For the book of weird fiction (which I may have alluded to once or twice here) Ann and I are now in that phase of further testing that comes before final and last decisions, with over six hundred thousand words chosen.
The interesting thing is how “the weird” as opposed to just “weird” has manifested itself and guided our choices. This isn’t to say there isn’t just plain old “weird” fiction in the anthology, but that the dominant tracks we are collecting do first and foremost deal with “the weird” in the sense of the supernatural–sometimes horrifying, sometimes transcendent. From that main thread, other elements come into alignment.
Certain types of SF-horror have the right feel, even with no supernatural element. A few stories are immersed in the weird while not partaking of it. Some commercial horror clearly has communication with the weird and some does not. Certain “Twilight Zone”-type stories enter into honest transactions with the weird and others do not. Certain “literary” stories enter the weird and certain pulp stories don’t. As mentioned in a previous post, zombies/werewolves/vampires are being de-emphasized, along with subtle ghost stories.
Some lost classics breach the surface monstrously and slowly sink from sight while others remain in mind and vision for days after and must thus be assimilated.
We noted too many stories set in Venice, which, apparently, is menacing by default. We ignored almost all stories in which the “fantastical” element takes the form of a hunchback or dwarf. We also ignored all stories that reference other stories to a distracting degree; most of these constitute a form of fan fiction. Similarly, we haven’t taken anything that could be described as “postmodern” or “winking” at the reader. Given that we had so many stories to choose from, we ignored any classics that didn’t seem to “read modern”–i.e., no Cotton Mathery stuff.
Certain decisions have been very difficult. For example, we finally chose Franz Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” over stories like “The Metamorphosis” and “The Country Doctor” because we feel it more accurately portrays one thread of the weird prevalent throughout the twentieth century better than the more overtly fantastical stories (it also feels more relevant).
Stories like Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” seemed murky on a first encounter, then came into sharp focus after our other reading, and were no-brainers to include (thanks, Eric). A strong strain of Japanese weird is clear throughout the twentieth century, and we hope to chart that progression with an unbroken chain of evidence dating back to 1918. The role of surrealists like Leonora Carrington in carrying forward the weird is also important.
In some ways, we want echoes and in others we do not. Certain later stories amplify and riff off of earlier stories in ways that work. Others, in that context, didn’t seem to add anything. (A good example: Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows”, about a boat ride up the Danube, eclipses the later “Three Miles Up” by Elizabeth Jane Howard, also about a boat ride, in such a way that we couldn’t include the Howard. However, Blackwood’s piece works nicely with a Jean Ray and another piece; this may certainly be seen as heresy, we know.)
Many authors we love who write fantasy and horror but do not really engage the weird will not be represented while some writers who rarely write “horror” have one or two stories saturated in the weird that fit perfectly. (That said, the great thing is that the research for this book will mean less work on future volumes, including a possible dark fantasy volume we may be doing.) The extreme creepiness of certain stories, like “The Specialist’s Hat”, became much more evident in the context of other reading–as did connections to the work of Shirley Jackson and Joanna Russ. The dark humor of Thomas Ligotti’s work demonstrated interesting variation of tone, and brings out reader awareness of this element in other chosen stories.
A couple of novel excerpts that felt important will make the cut, including an extended excerpt from Alfred Kubin’s The Other Side.
And that’s all, really, I can say at this time. Examination of the evidence continues. At this point, we are very tired and moving very slowly in our last decisions as a result.