Weird Tales: Felix Gilman on Literary Belatedness

Writer: Felix Gilman
Weird Tales Story: Catastrophe (Issue # TBD, 2008)
Writer Bio: Felix Gilman is the author of the novel Thunderer, published this month from Bantam Spectra. He currently devotes his time to worrying about his Amazon rankings. He has a blog of sorts.


Is this thing still open? Have I missed the assignment deadline? It looks like everyone else submitted their guest posts already. I have an excuse! My cat was sick, I’ve been having a spiritual crisis, my laptop is haunted, I never got your email on time — please I don’t want to be penalized for late submission, I’ll do extra credit work later, we can work something out. Yes? Yes.

My instinct now is to try to work my apology for my own squalid lateness into a high-toned riff on literary belatedness. Everyone’s said it all before, the good ideas for posts have all been used up, all that’s left is to either parrot or react against what’s already been posted; and if this is true of blogging, how much more oppressively true is it of fiction, and doubly or triply so of genre fiction. (I am literally stroking my chin right now). One comes in at the end of a long tradition…

Ha ha, you will politely say, how very clever and metatextual.

I worry about this a lot. For instance, when I read Ben Thomas’ post below, I thought: oh come on, how can we possibly hope to address fresh contemporary fears — bloody J.G. Ballard already took them all, didn’t he? Bastard. Cutting-edge contemporariness is a genre too, now, with its own tropes and clichés and well-established standards against which to be measured.

I think I came to fiction late — by which I mean not so much late in history, but that I, personally, was pretty much out of my twenties before I overcame my enormous laziness and got down to the job. You look around and think: god, there’s a lot of stuff out there–how do I catch up? Perhaps the trick is to get started on writing when you’re in your teens, and self-confidently incapable of understanding just how derivative you’re being — to work through that shameful imitative phase of your writing while you’re still too young fully to sense how many other people there are in the world, and how special you’re not. O pimply youth! But I was busy with video games, and subsequently law school. Too late now.

This post isn’t really working as an argument. After all, there’s nothing new to say about belatedness anxiety; belatedness itself is worked-over territory. (I’ve come to the conclusion that Harold Bloom is basically dreadful, but everyone should read Nicholson Baker’s delightful U & I). I suppose this post is less an argument, and more a performance of self-consciousness. If one can’t be original, one can at least be self-conscious about one’s own lack of originality: slap on a layer of irony and the old ideas are good for one more go.

The alternative, it seems to me, is to take the old tropes and just believe in them as hard as you fucking can, regardless. But that sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?

A confession: yesterday, I was writing a passage describing the basement of an old but fancy hotel, and the word “fungus” crept into the text, and wouldn’t leave. You’re Jeff VanderMeer’s fungus, I said, piss off. It certainly wasn’t mine: I don’t think I’ve ever really noticed a fungus in real life, outside of a culinary context. Wait — is shower curtain mold a kind of fungus?

But I think maybe I’m keeping it, anyway. If anyone asks, it’s not theft, it’s homage, OK?