Year’s Best Weird Fiction Volume 3!

It was announced today that there will indeed be a third volume to the Year’s Best Weird Fiction series with the 2016 release to be edited by Simon Strantzas!!!

Press release


Toronto, Canada, March 1, 2015 — Simon Strantzas, whose elegant and enigmatic stories have made him a master of the weird tale, has signed on as Guest Editor for the third volume of the Year’s Best Weird Fiction, due 2016.

Series Editor Michael Kelly says, “When I first conceived of this series, and contemplated Guest Editors, Simon sprang immediately to mind. Not only is he at the top of the weird fiction class, he has also established himself as a first-rate anthologist.”

“I’m honored and beyond flattered that Michael asked me to guest-edit a volume of Year’s Best Weird Fiction,” Strantzas said. “Undertow Publications is at the forefront of world-class fiction. I love what they are doing.”

Established in 2009 by writer Michael Kelly, Undertow Publications (UP) is home to the acclaimed weird journal Shadows & Tall Trees, and Year’s Best Weird Fiction. The initial release from UP, Apparitions, was a finalist for The Shirley Jackson Award. As editor, Kelly has been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson and British Fantasy Society Awards, and his fiction has appeared in a number of venues, including Best New Horror, Black Static, and Weird Fiction Review.

Simon Strantzas is the author of four story collections, including BURNT BLACK SUNS from Hippocampus Press (2014), and editor of SHADOWS EDGE (Gray Friar Press, 2013) and AICKMAN’S HEIRS (Undertow Publications, 2015). His stories have appeared in various “best of” annuals; been translated into other languages; and been nominated for the British Fantasy Award. He lives in Toronto, Canada, with his ever-understanding wife.

Forthcoming from Undertow Publications:

‘These Last Embers’ by Simon Strantzas (March, 2015)
‘Aickman’s Heirs’ ed. By Simon Strantzas (May 2015)
‘Skein and Bone’ by V. H. Leslie (July 2015)
‘Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 2’ eds. Kathe Koja & Michael Kelly (October, 2015)

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Year’s Best Weird Fiction: Volume One

Last year saw two major publishing events in the field of Weird Fiction. The first, and the one that garnered the most mainstream column inches, was the publication of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy –Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance, which saw The Weird being thrust into the mainstream as it never has before. The second major event was the publishing of Michael Kelly and Laird Barron’s ‘The Year’s Best Weird Fiction’. This is the first, to my knowledge, explicitly Weird Fiction anthology* to be released since the Vandermeer’s tome ‘The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories’ was released in 2011 (following on from their 2008 anthology ‘The New Weird’). The reason that this release is so important is that it pushes the literary experimentation with the weird to the forefront without focussing on the work of any particular author. We have seen a glut of anthologies of work based on the Cthulhu mythos over the last 10 years or so, with their number increasing seemingly exponentially as time goes on, and anthologies based on the work of weird writers R.W. Chambers, Arthur Machen, Thomas Ligotti, Laird Barorn, and a forthcoming collection based on the work of Robert Aickman. All of which is utterly fantastic but can not expose the reader to the wild experimental creativity that defines(?) the weird. This anthology does just that and it does it brilliantly. Another reason that this publication is so important is that a book that contains a wide variety of works, some of which are at the very edges of the weird, has sold enough copies within but a few short months of release that volume two has already been put together. Viva la weird!

*There is of course the wonderful ‘Women Writing the Weird’ anthology from Deb Hoag, also released in 2011, but that -as the name implies, only featured female authors and therefore couldn’t represent all of the best weird writing of that year.

Of particular note in this collection are Livia Llewellyn’s Furnace, Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? by Damien Angelica Walters, and The Girl in the Blue Coat by Anna Taborska.

‘The Year’s Best Weird Fiction’ is published by Undertow Press in paperback and for e-readers things like that there Kindle device.

Table of Contents(Titles link to reviews)

The Nineteenth Step – Simon Strantzas

Swim Wants to Know If It’s As Bad As Swim Thinks -Paul Tremblay

Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron – A.C. Wise

Year of the Rat – Chen Qiufan

Olimpia’s Ghost – Sofia Samatar

Furnace -Livia Llewellyn

Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? Damien Angelica Walters

Bor Urus – John Langan

A Quest of Dream – W.H. Pugmire

The Krakatoan – Maria Dahvana Headley

The Girl in the Blue Coat – Anna Taborska

(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror – Joseph S. Pulver Sr.

