes, limiting factors that cannot accurately express the nature of the thing described. Yet that view is too limiting as well. You have to break out of that view, to see that labels are also useful in describing LIKENESSES. Labels don't have to pigeonhole; they can also identify. To pull an example from way out in left field, think of pornography. There's all sorts of porn out there. How do you determine what is to your taste? When I walk into a porn shop, how do I know where to look for something that'll get me off? I mean, do I like BDSM? Am I into scat? What about All Anal? Without knowing the lingo, the labels, I could walk home with Furry porn all unawares of what I'm getting myself into.... Yeah, so that's an extreme example, extended further than I needed to go. But the simple fact is that Movements are all about identifying one another, to people both within and on the fringes of that Movement, with the ultimate goal of expanding that Movement until it is the 'mainstream'. I'll be the first to admit that I like the *idea* of movements. But I don't think we can even speak of New Weird (or whatever) as being a movement. After all, looking at some of the names thrown about, I can't imagine that there's a coherent movement going on amongst the folks. However, it is incredibly helpful to have the tools to identify similarities among diverse writers. I don't think that using influences is a useful method of determining who's who and what's what, though. For one thing, pointing to a SFF book and proclaiming that it is a descendent of Surrealists or Decadants or Whatevers comes across as horribly pretentious, and worse, it sounds as if one is *straining* for credibility. So what! Hell, I'm influenced by the Surrealists... just as I'm influnced by Batman comics and Karl Popper and Groove Armada and McDonalds and... everything else in the world that I've come into contact with. Yet none of those influences sheds a light compared to the influence of standing in a rainstorm at 3AM in Colorado while the wind is tearing through the garbage bag I'm using for a pancho, hoping that the semi coming along the road will see me and stop, or at least SEE me instead of running into me.... THOSE are influences. What does a Bosch compare to that? We don't have to make excuses, do we? I mean, there's Glen David Gold, pulp-style to the core, married to lovely Alice Sebold.... and he's ONE OF US. He wears his influences on his sleeves, isn't embarassed about it. Yet he's Out There, and we're In Here, right? Why? That's the important question, of course. And the answer to that is simultaneously SOOOOOOO simple, and SOOOOOO difficult. We're here because we want to be, and we're here because we're stuck here by the editors and publishers and publicity folks and the critics. So that's where labels come in, and movements. Those are our ways of rebelling, of taking our power back. When we have worthy writers stuck with no-budget books and no one to plaster adverts in the Times, what do we have left? We've got each other, and our ability to point to one another and say "Fuck, this is some GOOOD SHIIIIT!". We can use Names. We can use all kinds of tools to raise visibility and versatility and vigor. That's why this discussion is eminently worthwhile. It's also why this discussion deserves a lot more signal than noise. --gabe chouinard
By MJP on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 12:05 am:
I have a book of critical essays called 'Impossibility Fiction' (ed. Derek Littlewood). It's a title that for me perfectly summarises what science fiction, as an evolving idea, or form, does: it explores the possibility of impossibility. However, this is a problematic idea, one that can seem reductionist if it isn't understood in its philosophical and historical context. The context is this. We live in a machine world, epistemologically. This is what is real culturally, not least because it is an idea that works, that is pragmatic. "Understand the mechanics of something and you know what it is." Sf has always represented both the excited affirmation of this and its inadvertent contradiction. The deeper it explores the idea of "Understand the mechanics of something ..." (in other words, on this conception, the *reality* of the something) the more that it seems to destabilise reality, and to go out the other side. Intentionally or unintentionally, deliberately or accidentally, it reveals the unreality of such an epistemology (such a theory of knowledge) as a metaphysics. So: it explores unreality. This makes it disreputable. The power of the label then becomes a power of dismissal: basically it’s garbage. Invent a new label and that dismissal has to be rethought. What’s garbage about it if it can’t be reduced to the garbage concept? The response has to be more specific.
