Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The New Weird Movement in SF Literature: an ArmadilloCon 2005 panel

Panelists: Tom Becker, Damien Broderick, Lawrence Person, Faye Ringel, Charles Stross

Charles Stross says everyone in science fiction make a mistake of pining for a new movement. The panelists latch onto the word "movement" and run for a few minutes with scatological jokes. Lawrence Person: "When a genre's bowels get backed up you have to have a movement to clean them out." Once they got that out of their system (heh heh heh), they became a bit more serious, but they still were no closer to defining The New Weird. It's a somewhat narrower category or subgenre than slipstream and, according to Lawrence, even less useful.

Is it possible to define this uncategorizable category?

But the fact that the New Weird, as well as slipstream, catches the "uncategorizable" books, has an upside, according to Tom Becker. "The beauty of the New Weird is that bookstore owners don't know where to file it, so they put it on the table up front", says Becker and adds: "We'll see how it works with Charlie's posthumanist literature."

Lawrence, always one for snappy definitions, proposes that The New Weird is something that uses the genre tropes but doesn't worry which genre it's pulling its tropes from. SF, fantasy and horror are all prodigiously mixed together.

Which authors fall into the New Weird category?

Which authors fall into the New Weird category? Why, of course, China Mieville. Any others? Probably M. John Harrison. And maybe Mary Gentle. But I don't remember the panelists coming up with more examples of the New Weird authors, or at least any that had not been mentioned in the last year's panel on slipstream. Some of the panelists credited the start of the New Weird to Michael Moorcock, and it has to do something with the leftist leaning of the genre. Moorcock once wrote an essay where he criticized science fiction's fetishization with starships, troopers and their boots.

The worldview exemplified by the New Weird also runs counter to the traditional, "high" fantasy with its right wing themes of traditional values, going back to the past, deference to authority, etc. Charles Stross says fantasy is a literature of consolation. It works on restoration of balance in the world. Lost son of the king takes the kingdom back, that kind of thing. High fantasy's worldview is inimical to science, and that's why Stross doesn't like it. (He does write fantasy himself, though, but I'm pretty sure it's not "high" fantasy. And while I don't typically like this genre, a Stross fantasy must be quite an unusual animal, and I intend to read it.)

To that extent, what China Mieville is doing with fantasy very emphatically contradicts that consolation literature.

Left to right: Lawrence Person, Tom Becker, Charles Stross. Here are more posts from ArmadilloCon 2005.

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