What’s the Craziest or Most Experimental Science Fiction or Fantasy Book You’ve Ever Read?

Anyone who has seen my latest book The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature knows that Abrams does amazing work. Well, they’ve contracted me to create the ultimate Fantasy/SF writing book. It’s going to be called SHARED WORLDS/SINGLE VISION and be in full-color with over 100 images. John Coulthart will be doing the design and much of the art.

In addition to all of the normal stuff I’m going to have a section on “Bleeding Edge,” and while researching this bit for the extended outline for the book, I became preternaturally curious about what readers might define as “experimental” in approach and also what they might define as “crazy-town” as well. Above, you’ll see the cover to a novel many consider experimental, for example.

But, in general, I’m disinclined to define my terms. Instead, I’d like to hear from you: what book or books that could be classified as SF or Fantasy are the craziest or most experimental ever—and why?

(Note: Some of the discussion herein may be quoted in the final book.)

157 comments on “What’s the Craziest or Most Experimental Science Fiction or Fantasy Book You’ve Ever Read?

  1. Not sure it’s the craziest or most experiment, but “The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars” by Steven Brust holds a special place for me. With its “same story told 3 ways” format, it pushed me out of my linear mindset about how to tell stories.

  2. For SF- The Troika by Stepan Chapman, and for fantasy- Cisco’s The Great Lover

  3. Oh, and Orange Eats the Creeps. Which is just…just…fantastic.

  4. sandra says:

    ‘House of leaves’, by Mark Z. Danielewski. I firmly suspect ‘Danielewski’ is David Lynch in disguise.


  5. When I saw the title of your post in my rss reader, without having looked at the pic yet, “Dhalgren” by the Grand Master Delany immediately came to mind. And then I saw the pic with an “aha!”. It is the book that got me writing again after a block between 18 & 20. Eleven years after I read Dhalgren, and then devoured as many other books by him as I could, it’s stature still remains firmly embedded in my mind.

    And then I think of his Neveryona books. How he subverted the typical Sword & Sorcery tropes, and did fun things like put quotes from Michael Focault and other such thinkers at chapter headings. I don’t want to forget other titles like “Triton” which also featured appendixes on “The Post Modular Calculus” -features that hurled the books out of the safe sfnal territories and into deep philosophy. The literature needs to be extended past safe places and this is in part, Delany’s brillance.

    Then I think of Rudy Rucker’s book “Postsingular”. While the excellent narrative isn’t experimental per-se, he has characters who are “metanovelists” and his explorations of what a meta-novel are in the book, are not only post-singular, but post-modern. He explored these ideas further in his short story “Visions of the Metanovel”.

    “Nova Express” by W. S. Burroughs of course comes to mind. Here traditional SF pulp books are made into pulp by being run through a blender.

    I would be remiss if I didn’t draw attention to Elizabeth Hand. I need to read more of her books myself. “Winterlong” blew me away with its poetic voice, narrative, and wild ideas. Thanks for asking for our participation on this topic.

  6. Robert Anton Wilson’s Schrodinger’s Cat Trilogy completely befuddles me every time. Same with Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius Quartet.

  7. I agree that House of Leaves was pretty darn mind-blowing the first time I read it. Not only the way Danielewski made the text into art, but also the way he forced the impossible into the real world and made his characters cope with it in ways that regular people would cope.

    For me, that’s what makes great experimental fiction great. Creating a new normal. Challenging us as readers to examine the way we perceive the world. The book My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist by Mark Leyner comes to mind as a very experimental piece. Seventeen mostly sci-fi/cyberpunk loosely related stories with no real storyline that somehow work together. The cover says it “kicks with the emphetamine-addled impact of a Hong Kong gangster flick…” and it oddly does. And Leyner often only describes charcters by the brand name on their t-shirt. I love anything that forces me to think about the implications of a new normal being imposed on the world and the people who live in it.

  8. Hank says:

    Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow
    Jeff Noon’s Vurt
    Steve Aylett’s Slaughtermatic

  9. Alistair Rennie says:

    Michael Cisco’s “The Traitor”, written in a style that perfectly reflects the mental state of its narrator, and of its protagonist, Wite. It’s a crazy book but crazy also because it makes so much sense. It’s experimental, to be sure; but to emphasise that point too much would give the wrong impression because, ultimately, it’s a hugely accessible and ripping yarn. And it’s also very literary. And very funny as well as relentlessly dark. A very crazy mix indeed but so well-balanced that you would hardly notice the craziness if it weren’t for the fact that craziness is one of its outstanding themes.