By gabe on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 04:00 am:
Whew! I thought I was going to have to change my name to "Threadkiller Gabe". --gabe chouinard
By Justina on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 11:22 am:
Don't worry Gabe, my absence can be explained by pausing to think (takes a while these days). I enjoyed what you had to say. I don't think there is any real coherence underway either, perhaps we're just at a creatively interesting point. Still, it is worthy of notice, even if only as an anomaly. However, there is the larger question of the state of critical awareness which isn't inclined to listen, I feel if MJPs representation of current views is to go by. MJP: If SF reveals the danger of assuming that a mechanistic epistemology (the love of realism) is on dodgy ground that makes it the critical antithesis of realism. Why is that considered disreputable? (I'm asking for information here, rather than criticising what you said at all). I rather thought that the attitude was that it was contemptible rather than just disreputable (which has a certain cache). Re: Margaret Atwood: she said the other day, explaining why her new book in which she projects current science a few decades into the future is NOT science fiction...this is from an interview in New Scientist, online at http://www.newscientist.com/opinion/opinterview.jsp?id=ns23931: > >************** > >What do you make of science fiction? > > >A lot of science fiction is fantasy. It's people flying around on >dragons, other worlds of strange life forms. Some of them are quite >well thought through, they know what the strange creatures eat, they >know that life could be sustainable. Others are just having fun. > >Oryx and Crake is not science fiction. It is fact within fiction. >Science fiction is when you have rockets and chemicals. Speculative >fiction is when you have all the materials to actually do it. We've >taken a path that is already visible to us. In 1984 and Brave New >World, you could see all the elements that were farther down that >particular path. I don't like science fiction except for the science >fiction of the 1930s, the bug-eyed monster genre in full bloom. > Sigh.
By MJP on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 12:49 pm:
Justina, I don't know if "disreputable" is the right word. How it looks to me is that science fiction's inversions and ambiguities put it on the side of 'magic' - not explicitly but by implication. The qualities and ideas explored put it on the side of things that can't happen (to adopt a phrase). Since that questions the universality of the rational, it seems 'disreputable' - or 'nonsensical' or 'suspect' or even 'childish'.
By Cheryl Morgan on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 02:47 pm:
It sounds to me like Atwood is trying to defend herself against the opinions of people like MJP. When up against people who start by defining SF as "childish" and proceed from there I don't suppose there is much else you can do except try to claim that you don't write it. I'm reminded of that "worst 50 books" thing in the Independent last week. Someone, I think Brian Sewell, described Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" as "crap" because he didn't understand any of it. So it isn't just us SF writers who get dismissed out of hand. The "if I can't see it and touch it it must be nonsense" crowd are just as afraid of and ignorant of real science as they are of SF.
By MJH on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 04:05 pm:
>>"if I can't see it and touch it it must be nonsense" Sewell on Hawking: West London arts epicurianism, very blinkering (actually, East London arts epicurianism is often the same, though they embraced "science & the arts" more). In most cases I'd add "drink it" and "have an afternoon affair with it" to that list. There is this inability to handle the Counter Intuitive Real, yes. No excuse for that in a time of the world when every single human decision you make is supported by someone else's knowledge of quantum physics or biology. But a lot of groups suffer from that, including your PC creative writing teachers, as in Patricia Duncker. I think it's symptomatic of the middle class Western fantasy world: now there's no working class left to patronise, they've elected scientists to the post. The job of technology, specifically, is to make things nice for them but never draw attention to itself. That's a kind of slavery the Greeks would have recognised. But I have problems myself with the Counter Intuitive Fictional. I mean, a case might be made out, at least every so often, that life is too short. That's why a good sf/f book has *got* to be a sensory experience in itself--fast & furious & slips down like an oyster. Which so few of 'em do. (Natural History, tho, grabbed me by the nose, shook me like a dog, & other cliches of a narrative being like an actual event, a disturbance of the reader's sensual world. & I haven't been able to stop reading Steph's book.)
