If you ever saw the movie Annihilation, based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer, or read the book Perdido Street Station, by English novelist China Miéville, you might think that you saw a science fiction movie, or read a science fiction book. And maybe you did. But you also have had an encounter with some of the more recent incarnations of what literary-type people call “weird fiction.” Literary terms may seem like useless jargon, but if you liked Annihilation or Perdido Street Station, then it may be handy to know their antecedents, because you might discover more stories you enjoy. And in this case, their antecedents are weird. Here’s more from Ann and Jeff VanderMeer:
A “weird tale,” as defined by H.P. Lovecraft in his nonfiction writings and given early sanctuary within the pages of magazines like Weird Tales (est. 1923) is a story that has a supernatural element but does not fall into the category of traditional ghost story or Gothic tale, both popular in the 1800s. As Lovecraft wrote in 1927, the weird tale “has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains.” Instead, it represents the pursuit of some indefinable and perhaps maddeningly unreachable understanding of the world beyond the mundane — a ‘certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread” or “malign and particular suspension or defeat of…fixed laws of Nature” — through fiction that comes from the more unsettling, shadowy side of the fantastical tradition.
The Lovecraft Circle is represented in the early pages of this volume, but not to the exclusion of all else. Why? Because in other places a similar impulse was arising. At roughly the same time Lovecraft penned tales like “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Call of Cthulhu,” Jean Ray, in a Belgian prison, wrote stunning and sophisticated stories like “The Shadowy Street” and “The Mainz Psalter,” Japanese poet Hagiwara Sakutoro composed the hallucinogenic strangeness that is “The Town of Cats…” These non-Anglo versions of The Weird were not aberrations. In the 1910s, Ryunosuke Akutagawa published the Japanese contes cruel “The Hell Screen” and Franz Kafka, still to remain relatively unknown for decades, wrote the classic of weird ritual “In the Penal Colony,” while in India Rabindrath Tagore wrote his most supernatural tale, “The Hungry Stones” and in Italy Luigi Ugolini penned “The Vegetable Man,” a tale of weird transformation.