  10. mummifiedstalin says:

    Barry Malzberg’s _Galaxies_ comes to mind because of its meta-narrative. (It’s space opera that is also a story about the writing of _Galaxies_ by Barry Malzberg, who is writing a space opera that is also a story about…) But I’m not sure if it’s *particularly* mind-blowing because Malzberg had always been doing similar things.

    Flann O’Brien’s _The Third Policeman_ is another book that seems like it might fit because a lot of people (myself included) seem to read it without quite knowing what genre it’s supposed to be: is this fantasy? Myth? Dream? Just Kafka-esque weirdness?

    But, when all is said and done, R. A. Lafferty’s work as a whole has got to fill the bill. Everything he writes feels like a cross between a nonsense tale, a Native America “tall tale,” and a fable that forgot its moral, and a book where metaphors can become literal at any moment.

  11. Oh, and one more! Blake Butler’s There is No Year….oh and one more on top of that! McDermott’s I Never Knew Another….

    Personally, I’m more interested in some of the more recent (last five years or so) experimental works that do new and interesting things- the post-modern meta trickery can no longer really be considered experimental anymore (I don’t think) since it’s practically a part of the literary landscape these days. It’s not bold or daring to keep regurgitating the same experiment, over and over again, author inserting himself and his novel in, breaking fourth walls, framed meta-narratives, etc, name dropping real people, etc. After awhile, it’s not an experiment but just part of how we write…

    Which is also why I think I’m an outsider here when I say I don’t consider House of Leaves bold and daring anymore. I mean, the textual trickery is cool and experimental (but no different than any of Douglas Coupland books that did the same thing), but the actual meta-trickery is just common these days, and the actual plot itself is very predictable once you realize what he’s going for (a symbolic maze and Minotaur in a very Herman Hesse buddhist sense).

    Then again, that’s just me :) I’m sure I’m alone in that sentiment.

  12. Emily says:

    The top of my head went pchewwwww-POP when I first read Cat Valente.

    I didn’t realize you could use, like. Words. To write.

    The verbal texture, the layers of image and meaning: it just thrilled me that there was something so contrary to the contemporary SFF I’d read.

  13. Ian says:

    Reza Negarestani’s ‘Cyclonopedia’ definitely works as far as I’m concerned. I know you’ve read it(?), and regardless of whether it works as a ‘good immersive story’ in the vein of something by, say, Patrick Rothfuss, it is a work of fiction. I’ve long thought that paranoid conspiracy theories are themselves a sort of science fiction. Consider Whitley Strieber… SF or not? I’d certainly put him in that category.

  14. Larry says:

    A few:


    Ferenc Karinthy’s Metropole

    Much of Cisco’s work

    The Troika

    Cortázar’s Rayuela/Hopscotch


    House of Leaves

    Gravity’s Rainbow

    As for why, for most of these, particularly Cortázar’s, it is the ripping of the narrative structural expectations that does the trick. Thrown off balance, unmoored from easy perceptions of time/place, I’ve had to wrestle fiercely with the text to derive meanings; so little was provided to me. Then there are stories like Karinthy’s, where the scenes shift so subtly (akin to O’Brien’s The Third Policeman) that where one starts and where one ends are very different modes, much less places.

  15. Ian says:

    See also Richard Sharpe Shaver for the original of Whitley Streiber.

  16. Jonah says:

    The Iain M. Banks book, Feersum Endjinn contains not only bizarre/bending ideas of people jumping in and out of other character’s minds, but also presents one of the most experimental character voices I’ve ever encountered in the narration of Bascule, a teller who’s story is recounted phonetically. Bascule’s description of what he does in his voice: “Basikly, a tellir fishiz in2 thi kript & pools out sum ole boy or girl & asks them qwestyins & ansirs there qwestyins.” …And so on. Not for everyone, but truly experimental.

  17. Ian says:

    Re: 2666, has anyone else noticed that Gernsbecks ‘Ralph 124C4+’ is set in the year 2660? Or 2600? I know Bolano was a fan of SF, and wondered whether there was a connection.

  18. sandra says:

    Random thought: Could threads like this being considered experimental novels?

  19. Shane says:

    The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. There’s just something about the strangeness there that goes beyond the structural games and surface details of most “experimental” fiction. It seems to run through all the layers of the story and reveals itself more on re-reading.

  20. jeff vandermeer says:

    alas, this thread is neither a novel nor experimental.

  21. Ian says:

    Haha. Probably so. BTW I”m not advocating for my favorite writers, or even for my favorite forms of fiction here. Excepting Pynchon, whom I’ve regrettably not yet read, I’m familiar with most of the above authors. Nabokov was a particular focus of mine in college, as well as Melville (the Encantadas!) and I love Roberto Bolano.

