Working Definition of New Weird

Jeff VanderMeer • September 27th, 2007 @ 1:47 pm • Culture

From the introduction to the New Weird anthology.


New Weird is a type of urban, secondary-world fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping off point for creation of settings that may combine elements of both science fiction and fantasy. New Weird has a visceral, in-the-moment quality that often uses elements of surreal or transgressive horror for its tone, style, and effects– in combination with the stimulus of influence from New Wave writers or their proxies (including also such forebears as Mervyn Peake and the French/ English Decadents). New Weird fictions are acutely aware of the modern world, even if in disguise, but not always overtly political. As part of this awareness of the modern world, New Weird relies for its visionary power on a “surrender to the weird” that isn’t, for example, hermetically sealed in a haunted house on the moors or in a cave in Antarctica. The “surrender” (or “belief”) of the writer can take many forms, some of them even involving the use of postmodern techniques that do not undermine the surface reality of the text.

13 Responses to “Working Definition of New Weird”

  1. Matt Staggs says:

    I do not envy you the task of quantifiying something as ethereal as the New Weird movement. Your working definition is a good one, though. My head gets all fuzzy when I start trying to identify or explain it, myself.

    Looking forward to reading the anthology!

  2. David de Beer says:

    do you know how many months I’ve been looking for someone to please explain wtf this New Weird is that so many people talk about…up till the point you ask them what it is.

    k, I like surrender to the weird, and a lot here I get a feel for.

    Overall…not really; it’s like I’m on the verge of getting a grip on what it is and then not. Anyhow, thanks for the explanation.

  3. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Them’s the words. Specific words in specific places. In sentences, no less. Explainin’-like.

    You want it short and sweet? Okay. Non-escapist secondary-world fantasy that’s horror influenced in terms of grotesquery but also including the honesty and sharpness of the New Wave. It eat your children.


  4. Matt Staggs says:

    I can see the headlines now: “Eating Children Central to ‘New Weird’ Literary Movement, says VanderMeer.”

  5. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Sure–why not.

  6. Steve says:

    This definition seems to fit Hugh Cook’s Chronicles of an Age of Darkness series, which is good, because I’ve always said that he was New Weird before the New Weird ‘movement’ (floruit 1986-92).

  7. David de Beer says:

    has a bit of a Baudelaire ring to it…

    ok, so how accurate would this statement be:

    the fantastic as vehicle/ medium to embrace/ confront the real as opposed to escaping it?

  8. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Not very. That’s just one element.

    I think you need to buy the antho. ;


  9. Jonathan Wood says:

    That’s bloody perfect, that is.

  10. If On A Winter’s Night A Linker « Torque Control says:

    [...] Jeff VanderMeer’s working definition of the New Weird [...]

  11. Graham Sleight says:

    That’s useful. Do you consider your Ambergris works to be New Weird by this definition?

  12. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Not really. Some more than others. “The Cage” I’d consider New Weirdish. But not “Dradin,” which is really just old weirdish. Some of the tone because of the horror element I often use. But I’d call someone like Calder, in some of his fiction, a lot more NW than me.

  13. Vanderlust « adamantine says:

    [...] A Jeff VanderMeer interview in which, among other things, he lists his favourite books! Jeff VanderMeer on novel outlines! Jeff VanderMeer’s own definition of the New Weird! [...]

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