By Al Reynolds on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 04:13 pm:
Sewell on Hawking: is he wrong, though? ABHOT is a pretty bad book in many ways. It must have put more people off popular science books than it turned on. I know a lot of people - proper scientists and that - who said they got to about p80 and then he did a swerve and lost them. It looked good on coffee tables though. I can't bring myself to dislike Sewell though, especially as another Brian Sewell used to serve pints of Brain's SA behind the bar at the White Horse in Coychurch. Al R
By Justina on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 04:28 pm:
MJP: Am stunned to silence (well, nearly). Let's take something I wrote as an example (because then I have a chance of not misrepresenting it, although I guess we can argue that too). It's SF because it involves technologies that don't yet exist (although they probably will). It's about the breakdown of identity and the fractured nature of self-awareness. That isn't an unreal subject. For me, it's the most real subject there is: the nature of self. Does its 'unreal' content (a convenient device to permit examination of a very difficult subject) mean the whole thing is junk in all other spheres? Your analysis suggests this is so. I can't believe that the use of a few plot-device metaphorical-jumping gizmos is all that separates us, but is it? Could it be that simple? Is there a difference between using technology to create a platform to examine some humane subject and using any other fictional scenario? What about the fact that all fictional plots are only devices to illumine some point or other? Philosophically, the more you explain the literary critic's POV the more juvenile it seems, never more so when it clings to the orthodoxy of the allegedly rational world. Of course the world is as it seems all the time. But as self-aware beings we don't live in the world, we only interact with it. MJH: CounterIntuitiveFictional...I think I know what you mean. It's there to FORCE the receiving brain to jump a hoop or two - just for fun. CIF is the equivalent of the Zen koan in 21st century literature. You can't stay in your conceptual ruts when it's around. What is Steph's book?
By gabe on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 06:06 pm:
AN ASIDE I read the ish of GRANTA that smacks China down (damn the Man!) by referring to him as a "dark fantasy" writer. Oi. Damn genre prigs. --gabe (not quite the threadkiller)
By David on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 07:46 pm:
"science fiction's inversions and ambiguities put it on the side of 'magic' - not explicitly but by implication. The qualities and ideas explored put it on the side of things that can't happen (to adopt a phrase)." ...MJP. Are you saying what I think you're saying, MJP? That the concepts explored by SF can't happen? If you are, well, umm, you're dead wrong. If you're not saying that, my apologies, I may have misunderstood.
By MJP on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 08:43 pm:
Justina, "Philosophically, the more you explain the literary critic's POV the more juvenile it seems." I wouldn't call it juvenile but it is blind. The literalness of certain strands of thinking on mainstream versus other fiction is pretty painful to behold. Recall Atwood's "it's fact in fiction". The two 'sides' of what seems to be presented, fact and fiction, are polarised by a world view that disallows the primacy of fiction: fiction must always come second. I.e. it must be representational. This is an extraordinarily dominant world view. I am trying to get to grips with it because it is only then that it seems possible to formulate, not the other side to it, but an artistic synthesis that doesn't have to be shaped by the demands of a simplistic realism. I don't think we are terribly real. And I think that science and technology are making us even less real. There is a junk element to exploring this perhaps, but *really* the onus is the other way. Where is the evidence that it doesn't work? It can't happen but it does. I am fascinated by sfs ability to mythologise what can't be mythologised: fact.
By Colin Greenland on Monday, May 12, 2003 - 09:24 pm:
'When up against people who start by defining SF as "childish" and proceed from there I don't suppose there is much else you can do except try to claim that you don't write it.' Nah. Childish is good. Magic is good too. Fiction is magic. Fiction has primacy, whatever anyone thinks. Or rather - people who think fiction hasn't got primacy are the ones who are deepest in its grip.
By Cheryl Morgan on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 12:34 am:
MJP: While it might be an interesting intellectual exercise to try to understand the "art must be represenational" crowd, I suspect it is a waste of time. Rather like trying to argue Irish Nationalism with Ian Paisley. We won't beat these people by arguing with them or trying to appeal to their tastes. We'll only beat them by having less blinkered folks start to take us more seriously. Many of the people who dismiss SF and Fantasy as childish will happily praise (for example) Borges and Marquez, or Shakespeare, because their work, whilst having a strong fantasy content, is counted as acceptable by everyone else in the literary community. By the way, it would help if you could make it a little clearer when you are putting forward views that are not your own. I've been assured that you are not being deliberately offensive, but I would never have guessed that from reading your posts. Justina: Steph's book is "The Year of Our War", by Steph Swainston, due out from Gollancz sometime next year. It is currently top of my "if all these people think it is great then I want it now" list.
By Jonathan Strahan on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 07:00 am:
Hey Cheryl I realise that this is off-topic, but..if there were list of "all these people think it is great then I want it now" books, then my top would be JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL by Susanna Clarke which sounds like a thousand page long head trip. It sounds like it's the sort of book that ends up being the greatest thing you ever read and I'm hanging out for it. - Jonathan
By Bob on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 09:58 am:
Hmm. Since I just stumbled onto this thread via Gabe Chounard's prodding at dead cities, I'll throw my own into the mix: New Weird is. I kind of like the Zen route, because then I can umbrella my own work with it, kicking aside any demands I justify those strange things in my own fiction. If you write what you want, and what you want is beyond the ken of those average sensibilities that spend their days picking their toes and haranguing authors to be 'realistic', you are New Weird. Or old Weird...take your pick. Or don't.