    I’m all about my mind falling onto the pavement, gathering dust and pigeon feathers. Why not? Roleplaying games, especially online ones, might also be gathered into the fold of ‘experimental SF.’ Most are derivative of previously published writings, but sometimes might something more emerge? What about using an online war-game as a story telling platform?

  22. Wesley says:

    There are two ways for a book can be crazy. You might say a book is crazy in the sense that it deals in wild ideas, or just tries to pack in as much gonzo stuff as it can manage. This is the sense in which R. A. Lafferty’s work might be called crazy.

    You might also call a book crazy if it’s just damn peculiar–so eccentric, so far out of left field that you wonder whether the author was entirely well. This kind of book is less likely to be good, but is often enjoyable despite itself.

  23. Yes, Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren is the living archetype of experimental science fiction. The high praise one hears for Delany’s novel–or condemnation, depending on if a person actually enjoys reading experimental fiction–is justified. However, I’ve always found the term “experimental fiction” to also be a little puzzling.

    The term is usually used by people to describe fiction with an explicitly experimental narrative–think James Joyce’s Ulysses and all the novels which have mimicked it’s stream of consciousness style over the years. However, to apply the term experimental to science fiction should mean so much more than simply how a novel is written. Since science fiction pushes the bounds of human experience, experimental SF should not only push the bounds of narrative style but do the same with the novel’s subject matter, characters, themes, vision, and so on.

    To my mind, the SF novel which does all of this is Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. The four parts of the novel, and its related coda, experiment with all elements of what we think a novel can be. In addition, it creates a vision of the future which hasn’t aged a bit in the three decades since it was written. The Book of the New Sun is experimental science fiction at its best.

  24. Larry-
    SQUEE! You just gave me a few new books to read….

  25. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Wesley–agreed. I want ALL.

  26. Jason Sanford-
    I’d have to disagree- I don’t think Joycean novels as experimental, nor should they be considered such- stream of consciousness style was a tenant of Modernism, and was used by Virginia Wolfe and a whole bunch of others all resting firm within the modernist movement. The same with a lot of meta-narrative trickery, that’s more a piece of post modernism…while experimental more fits within groups like oulipo and the like (and maybe some of the surrealism of Apollinaire), where structural experimentation is key….although that may just be me and my interpretation of it…and Wolfe is far more of a symbolist (a very heavy handed one at that) and his stories are structured like that, and the key to understanding them is digging into his symbolist narratives as well. Again…this is all just IMHO. The experimental movement isn’t really a movement, without a manifesto and a list of terms.

    And besides, us peeps in genre tend to misuse terms like experimental, surrealism, magical realism and the like and make them into genres rather than classifications for criticism…

    Oh hey look, a soap box. I think I’ll just kick this thing over here and walk slowly away from the conversation…slowly…slowly….

  27. Well, what’s experimental today becomes tomorrow’s old hat.

  28. Allan Kausch says:

    Have to be Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition. Condensed narratives so tightly packed together it’s
    like eating psycho-fudge for yer brain. I defy anyone to read it in one sitting. Still
    brilliant as the day it was pulped…

    Also Mike’s Cure for Cancer. Jerry Cornelius is one of the oddest, most mystifying, most satisfying characters ever created.

  29. Wesley says:

    One strange, but not at all bad, novel that no one has mentioned is The Light That Never Was by Lloyd Biggle, Jr. It’s set on a planet inhabited mostly by painters, and a plot point is a masterpiece painted by a mindless slug, and there’s an alien “animaloid” who looks like a donkey, and is also a painter. The heroine solves a mystery by becoming an art critic.

    James Blaylock’s The Digging Leviathan is wonderfully odd. I also found Philip K. Dick’s Valis weird, in a good way. For very strange short stories, it’s worth giving Ray Vukcevich a try.

    It’s easier to come up with crazy-peculiar books that no one has mentioned, because they’re often obscure. One of my favorites is <a href="http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14332&quot;Cleek: The Man of the Forty Faces by Thomas Hanshew. That link is to Project Gutenberg–it’s out of copyright. It’s technically a collection of mystery stories, but the detective has a superpower so it’s also nominally fantasy. This is a book in which the detective has a pliable plastic-man face because his mother, while pregnant, spent too much time playing with “one of those curious little rubber faces which you can pinch up into all sorts of distorted countenances.” One of the murder weapons is a sneezing lion.

