Magazine Monday: Weird Tales Is Weird

I am happy to report that Weird Tales has grown weirder since Ann VanderMeer has taken the helm as Editor-in-Chief. This is to be expected of the co-anthologist (with her husband, Jeff VanderMeer) of The New Weird, an collection of tales essential to the library of everyone who loves the truly strange; and the co-anthologist of an enormous anthology due out sometime soon from Atlantic called The Weird. While we all wait for this last book (I with bated breath), we can read Weird Tales every quarter and enjoy its increasingly strange and wonderful offerings.

The best and weirdest story in the Spring 2011 issue of Weird Tales is Mark Meredith’s “A Short Trek Across Fala Moor.” The tale is about a man who spends his days off work roaming around southern Scotland, always with the help of MacFakaar’s guide, A Most Excellent Array of Scottish Perambulatin. (I particularly like that the “g” is dropped from the end of that title, so you almost have to read it to yourself with a Scottish accent.) The narrator of the story is quick to tell us that MacFakaar didn’t set out his walks with only two eyes – one for beauty and one for practicality – but also for the third spiritual eye for deep religious experience. Although the guide is very large and heavy – two feet by three, weighing four stone – it can be carried on walks with the hiker who is careful to have acquired several children of his own for the task.

I’ve long held the theory that “weird” literature is more about place than is most fantasy, and Meredith’s story proves my point. The Scotland of this story is a very odd place indeed, and Meredith describes it in detail. MacFakaar’s walks go through strange weather, cross unusual borders, and bring one face to face with some very odd persons. I truly wish I had one of his guidebooks; I’d be on the next plane to Scotland just to take one of his perambulations.

On the occasion of this story, the narrator has chosen what ought to be a relatively easy hike with no companions, not even his children. He admires the bog through which he hikes, the beauties of which were “subtle, understated.” He comes across unusual wildlife, which he names according to proper scientific nomenclature, with a smile, before passing some unusual sheep, until finally he meets a dog in need of a friend, which he takes home. Sounds like a fairly common stroll, but in the world Meredith has created, all of these events are quite weird indeed, as his detailing of them reveals. This story is a genuine treat.

“Portal” by J. Robert Lennon offers almost as much weirdness. Some years ago, a father narrates, his family discovered that their new home had a magic portal out in the back acre. The children discovered it first, and brought their parents to see before attempting to pass through themselves – a good thing, even though on that first trip through the family discovers the portal goes only to the vacant lot behind the public library. But the portal seems to take the family to stranger and stranger places as time goes on, suggesting that it might be out of order (or “declin[ing] into senility,” as the narrator suggests) ; and, of course, the family has no real idea how to repair it. Worse, the portal strongly affects the family aside from what they see and do on their trips. Can anything be done?

“The Last Thing Said Before Silence” by Peter M. Ball is set in a world invaded by mimes. These aren’t your usual annoying folks in exaggerated make-up; when they mime a wall, a wall comes into existence, even if it is invisible. The mimes are the security forces for the Leviathans. Humanity apparently has given up in the face of this invasion, but there is a resistance, and the narrator can tell us about it. It’s a sad story about the silencing of laughter – worse, a world where laughter has virtually become a crime.

Karin Tidbeck’s “Augusta Prime” is immediately weird, in that croquet is apparently played very differently where Augusta lives than in our backyards. But the degree of weirdness only becomes apparent later in the story, when Augusta learns that a piece of jewelry she has picked up in the rough off the croquet course is a “watch” that tells “time” – both concepts completely foreign to her. Her situation worsens when a djinneya comes to call, and gives her information completely inconsistent with her world.

The setting of “The Trojan Girl,” by N.K. Jemisin, is both more familiar yet equally as strange as the other lands we are asked to visit in the stories in this issue. The characters here appear to be bits of code wandering around some giant computer, working as hard as they can to avoid Singularities, incorporating whatever code seems useful and avoiding enemies of all stripes. Meroe runs with a pack that discovers a child who has some unusual attributes. The pack sets out to make her its own, though it isn’t clear whether they intend to tear her apart or make her one of their number. The girl runs, and they pursue, with terrible consequences for the meat that is jacked into the system. And, ultimately, there are consequences for Meroe and his pack as well.

Karen Heuler’s “Fishwish” is a takeoff on the fairy tale of the fishwife who is persuaded to spare the life of a fish because he grants her three wishes. This short story is a nice twist on an old tale.

There are two poems in this issue, “Love Thy Neighbor” by Seth Lawhorn, suitably strange; and “The Future History of Cats” by Kurt Newton, about what happens to our furry friends after the Apocalypse. This issue also contains an interview of Caitlin R. Kiernan, author of the magnificent novel, The Red Tree, and one of the frankest and saddest interviews I’ve ever read. It should also be noted that the cover illustration is beautiful, and the interior illustrations are excellent accompaniments to the stories.

I look forward to the next issue with the same joy that I anticipate the novels of Felix Gilman, China Mieville and Steph Swainston. Weird Tales has become truly weird with VanderMeer at the helm, and that is the highest compliment I can give.


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TERRY WEYNA is spending the second half of her life as a reviewer, critic, scholar and writer, after having spent the first half practicing law in a variety of states and settings. (She still does legal research and writing for a law firm in California). Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor and writer Fred White, the imperious Cordelia Louise Cat Weyna-White, and a personal library that exceeds 12,000 volumes.

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5 comments

  1. “Weird” sounds really good!

    Can you tell us a little about the interview with CRK? I am reading a collection of her short stories now and, while the writing style is terrific, I really don’t like the content of her stories. I have a feeling that that interview would shed light on this. She spoke about it a little bit in the introduction to the collection. I would really enjoy her style if her stories weren’t so dark and depressing.

  2. Kat,

    Concerning CRK, I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve read two collections of short stories and a novel of hers. I thought they were all fabulous, but not for me. I don’t necessarily mind ‘dark and depressing’ but she is a great writer whose writing who doesn’t interest me in the least.

    Terry, or anyone else, is she actually considered a ‘weird’ writer?

  3. In the interview, Kiernan talks about how much of her writing combines erotica with science fiction and fantasy; she describes it as “angela Carter meets Lovecraft meets Anais Nin.” She also says that she wrote The Red Tree out of utter exhaustion, feeling unable to find another story to tell. She says that much of her writing is deeply personal — The Red Tree stops just short of autobiography — and I have to say that she comes across overall as a fairly unhappy person. Whether that’s due to her PNES seizures, the fact that she’s quite reclusive, her bad experience with DC Vertigo, or something else, I can’t tell.

    Chad, I thought that The Red Tree was deeply weird, insofar as I understand the literary meaning of that term. It was tightly tied to place, which I think is a hallmark of the weird, and it was – well, just uncanny. Weird doesn’t have to mean depressing, though, nor is it always painted in blacks, browns, gray-greens and grays (which are the colors I tend to see when I’m reading Kiernan – a touch of synesthesia, perhaps?).

  4. I think you see those colors because her worlds are dark, dingy, dusty and mildewy.

  5. The Red Tree is incredibly weird…in a couple of ways I really enjoy. I have such a weakness for unreliable narrators and stories where you’re not quite sure what really happened and what was in somebody’s mind. And it’s very much tied to place, and yes, it’s quite sad.

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