In Limbo – Jeffrey Thomas

A Cavern of Redbrick – Richard Gavin

Eyes Exchange Bank – Scott Nicolay

Fox into Lady – Anne-Sylvie Salzman

Like Feather, Like Bone – Kristi DeMeester

A Terror – Jeffrey Ford

Success – Michael Blumlein

Moonstruck – Karin Tidbeck

The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass – John R. Fultz

No Breather in the World But Thee – Jeff Vandermeer

The Nineteenth Step by Simon Strantzas

The opening salvo in this volume comes from Canada’s Simon Strantzas. It is a fitting opener for this volume as it exemplifies perfectly, and succinctly what is, to me, one of the defining thrusts of Weird Fiction -that our understanding of the world in which we live is limited and fragile. A young couple, Mallory and Alex, just setting foot on the bottom rung of the housing ladder, have their perception of The Real splintered by something so simple that it probably would have remained unnoticed by most. By the lucky ones.
The final line of this story also makes want to both slug Mr Strantzas and buy him a pint at the same time. Well played sir, well played.

Swim Wants to Know If It’s As Bad As Swim Thinks by Paul Tremblay

Next we have Paul Tremblay’s look at drug addiction and self perpetuating cycles of abuse through the lens of meth addiction, motherhood and kaiju.  Following the nameless protagonist, who is also the titular Swim, as she endures the pressures of being a small town pariah and drug addict and the longing to be with the daughter denied her by the courts and circumstance.

This is very much a stream of consciousness/modernist story that draws the reader directly into the confused mind of Swim.

Dr. Blood and the Ultra Fabulous Glitter Squadron – A.C. Wise

A bizarro tale of a squadron of interplanetary trans action heroes sent to chew gum, smash gender norms, and high kick trans-fetishism in the teeth. All whilst looking utterly fabulous.

Not really sure what more there is to say about this other than it actually had me laughing out loud at points. Completely unsubtle metaphors are used, abused, and then glammed up. This is a fabulous feminist tale that would horrify TERFS and MRAs in equal measure.

Brilliant. 🙂

Year of the Rat by Chen Qiufan

 

Translated by Ken Liu this military SF story has more than a passing similarity to Catch 22 in its examination of the futility and absurdity of military organisation. It also has some rather scathing things to say about the relationship of the average proletarian to global capital.

I’m definitely going to be looking out for more of Chen’s work.

Olimpia’s Ghost – Sofia Samatar

An masterfully crafted faux 19th Century homage to E.T.A. Hoffman told through a series of letters from a young woman sent to a young man with whom she was once infatuated. It speaks of the madness of art, of poetry, and the arrogance and proprietariness of the ‘man of science’ who eschews the lustiness of youth and of life for a pursuit that he will one day regret.

Furnace – Livia Llewellyn

This is one of the stories I was really looking forward to as I absolutely adore Llewellyn’s sensual prose and I’m a huge fan of Thomas Ligotti and as this tale comes from Joe Pulver’s Ligotti tribute anthology -The Grimscribe’s Puppets, I was highly anticipating something magical. I wasn’t disappointed. This tale of the strange degradation of a small town as rot and decay sets in captures Ligotti’s corporate horror period work perfectly yet still retains Llewellyn’s voice. Anyone living in a town facing the ravages of austerity capitalism will find this story set unsettlingly close to home.

Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us? – Damien Angelica Walters

“Inside each grief is a lonely ghost of silence, and inside each silence are the words we didn’t say.” The opening lines of this piece of experimental prose perfectly encapsulate the sense of loss and longing that permeates this short tale. Walters’ story is disjointed and disorienting and disturbing. Fabulous.

Bor Urus – John Langan


John Langan’s stories are always a slow burn and Bor Urus is no exception. In this story youthful fancy develops into startling obsession and realisation which fuel a potentially devastating mid-life crisis in the narrator. As ever with Langan’s work this is a superbly crafted weird tale and that’s no bullshit.

