Friday 8 January 2010

The New Weird genre - a marketable identity?

Decent article that gives a brief overview of the New Weird genre, looking at its origin and principle authors - worth checking out if you've heard the name bandied around, but are unsure exactly what it means.

"Early in the aughts, a new creative force emerged. Worldwide political events, crystallized by the 1999 Seattle WTO protests and the terrorist attacks of 9/11, energized a self-aware readership that embraced New Weird, the 21st century’s first major new literary movement. Books such as China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station (2000), Jeff VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen (2001), Paul Di Filippo’s A Year in a Linear City (2002), K. G. Bishop’s The Etched City (2003), and Steph Swainston’s The Year of Our War (2004) birthed a revolutionary, real-world, postmodern literature that often included surreal elements found in urban fantasy, horror, science fiction, and political thrillers."

The article makes one point I'd seriously question:

"Of course the earliest New Weird authors began working in the style well before it was acknowledged as a movement. Miéville and VanderMeer, often seen as leaders of the movement, produced works containing New Weird concepts for smaller presses throughout the ’90s. The development of a moniker provided a marketable identity for publishers, which resulted in much larger venues for the work."

A marketable identity, leading to larger venues? Hardly. To quote Mark Charan Newton - a real fan of the subgenre - "no publisher anywhere in the world wants to touch [it]. The New Weird is dead. It was barely alive to begin with."

The problem with the New Weird is that it doesn't have a marketable identity - it's so hard to define, so abstract, that it effectively renders itself uncommercial. While this is attractive from an artistic perspective, it basically meant that publishers didn't know how to handle it and subsequently (and understandably) were reluctant to invest in it - one reason why the genre rapidly declined.

You can point to authors like Miéville and argue that he's proof of the New Weird's health, but this is papering over the cracks, and in any case Miéville is practically in his own unique subgenre these days.

To suggest, as the article does, that the New Weird is slowly seeping into popular consciousness, is in my opinion pretty wide of the mark.


Adam Whitehead said...

As usual the article misses a key progenitor of the New Weird - the D&D PLANESCAPE setting, which forcibly showed players that fantasy wasn't just about orcs and +1 swords - and it does go a bit OTT about its impact. It also misses out a lot of other, earlier books that could be said to be in the genre or progenitors of it, such as works by Brian Aldiss (HOTHOUSE puts me in mind of the New Weird) and Gene Wolfe (THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN could be said to share some New Weird ideas).

At the same time, the genre remains an ongoing concern. Mieville and Swainston continue to have successful careers (Gollancz just packaged the first three Swainston novels in omnibus, in fact) and, in fact, Newton did successfully launch himself with the 'New Weird' tag attached, even if his debut books were not quite as weird as Mieville's.

Kristopher A. Denby said...

I'd never heard of it. :(

Martin said...

Is there any evidence that any of the people involved in New Weird had played Planescape?