By Jordan Shaw
If you’re looking for a novel experience (pun intended), then you’ve come to the right place. The term ‘New Weird’ refers to a genre related to science-fiction, fantasy, and horror that is built upon the subversion of trademark tropes and expectations in the genres it draws inspiration from. The New Weird is the visceral horror found in pulp fiction and the cosmic dread characteristic of Lovecraft’s work mixed together and dropped into a familiar setting. If you were to ask a few readers to put New Weird into a box, you would receive a different answer for every person you asked. This is one of the defining aspects of the genre. Because it is a blend of a variety of different elements, it doesn’t truly fit into your typical literary designation. The mix of science-fiction and fantasy meshed with an element of speculation creates a collection of literature that is as imaginative as it is unsettling.
My go-to author when discussing New Weird is Jeff VanderMeer. VanderMeer is the author of several books in the New Weird genre, most notably the Southern Reach Trilogy. This series begins with Annihilation, which is followed by Authority and Acceptance. The trilogy focuses on the mysterious Area X and the people whose lives it touches. Area X is a major part of what gives the books their strange and compelling atmosphere: the narrative treats it almost like a living thing. It is the immovable object that the characters and plot revolve around because it is so different. The main character of Annihilation, called simply ‘the biologist’ in the book, is part of the twelfth expedition sent to map and record their observations of Area X. The reader never quite grasps what Area X is or its purpose, but are instead left with the impression that this realm is beyond the understanding of everyone trying to contain it — and that it changes everything that crosses its boundaries.
As you can probably tell, a large part of what really makes New Weird is the setting and the atmosphere. A trademark characteristic of the genre is the way it takes a familiar setting and makes it strange. In the Southern Reach trilogy, Area X is a pristine, thriving woodland that has consumed what remained of the towns that had been there previously. The imagery of civilization reclaimed by nature inspires feelings of apprehension, and the vaguely malevolent vibe of Area X and its foreignness couples with these feelings to create the quintessential New Weird atmosphere. Annihilation was also made into a movie, and the trailer in particular does an excellent job of building this atmosphere of subtle horror:
Jeff VanderMeer is far from the only author writing in the genre. China Miéville is also considered to be a standout in New Weird fiction with his novel Perdido Street Station, a story about a scientist living in the strange city of New Crobuzon. Another book to check out if you are interested is House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, which is about a family and a house that is not quite what it seems.
Essentially, New Weird is something that everyone should try out. The blend of different genres and the subversion of the reader’s expectations create a story that keeps you on your toes. Even if you find that New Weird isn’t your cup of tea, it will be a reading experience that you will never forget.
Jordan Shaw is the Long River Review chief copy editor and a poetry panel reader. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.