Sub-genre of the Week: New Weird
Last week, I talked about Space Opera. This week, I’m discussing one of my favorite genres. It’s relatively new, and still with plenty of room for growth, and some of the best writers in speculative fiction today have tried their hand at it.
New Weird is a sub-genre of speculative fiction with elements from all three major categories, including horror, fantasy, and science fiction. According to Jeff and Ann VanderMeer in their anthology of New Weird, “it is a type of urban, secondary-world fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy.” That quote emphasizes the importance of setting to the genre. I personally like to think of it as being dark, complex, and a little bit squishy.
New Weird has its origins in the “weird fiction” of the early 20th century, including such examples as H.P Lovecraft and the pulp magazine Weird Tales published from 1923 to 1954. It became popular in the early to middle 2000s when The Etched City and Perdido Street Station were published, and has only grown since then with many new authors tackling the genre.
Common Tropes and Conventions
New Weird in its current form generally (but not always) involves a somewhat noir-inspired city, ranging from late medieval to early industrial in design and function. There are generally horror-inspired non-human races. Magic-as-technology in the sense of the pseudo-science of aether, as well as race-based genetic abilities are both common. And of course, the forces of industrialism and politics are prime motivating factors for events.
New Weird often has a strong resemblance to slipstream fiction in that it crosses genre boundaries quite happily. It resembles steampunk or early dieselpunk ala Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, and also shares many traits of urban fantasy in the old mode, before the influence of paranormal romance. There may even be hints of next week’s Subgenre of the Week: Magical Realism.
The vast majority of New Weird tends to be in text formats, however, there are some shared elements with movies and graphic novels such as Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy.
So far, New Weird has experienced some popularity, and there’s a small but steady stream of new entries into the genre. That said, I don’t see it really taking off any time soon. The genre is too niche, and the spread of authors writing it is probably not wide enough to gain much mainstream attention. On the bright side, not a lot of competition?
Check in next time for a discussion of Magical Realism.