By MJH on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 10:40 am:
Al R: I take the point about the Hawking book, of course. But Sewell is representing a specific, definable class of person here. He's the kind of Art History, CAC, spend as much time as possible near the Mediterranean end of that continuum; at the other end it's Hackney, three children, a job at the BBC and continual harking back to late 70s disco. (Oh, and being good at pub trivia quizzes, which stand in for actually knowing something about something.) The whole continuum is based on the idea that only the "practical" and visible are worth a nod; that it's the business of human beings to have pleasure and then children. (Pushed, they'll say that "science" is destroying the world; they'll never admit that it actually scaffolds & makes possible their entire experience of life.) So Sewell isn't objecting to the Hawking because it's a poor example of a pop science book: he's objecting to it because he's too lazy & confused to read anything that uses either words or grammars that don't stem from or relate to a few "basic" experiential definitions of human behaviour. To give him the dignity of his position, he probably believes in the primacy of experience, which doesn't put him too far away from logical positivism... Having constantly straddled the line between that view and the one Colin is backing (see post above), I can understand it. But the people I've just tried to describe have such a limited idea of what's actually "practical" (ie how much their world now depends entirely on the product of counter-intuitive thinking & its languages) that you want to throw up your hands and walk away every time you have to talk to them. MJP isn't even playing devil's advocate here, he's just isolating and describing their epistomology so well it's making us all (especially Cheryl & Justina) furious to think about it.
By MJH on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 10:50 am:
PS: I was going to add that this thread is getting a bit long for my browser, & maybe we should start a new one. Or maybe several new ones. There are lots of easily identifiable sub-threads here, from the original one, defining the New Weird (or not), through pragmatism in the face of the melting pot, to MJP's epistemological stuff. Anyone wants to open a new thread, even if it's only The New Weird 2, be my guest.
By MJP on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 - 11:00 am:
If I can just add one last comment to this thread. Cheryl (whoever put in a good word for me thanks) – in order to be able to think I have to think without boundaries. Eg not as a cut and dried confirmed sf fan. (I am but that is beside the point.) So: I am not trying to argue with "the art must be representational crowd". The argument is fundamental, and one has to undertake it with oneself. I've said something that I believe is significant: we are in the grip of a world view that disallows the primacy of fiction: fiction must always come second. I.e. it must be representational. Doesn't science fiction itself suffer from this picture? Otherwise, why is it science led? In such terms it can be argued to be half-baked. It doesn’t honestly admit to its central impulse – to make fiction primary. If science fiction is to be fiction-led then it must drop its advocacy of the primacy of science. In other words it must preside over its own dissolution. I am not suggesting that this is the whole story. But this is a logical implication. Science then becomes merely another part of the armoury of the fiction writer. The writer writes fiction, not science fiction. For instance, if the human protagonist turns into a pig (cf Darrieussecq’s Pig Tales), it doesn’t have to have a scientific rationale. Its rationale can be metaphysical. The sense or the conviction behind this can come from the story itself. (That is, without explanation.) To approach sf as if it is a self-justifying genre form that shouldn’t be questioned surely just narrows the scope of this discussion. It can be so regarded, and there is a great deal of charm in this viewpoint, just as there is in comics, Superman, and so on, but isn’t the point of the present discussion to see sf in terms that describe it as more than just a genre form? This makes all kinds of issues ambiguous. So, separate the categories out, and look at how they might be put back together, or transcended. Is there a childish element to science fiction? I read a critic who described J G Ballard’s fiction as childish, even while recognising its virtues. I felt inclined to agree with that. I like Ballard, but maybe there is something childish (child-like?) about the way he approaches fiction. The admission that there is more to this issue than, “if you are not for us than you are against us” - “Representationalists are just wrong.” - etc seems important. If there are terms in which sf can itself be interpreted as representational, and as a slave to the world view that makes the need to be representational seem inevitable, then conception and intent militate against one another. There is a conflict.