Friends Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s new anthology The Weird: A Compendium of Strange & Dark Stories dropped this week. This monster anthology features…well…a lot of stuff. Take a look:
From Lovecraft to Borges to Gaiman, a century of intrepid literary experimentation has created a corpus of dark and strange stories that transcend all known genre boundaries. Together these stories form The Weird, and its practitioners include some of the greatest names in twentieth and twenty-first century literature.
Exotic and esoteric, The Weird plunges you into dark domains and brings you face to face with surreal monstrosities. You won’t find any elves or wizards here…but you will find the biggest, boldest, and downright most peculiar stories from the last hundred years bound together in the biggest Weird collection ever assembled.
The Weird features 110 stories by an all-star cast, from literary legends to international bestsellers to Booker Prize winners: including William Gibson, George R. R. Martin, Stephen King, Angela Carter, Kelly Link, Franz Kafka, China Miéville, Clive Barker, Haruki Murakami, M. R. James, Neil Gaiman, Mervyn Peake, and Michael Chabon.
It’s plain to see that the thing is a monster, and plenty strange to boot, but what is “weird,” anyway? Would I know weird if I saw it? With that question in mind, I came up with a list of seven random words (slug, magma, bile, despair, meerkat, trough and quarter) and sent them over to Jeff VanderMeer for examination. Were these words “weird?” Only he could tell.
Here is his report:
Slug – As a noun, iconically weird, allied with other weirdly words like “slime,” “snail,” “fungal,” “mushroom,” “lichen,” “mulch”; often found with the word “giant” in front of it. As a verb, less weird but certainly possessed of a weird pulp resonance.
Magma – Much less weird than “slug” but often used in the weird tale to usher in the end of the story, especially if set on an island. Used as a proper noun, perhaps to name a weird conjurer, it is under-used but could be a potent indicator of personality traits.
Bile – Oddly this word has resonance with magma, but is of a more personal nature. Found often in the descriptions of obsessed characters with failed careers who encounter the weird because of an obsession rising out of the ashes of their failure. For those who usher in that particular brand of weird known as“evil weird,” bile is a requisite bodily ingredient, for it is only through production of bile that they can quell their minds’ own tendency to pet puppy dogs and pick dandelions in the park.
Despair – A constant companion of the weird, allied with emotions such as “terror,” “horror,” and “grim acceptance.” Within the history of The Weird, alas, despair has also been the friend of many a writer; in compiling the writer bio notes for the anthology, we noted with grim acceptance the number of contributors who died in poverty or by their own hand.
Meerkat – In most situations and contexts, “Suricata suricatta,” cousin to its mightier literary ally the mongoose, is not, in fact weird…although, in a pinch, it might indulge in a slug. If The Weird were to become taxonomically haywire, this creature might occupy a fringe of “friendly weird,” although as with “Slug,” adding “giant” to the name might tip the scales into full-blown weird.
Trough – The training-ground for The Weird, which soon graduates to musty storage drains, dark tunnels, caves, and other strange excavations of the ground. In cases of personal obsession leading to murder—in which despair and bile may both be involved—The Weird may indeed end in a trough, however, as in “Billy drowned Johnny in the trough after the third day of seeing things moving in the wallpaper of his room.”
Quarter – In the context of currency, a quarter figured more mightily in The Weird back in the 1930s when you might reasonably expect to buy a strange magazine for an un-inflated price. In the context of a quarter as a piece of something, the word figures prominently in The Weird. Indeed, without quartering, no drawing would be possible, and the climax of many a story set in a tunnel or trough might have instead come to a happier and less satisfying end. (This does not include, of course, cases of “uncanny quartering,” otherwise known as “ghost stories”.)