A Quest of Dream by W.H. Pugmire

Wilum H Pugmire is very much the person who carries the Lovecraftian torch into the 21st Century and one of his other stories, Inhabitants of Wraithwood, is one of my all time favourite weird fiction stories. This story is set in Wilum’s Sesqua Valley and, indeed, was first published in his Bohemians of Sesqua Valley collection. Unfortunately I’ve not read any of Wilum’s Sesqua stories and so I was rather unfamiliar with the setting. Still; I think this added to the strangeness of this story which deals with the overlapping of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands and our world. This is a sumptuous story that displays well the finesse with which Wilum writes.

The Krakatoan by Maria Dahvana Headley

A many motherless girl, her astronomer father and a former astronomer neighbour who has turned his gaze towards the stars within the Earth. Both the prose style and the subject matter of this story reminded me heavily of the work of manga artist Juni Ito, which is high praise if you ask me.

The Girl in the Blue Coat by Anna Taborska

That night I had a terrible nightmare. Mindla was standing by the marsh at the bottom of the field. She was only in her underwear. She reached out to me and at first I thought she had that same sadness in her eyes, but as I drew closer, I saw that her eyes were gone.” This is definitely the saddest of the stories that I have come across so far. An investigative journalist discovers that there are those who seek to ensure that those with the power to do so bear witness for those who can not. This story is soaked in sadness, from the setting, to the subject matter, to the prose which simply and clearly depicts a world scarred by its past and haunted by its ghosts.

(he) Dreams of Lovecraftian Horror by Joseph S. Pulver Sr

This is a beautiful tribute to the Lovecraftian author Wilum H Pugmire. Written in Pulver’s distinctive, fractured, prose style this piece of flash fiction gives us a look at a mythical Pugmire’s life and writing process.

In Limbo by Jeffrey Thomas

Horrible, horrible, horrible. This story is wonderful. An ageing man experiences loss, hope, and resignation as the lights go out. Maybe the lights are just going out for him or maybe for all of humanity, would either of these be bad things? I did love this story in its Ligottian darkness.

A Cavern of Redbrick by Richard Gavin

 

There is something about this story, of a young boy’s summer and the horrible discoveries he makes, that reminds me of Stephen King in both its setting and execution. The tale is rather open to interpretation in that whilst it’s a ghost story the other forces at play could be either supernatural or mere human madness.

Eyes Exchange Bank by Scott Nicolay

I keep on hearing great things about Scott Nicolay and going by this story every bit of praise that has been heaped upon him is warranted. Like Livia Llewellyn’s story this is set amid the deterioration of an economic collapse -though this time it is the recession of the late 1980s/early 1990s. The narrator of this story is brought by circumstance to a town that is decaying and is forced to confront the untruths upon which his life has been based. Nicolay really is a master of the weird and I can’t wait to read his collection Ana Kai Tangata.

Fox into Lady by Ann-Sylvie Salzman

 

Wow, this is a special story. It reminds me, in part, of Bruno Schulz or Stefan Grabinski though it is also very, very different to those authors’ work. This is a psychically discombobulating story of anxiety, fear, and resignation. I really want to read more by Salzman. (This piece was translated from the French by William Charlton)

Like Feather, Like Bone by Kristi DeMeester

demeester

Another lovely/horrible piece of flash fiction here. A story of mourning, sorrow, and what we do when we try to escape the inevitable process that comes with grief.

A Terror by Jeffrey Ford

Normally stories that feature historical characters make me wince somewhat. Jeffrey Ford’s strange adventure with the 19th Century poet Emily Dickinson and her brush with death was however thoroughly enjoyable. I get the feeling that I may have enjoyed it more had I known more about the poet herself. Still, even without this knowledge this is a startlingly good, and weird, ghost story of sorts.

Success by Michael Blumlein

The longest piece in this collection -a novelette rather than a short story I suppose, Blumlein’s story explores academic obsession, madness, and love at the interstices of the natural sciences and how one person’s approach to their obsession can drive them to madness where another’s can drive them to success and how the two approaches are not that different at the end of the day.

Moonstruck by Karin Tidbeck

Moonstruck is an utterly beautiful and masterful fairy tale, a modern myth. An allegorical tale of a young girl’s emergence into womanhood and a mother’s fear that she is now being replaced by her offspring set against an impossible backdrop of a moon that is rapidly approaching the Earth and the home of the story’s protagonist. Beautiful.

