Leading up to the November 5th publication of PW’s Best Books of 2012, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:
While Hurricane Sandy had us trapped in the house, my girlfriend decided it was a good time to sort our extensive collection of SF, fantasy, and horror anthologies. As we separated year’s-best anthologies from award-winner anthologies and single-author collections from themed collections, I was struck by how many of these compilations treat the past as closed off in some way, disconnected from the present. This approach makes sense when writing about the best stories (or books) published in a single year, or the greatest hits of an author who’s no longer alive, but efforts to compile the best examples of a genre or subgenre always fall short, because genres don’t end the way years and lives do. If I published The All-Time Greatest Stories Where a Dog Wears a Steampunk Space Suit in 2013, you can be sure that someone would come along in 2014 and write an absolutely superb dog-in-steampunk-space-suit story. For a living, evolving genre, there really is no “All-Time Greatest”; there’s only “the story so far.”
With The Weird, the VanderMeers–editors of books (The New Weird) and magazines (especially Ann’s widely celebrated tenure at Weird Tales)–have taken pains to connect the past, present, and future of weird fiction. The chronological ordering of the 110 stories and novel excerpts, written between 1908 and 2010, illustrates the evolution of this fascinatingly nebulous genre. The editors don’t just acknowledge that weird fiction is alive and changing: they celebrate its vigor and chart its growth as proudly as parents marking a child’s height on the wall. It’s no stretch for readers to wonder what developments are ahead, and depending on how life extension technology develops, I fully expect to see the VanderMeers publish The Weird II in 2114.
This compendium isn’t just of historical interest, of course; it’s also thoroughly enjoyable to read. Each piece is a gem that stands fully on its own. Surprisingly few of the older inclusions contain cringeworthy dated attitudes, and the editors have deliberately looked outside the U.S. and England for works that many Western readers would never otherwise encounter. These weird stories succeed as weird stories, astonishing and unsettling at every turn.
“Weird fiction” is a deliberately broad term. The Weird is labeled “A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories,” which doesn’t narrow it down much. PW‘s review says the book “is a deeply affectionate and respectful history of speculative fiction’s blurry edges.” Michael Moorcock’s “foreweird” declares that weirdness includes “pretty much anything from absurdism to horror, even occasionally social realism.” The VanderMeers’ introduction uses terms like “indefinable and perhaps maddeningly unreachable” and “unease and the temporary abolition of the rational.” This lack of definition is itself unsettling within speculative fiction fandom, where taxonomic niggling is the national sport. But rigid definitions, like retrospectives, require finitude–and weird fiction, like Frankenstein’s monster, is very much alive.