Show’s Over

Here’s an interview with M. John Harrison by Iain Emsley. Of interest, given China Mieville’s recent comments about the New Weird and British Boom in Locus:

There’s been a lot spoken about post-Seattle fiction, especially by China. Do you see this as in fact happening or is it part of a cycle in literature?

Category-making is an exercise of control. When anything out of the ordinary happens in a genre, an entire immune system of activists–reviewers, bloggers, academics, pseudo-academics, anthologisers, editors, marketeers, piggybackers and other opportunists–rushes to manage, exploit and contain the outbreak by defining it in established categorical and historical terms. Where it centres on the appearance of a young writer, it’s less a discourse than the kind of grooming done by paedophiles. One of its effects is to absorb the other safely into the self and keep the genre’s economics churning. The New Weird started as a joke but rapidly became a way of making an intervention in that process, baiting the immune system a little, bringing it into public view. For me it meant one thing (to name is to claim, and if I have to be claimed then it will be by myself), for China it meant another: but we shared enough goals to have fun. We’ve moved on now, and for us the joke’s over.

I believe that Tachyon are planning a New Weird anthology for next year. Gotta admire the timing.

(Also, it seems pleasingly apt that the Wikipedia page for New Weird has a note at the top saying “The factual accuracy of this article or section is disputed” …)

EDIT: Since WordPress apparently hates Martin today, I get to point out the links he recovered from one, two, three. A prize to anyone who can locate thread four.

14 thoughts on “Show’s Over

  1. it seems pleasingly apt that the Wikipedia page for New Weird has a note at the top saying “The factual accuracy of this article or section is disputed”

    I’m kinda disappointed that this page doesn’t have the same disclaimer.

  2. I moderated a New Weird panel at the 2004 Worldcon with Jonathan Strahan, Beth Meacham, Jeff VanderMeer, and Delia Sherman – also energetic interventions from Kathryn Cramer and Jon Courtenay Grimwood from the floor. I don’t remember it in detail – wish someone had a tape or a transcript – but I remember taking away two conclusions. First, that the case from Jon C G and others that something very interesting was happening in British spec fic was undisputed. Second, that rather different genre-mixing stuff was happening in the US. Third, that “New Weird” was for all sorts of reasons a misleading and inadequate label to use for either. As originated by China and MJH, it designated a particular kind of politically-inflected genre-mixing, and that political element has got entirely effaced as time has gone by – as witness that Wikipedia article. As time has gone by, the term has been appropriated by others, as happened with cyberpunk, and as that happens the term loses its specificity and usefulness. And, of course, people get misprisioned as New Weird: Jeff VanderMeer was very clear on the point that he didn’t consider himself NW – both on the panel and in earlier correspondence about a review of his Lambshead Guide I had in NYRSF. So yeah, I’d be happy to retire the term but given our propensity as a field to over-categorise (as China says, to carve stuff into territory and thereby control it) I’m not optimistic.

    BTW, can we have a “Now All New Weird To The End”?

  3. BTW, can we have a “Now All New Weird To The End”?

    Answer 1: Not until the anthology comes out.
    Answer 2: given that the original discussions are no longer online it might be a bit anemic. (What would we have to do to get an archive somewhere? Would we need permission, given that the original postings were publically available?)

  4. it seems pleasingly apt that the Wikipedia page for New Weird has a note at the top saying “The factual accuracy of this article or section is disputed”

    How else to regard an article which presents China Mieville and Alastair Reynolds as writing similar fictions? (Gaah!! Take the Wikipedia writers out and shoot them!)

  5. With China’s blessing, my wife Ann and I are editing a New Weird anthology for Tachyon. It’s rather wider in scope than the somewhat narrow discussion above. I’ve got all the TTA board threads with the New Weird discussion, for one thing, in a series of Word docs. Fascinating stuff. No longer on the TTA boards, for some reason.

    Anyway, the point of the anthology is to celebrate a rather interesting dark fantasy thread of fiction that one can see having antecedents in the more visceral elements of the New Wave (influenced by Peake) and also in certain transgressive horror writers like early Clive Barker. It is most definitely *not* intended to stir up the agony that was that early discussion process.

