I mainly read older books that have had time to gain a reputation, because you can only read so many books before you die and I don’t want to have bad ones take the place of good ones that I could have otherwise read.
But I also like the idea of supporting living writers and finding something new and interesting. So I occasionally take a chance on a new book that sounds like it might be good. And the books I’m drawn to, old and new, are often those described as “weird.”
A few minutes ago, I finished one such “weird” book that let me down. This has happened to me several times in the past, and it always makes me think that there must be something better out there.
I was going to post this in the gripes thread but I thought that rather than a fruitless complaint it might instead be turned into a fun discussion and a source of recommendations.
While “weird fiction” has a specific connotation, maybe, I’m thinking more broadly than just supernatural stuff and people who wrote letters to H.P. Lovecraft. I’ve heard the term “slipstream” before, and whatever that means I’d also include it here because apparently it includes things like Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, and J.G. Ballard.
Have you read Anna Kavan? She is one of my most favorite authors. My recommendations for her are the novel Ice and her story collect Julia and the Bazooka. They are her weirdest. She is often compared to Kafka and really the only author whose writing has ever made the term “slipstream” make any intuitive sense for me.
Try Greg Egan, my favorite living sci-fi author. If I were to rank his books by order of weirdness the top one might be Dichronauts:
I hadn’t heard the word “slipstream”, I see Wikipedia defines it as ‘making “the familiar strange or the strange familiar” through skepticism about elements of reality.’
I think it applies to Greg Egan in the sense that he explores the depths of modern physics/cosmology and imagines worlds where some term in the fundamental math is just slightly different. All the weirdness in his alien universes is already present in our own real universe in some form, our bodies and minds have just evolved to paper over it with comforting illusions.
SCREAMING INTO THE THREAD LOOK WOURME I KNOW YOU ALREADY KNOW BUT MAYBE SOMEONE OUT THERE HASN’T HEARD ME FREAK OUT ABOUT STOKOE YET
everything by matthew stokoe is weird as shit AND violent and disgusting. the disgusting bit is a sliding scale but he only has four books so it’s easy to read them all
Cows is especially breezy BUT harrowing. like HUGE cw for all his work but cows especially with abuse blood, self mutilation, shit, vomit, murder, sex assault etc. Cows is about animal liberation though so it owns. I consider High Life non fiction (it’s about obsession with fame above all else), and Empty Mile is fantastic noir if you’re obsessed with gold country in california being EVIL
Colony of Whores was like, a good read but it wasn’t really doing anything new like the other three, it was kind of just empty mile again but from the inside trying to get out of LA life instead of wanting to get into it. I also have a big gripe with how people got an injury the book hyperfocused on by being assaulted with a statue, but like the way they described it over and over made the injury they got not seem possible. maybe that’s just the limit of my imagination
One thing that many of my favorite novels have in common is a journey through a bizarre world that’s full of imaginative encounters. Here are a few examples, some of which probably need no introduction at selectbutton.com but all of which I’d consider weird fiction.
The Book of the New Sun
Science fiction inspired by Jack Vance's Dying Earth books. There's a really nice version of this if you have USD 200 to spare (but it's just as good if you get it from the library for free).
In Yana, the Touch of Undying
Fantasy horror by the same writer as Nifft the Lean, which also qualifies. (And by the way, Michael Shea's widow recently mentioned another Nifft book yet to be released.)
The Night Land
I read this one just recently, and adored it (even if it drags a little around the halfway point). It's from way back in 1912. (Did you know that there was a movie adaptation of one of Hodgson's stories, by the director of Godzilla?)
The Other Side of the Mountain
Originally in French, but you can find an English translation in this collection (which I've probably already recommended a tiresome number of times in various threads, but which is the best introduction to weird fiction that I know of).
Tales of the Dying Earth
Science fiction that inspired Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun.
A Voyage to Arcturus
A 1920 book that inspired C.S. Lewis to write his Space trilogy. There's a really nice version of this that's illustrated by Jim Woodring if you have USD 100 to spare (but it's in the public domain so you certainly don't need to pay anything to read it).
Ooh, for weird adventures through strange territories where you meet odd characters, then you should check out Flan O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. It’s really funny but also kind of unnerving in many ways.
This reminds me a lot of The Inverted World… which I read maybe 15 years ago? I mostly just remember the physics/math/spatial perception stuff, not the plot or anything haha. However I do remember that this book is more interested in exploring what happens if this intense spatial/physics perception stuff is merely about how (ending spoiler) humans perceive space, rather than about how the space actually is
I’ve really enjoyed Paul Park lately. I have yet to read his novels but I’ve enjoyed every short story by him that I’ve read.
This was the first story in the collection I read and I can think of no better introduction to his style.
Tend to hate fiction made in direct response to lovecraft with one notable exception: Victor Lavalle. His novella, The Ballad of Black Tom, is one of the finest horror novellas I’ve read in years. His full length novel, The Changeling, was also very good and certainly fits within the realm of Weird Fiction.
John Langan is an author my friend keeps recommending to me, but I haven’t picked up his novel, The Fisherman, yet. I have read his short story, Technicolor, though.
Presented as lecture notes on the Masque of the Red Death. A real delight.
I hadn’t, but I just finished Ice and I liked it. Thanks for the recommendation.
I have a friend who has tried for years to get me to read Greg Egan. I’ve hesitated because of his reputation of being hard science fiction that I’m afraid will simply lose me and because the only thing I ever read by him (that short story about C.S. Lewis and Alan Turing, which happened in be in a Year’s Best Science Fiction collection) didn’t do much for me.
But I think I’ll give him a chance, starting with either Quarantine or Diaspora.
Diaspora is a good starting point yeah. It’s relatively light on the physics and dips into a ton of wild ideas. Most of Greg Egan’s other novels explore 2-4 core ideas very deeply: usually deeper than I’m able to follow myself even with some mathematics background, and the sense of further depths and insights that I can’t quite grasp is part of the appeal. Diaspora instead goes ham weaving a larger number of shallower concepts in our own universe, so it’s easier to follow along and have fun with it.
(By the way, Diaspora’s premise of humanity splitting into 3 subspecies in the distant future also describes Land of the Lustrous.)
If you like Last and First Men, do read Stapledon’s Star Maker. It is like the perfected version of that first novel. Even vaster and stranger in scope, I can only compare it to Voyage to Arcturus as both are quasi-gnostic journeys to the divine featuring some wild alien imagery.
CS Lewis hated Stapledon and thought his works were basically satan
Edit: ahh, he specifically said that Star Maker was “sheer devil worship” so you know you are in for a treat