Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New Weird

For a while, a few years ago when the label had more currency, I wondered if maybe my preferred setting ramblings were leading me into New Weird.  Ultimately, I decided that they weren't, in part because a good, definitive definition of New Weird never materialized, and in part because I didn't necessarily love the work that was called New Weird, if I could get through it at all.  But ultimately, I have to admit that a lot of what New Weird is about, at least at a high level, coincides with my own recent take on anti-traditionalist fantasy.  Here's a few quotes, one from Wikipedia and one from TV Tropes, which attempt to take on a good description of what New Weird really is.  TV Tropes suffers from the over-use of too-"cute" slogans and labels, but I think it works well enough.

Of the definitions given below, Reid's capsule is probably closest to what I'm doing--basically, erasing the hard genre distinctions between fantasy, science fiction and horror.  A slipstream experience where genre conventions can migrate in or out as needed.

Looking at it that way, however, how is Star Wars not New Weird?  It's fantasy with science fiction trappings, sorta.  If you look at the Clone Wars TV show, you've got episodes that are the noir episodes.  Episodes that are the Godzilla movie episodes.  Episodes that are the Kurosawa episodes.  The ability of Star Wars to utilize and then discard a genre convention from any genre imaginable is part of it's appeal.

And yet, nobody seriously calls Star Wars New Weird.  I guess it lacks that *-punk aesthetic, which somehow seems to be a requirement.
Various definitions have been given of the genre. According to Jeff VanderMeer and Ann VanderMeer, in their introduction to the anthology The New Weird, the genre is "a type of urban, secondary-world fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping off point for creation of settings that may combine elements of both science fiction and fantasy." According to Gardner Dozois, however, the VanderMeers' anthology "ultimately left me just as confused as to what exactly The New Weird consisted of when I went out as I'd been when I went in." Robin Anne Reid notes that while the definition of the New Weird is disputed, "a general consensus uses the term" to describe fictions that "subvert cliches of the fantastic in order to put them to discomfiting, rather than consoling ends". Reid also notes the genre tends to break down the barriers between fantasy, science fiction and supernatural horror. In comparing The New Weird to Bizarro fiction, Rose O'keefe of Eraserhead Press claims that "People buy New Weird because they want cutting edge speculative fiction with a literary slant. It’s kind of like slipstream with a side of weirdness."

Part of this genre's roots derive from pulp horror authors, whose stories were sometimes described as "weird fiction". The "weird tale" label also evolved from the magazine Weird Tales; the stories therein often combined fantasy elements, existential and physical terror, and science fiction devices.
The New Weird movement is a post-modernist take on certain kinds of literary genre fiction. In a nutshell, it's a specific genre of Scifi/Fantasy/Horror literature that does not follow the conventions of derivative Sci Fi, Fantasy or Horror, without being an outright parody or deconstruction. Similar to the New Wave Science Fiction movement of The Sixties, but it took off in the mid-nineties, and was at its peak in the early-to-mid Turn of the Millennium.

New Weird incorporates elements from certain genres, but tries to avoid being typecast as stereotypical examples of any of them. The purpose of the movement is partly as backlash against the lack of respect that sci-fi, fantasy and horror works get. Proponents of New Weird are of the not unreasonable belief that the reason genre fiction is held in such low regards is because it caters to a very specific audience who likes to read the same sorts of things. The word "Fantasy" becoming almost a brand name that invokes the idea of pseudo-Europeans living in medieval times using sorcery while Tolkienesque elves and/or dragons putter around somewhere in the background. Sci-fi and Horror share similar fates, just with different connotations (spaceships, aliens and explosions for the former; serial killers, monsters and the undead for the latter). Some writers in the genre are playing right into the Sci-Fi Ghetto themselves, with the belief that any Science Fiction that does not involve spaceships, robots and lasers must be an entirely new genre, or that any Science Fiction that does have such elements is bad by default.

Genres such as Romance or Historical Fiction do not lend themselves as well to the concept of New Weird. Writing characters in a non-mundane setting would end up with the work in question being recategorized as science fiction or fantasy.

Works in the New Weird genre are therefore, heavy in their use of Deconstructor Fleets and Mind Screw. Some of them may even take on a disdainful stance against the genres they hailed from, with liberal amounts of Take That. New Weird fiction will often — but does not have to — take place in an Urban Fantasy setting. For some reason, the various "punk" subgenres are acceptable, if not downright embraced in New Weird fiction. For the most part, anything goes as long as it doesn't Follow the Leader.

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