    The timing is a coincidence. When Ann and I were in Europe this summer and saw how the Europeans were repurposing New Weird and how it was a way for cross-genre material to find both a critical and commercial response, we began to think the project would be interesting. Then Tachyon came along with the idea to do this anthology.

    I think in this anthology you’ll see juxtapositions of material that make sense but are not immediately obvious. We’re interested in the interconnectivity.


  6. Niall:

    I’m looking into that right now–re the issues involving the public discussion. Seems to me it’s in public domain or at least fair use comes into play. I think it would be a shame to censor a discussion that is of some literary historical importance by having to only print or post bits of it.


  7. It’s deeply wrong of me to be looking forward to the reviews of this book almost as much as the book itself, isn’t it?

    Yes, thought so.

  8. The thing about movement-defining anthologies, from Judith Merril’s England Swings to Bruce Sterling’s Mirrorshades to Conjunctions 39, is that they always include stories that just about everybody else thinks can have no possible relationship to the movement being defined. And much as I respect Jeff Vandermeer I’m sure the Tachyon anthology will be no different. So it is the reviews and other commentary afterwards that is going to do the job of arguing about what New Weird is or was or might be, and whether it exists or not, and how close the anthology comes to that elusive ideal ‘New Weird’. So yes, I’m looking forward to the arguments afterwards as much as I’m looking forward to the anthology.

  9. I think inasmuch as anyone smells blood in the water, that reflects more on the character of the person smelling the blood as anything else. My job, and Ann’s job, is to think creatively about an appropriate focus and to really look at what New Weird is–the evidence in the fiction–rather than what’s been written about it, much of which is a bunch of bullshit.

    As ever, I think reviewers and critics take themselves much too seriously…but the fact of the matter is that the anthology will include nonfiction in it that will do much of what you’re talking about, Paul, within the anthology itself.

    As for looking forward to the reviews–Niall, you’re as likely to review it as the next person, so the tone and legitimacy of the reviews will only be as good as the character and honesty of the reviewers. I have every confidence in you and yours. ;)

    It would be good for all involved to remember that snark is remembered for six months at best, while an actual creative artifact is likely to have a much longer half-life, and to outlive the snark. (The snark being, after all, just a mythical beast.)

    I would add, yet again, that China has given his support to this. Obviously, there would be no point in doing the project if not for his support. Nor would we have agreed to edit it if not for that support.

    It is also useful to remember that any movement, real or merely imagined, has more than one thread of influences. And is generally more complex than might be imagined from, say, a one-paragraph definition.

    We also have the advantage of seeing what New Weird has become in foreign languages, what it has come to mean. The fact is that just as I ultimately have no control over whether I’m labeled New Weird or not, critics and reviewers have no control over what it becomes in the popular/reader imagination.

    Anyway, this is an honest effort and one that shouldn’t be any less necessary than attempting to cage the mythic beast Slipstream or the Interstitial. Of course, it may have more in common with Cyberpunk, in that it’s not quite as diaphanous as that tease Slipstream.

    I continue to hold the belief that creative people who enter into creative projects with an honest intent should be given the benefit of the doubt.

    Now, none of that means I relish emailing M. John Harrison about this project. LOL!!!!!!

    Much love to you all,

    Jeff VanderMeer

  10. Paul—Conjunctions 39 was an accumulation of sometimes superb stories with no real connection between most of them…

  11. Jeff: If New Weird is to mean anything beyond China Mieville (and possibly his hypothetical bandwagon jumping copyists, if the exist) then why is it so important to have his approval? If anything a serious look at what New weird is, was or might be, ought to seek some kind of detached perspective?

  12. Kev, notwithstanding my earlier comments about the non-existence of New Weird from where I’m sitting, I’m certainly prepared to grant that China is having influence on other writers, and that what they’re producing may well be interesting. JV’s comment upthread about this coming from his trip to Europe suggests to me that he may be talking about work outside the English language – about which I don’t know nearly enough. So “hypothetical bandwagon jumping copyists” sounds a bit harsh to me.

  13. Graham: What I want to know is does New Weird have any currency beyond China and those who follwo directly from him, or is he just a part of a larger something called New Weird? If the latter, then why does his approval matter at all?

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