The Key to Your Heart Is Made of Brass by John R. Fultz

This is a bewildering tale set in a post-human steampunk world where we see a member of the ruling, beatific, class being blackmailed. The vacuity of ruling class culture and the illusions of money and status are here exposed in a fantastical world that I would love to explore in greater detail. Hopefully Fultz will expand on this setting in the future.

No Breather in the World But Thee by Jeff Vandermeer

I don’t think it would be possible to have a collection of the best Weird Fiction at the moment without featuring a piece by Jeff Vandermeer. This is an extremely strange story of ‘it‘ happening again ‘like last year‘ and told as a series of vignettes merged into a single narrative. Each one told from the perspective of the occupants of a mansion that has come under attack from a huge monster which has plummeted from the sky. A fitting end to the anthology this rather post-modern piece is a fine example of both some of the excellent work that is being done in the field of the Weird and of the sheer imagination of Jeff Vandermeer himself.

~fini~

What a Day

Wow, yesterday was rather good for me and mine and I truly hope it was good for you too.
C and I got to spoil Little Ms. X, and one another, absolutely rotten. It was also really nice to see that the most excitedly expectant look on Ms. X’s face wasn’t when she was opening her own presents but when C was opening the Tremors collection we had gotten her. She’s a good kid so she is.
I’m presently laying bed nursing something of a hangover after having rather over indulged in one of my more liquid presents..

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I do like a wee tipple of Laphroig so I do.
I’ve been laying here in bed for the last half an hour or so wanting to crack into one, or some, of my other gifts from C and X but you know what? I can’t decide which to delve into first! I have options paralysis! Oh the humanity!

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As an added bonus this also turned up in the post on Xmas Eve.

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So I have a rather wonderful amount of reading to do over the next few months if only can decide where to begin. 😀

Strange Fiction?

This is a really interesting article over at Nightmare Magazine by Simon Strantzas. I don’t particularly agree with it in his definition of what constitutes a weird tale (I prefer Mieville’s notion of the uncanny vs. the abcanny) and he seems to take cosmic horror as the defining feature of the weird tale rather than it being a facet of the weird.

“Weird fiction of this[the pulp adventure] sort seems to have had its birth in America, bursting onto the scene from Lovecraft’s pen. The exploration of the cosmic indifference (at best; malignance at worst) melded with the adventure story suits the mindset of the new world, whose mythology gravitates to philosopher-explorers.”

I don’t even think HPL would agree with this as he seemed to place himself into the wider cannon of the weird along with Machen, Blackwood, et al.

In the article Strantzas tries to delineate the ‘strange’ tale from the ‘weird’ tale. A distinction that I’m not sure is possible with the definitions that he gives.

“These are tales where the otherworld isn’t as much known as it is hinted at, and rather than explore the philosophies of our shared existence, the strange is more interested in the psychology of our individual lives. If the weird is cosmic, the strange is micro-cosmic, investigating the universe within our psychological existence.

[…]

It’s these feelings of disconnection that form the primary power of the strange tale, and from where it draws the bulk of its emotional power. Real life moments of loss, despair, and depression wreak a certain kind of havoc on us and can quite literally distort our comprehension of the world as we experience it. In many ways, this distortion and that of the strange’s dream-logic overlap, allowing the strange to become a proxy and providing readers the opportunity to directly confront their turmoils. That being said, it would be irresponsible to suggest the readers are then able to prevail against these forces, for with the strange no one really comes out ahead. Those that survive are ultimately scarred by the experience—which may be the most realistic and lifelike of all horror’s punishments. Existential wounds follow both the protagonists and the reader long afterward, which plays in stark relief to the weird and its sudden onset of temporary madness in the face of the impossible.”

Now to me this seems as though it would fit squarely within the realm of the weird tale as written by Schulz, Kafka, Cisco, and others. It sounds, to me, like Strantzas is describing weird fiction as influenced by the surrealist movement.

I don’t know, perhaps we do put too much emphasis on the cosmic horror aspect of the weird (which is no surprise being as HPL looms so large in the field) which may, or may not, be to the detriment of the wider weird. Personally I find the diversity of the weird to be extremely appealing. I love being able to slip from one tale of epic cosmic terror to a more subtle tale that teases at the frayed edges of what it is to be human.

Either that or I should, perhaps, not think about these sorts of thing before I’ve had my morning coffee…