    One of the last old-series Doctor Who tie-in novels released by BBC Books was so baffling I still can’t believe it was published–it was called Atom Bomb Blues by Andrew Cartmel, and included a chapter where the Doctor, some stereotypical Indians, and a random alien tricked a security guard based for no apparent reason on Dashiell Hammett into thinking he’d ingested peyote. This chapter had nothing to do with the rest of the novel, which concerned Japanese spies in brightly colored zoot suits attempting to sabotage the Manhattan project in multiple universes.

  30. Daniel S says:

    “The Atrocity Exhibition” by J.G. Ballard. Danielewski’s “House of Leaves” is more experimental, more zany, but the most effective and affecting part was the story about the Navidson family and the house. The brilliance of “The Atrocity Exhibition” cannot be separated from it’s experimental form and content; the condensed sections, the free-association lists, the interweaving of certain characters and celebrities, WWIII. All incredible, making it for me the better experimental novel.
    Plus Ballard’s prose is just amazing. “These ideograms, like the hieroglyphs of a race of blind seers, remained on the grey concrete after Xero had gone, the detritus of this terrifying psychic totem.” That’s just a thing of beauty.

  31. Jordan Walker says:

    Is the main focus of this book going to revolve around imaginary worlds that have already been conceived in literature? If so, you should definitely include all types of fantasy biomes – not to mention a good chapter or two on those unusual settings that are entirely unique to their respective tales.

  32. weaver says:

    Barefoot in the Head by Brian Aldiss. A trip into a chaotic Europe that has been blasted with hallucinogenic chemical weapons, written in that infuriating style of literary surrealism characterised by profligate malapropism. His later (mid to post 60s) short fiction is also very experimental, and better IMO than the book I just mentioned.

    Also check out any of the Orbit anthologies edited by Damon Knight you can find in the second hand stores. Or Langdon Jones’ anthology The New SF.

    And, yeah – Ballard, Moorcock, Aylett.

    With the exception of Aylett, all the above would count as mid 20th century modernist surrealism in the (ostensibly) SF genre – very much a product of the New Wave. Aylett’s weirdest book, to my knowledge, is The Inflatable Volunteer.

  33. weaver says:

    Oh, and Terry Dowling can be quite odd, though in a quieter way. See his collection An Intimate Knowledge of the Night.

  34. GB Steve says:

    The are many bizarro novels which probably match the criteria. I’ve only read A Fistful of Feet and Squid Pulp Blues by Jordan Krall but both are weird lovecraftian crossovers with much squidery (haven’t you read these?).

    Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker written in a post-apocaltyptic lingo (similar to and predating Bascule mentioned above) is certainly experimental as was HJ Harrison’s deconstruction of the fantasy novel in the Viriconium books.

    Michalel Avjas, another favourite of yours, went surreal in The Other City, but possibly even more experimental in his multiply layered narrative in The Golden Age.

  35. How about Vellum & Ink by Hal Ducan? Cubist novels.

  36. House of Leaves. Silmarilion. Something Moorcock for the drugs.

  37. I became preternaturally curious about what readers might define as “experimental” in approach

    Like some other folks, I struggle to define “experimental” novels. In some sense surely all novels are experimental, or none are–experiments of will this work, is this the best way, will it evoke the response I hope for?

    I feel there is a conceptual separation between novels that contain experiments, and novels that are experimental. Perec’s A Void, for instance, is a novel with an experiment at its core–to write a novel without using the letter “e”–but there is no doubt that the finished product is a novel. Ditto formally interesting works like Placencia’s People of Paper, or even Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler. On the other hand, a book such as Pavic’s Dictionary of the Khazars strikes me as something where people might legitimately wonder, is this a novel?, and is thus an experimental novel at a different level: an experiment designed to test the question of what being a novel is.

    I like the idea of talking about novels that are experimental in their content more than their form–it’s too easy to look just at form. But with content you get into the matter of what is experimental for the author vs. is what is experimental for the reader. Would a novel written by someone with synesthesia, that accurately conveyed their experience of the world, be experimental?

  38. I also wanted to add a few more titles. “Light” by M. John Harrison. I’m also happy GB Steve mentioned Russell Hoban and his Riddley Walker. Hoban’s other book “The Medusa Frequency” was also very good. It blurs the borders of reality in convincing ways. (When I was a little kid I enjoyed Hoban’s childrens books, like “The Little Brute Family”.)

    Oh yes, and the novels of Jeremy Reed, especially his take on the lives of various artists such as Isidore Ducasse a.k.a Comte De Lautreamont in “Isidore”, “Chasing Black Rainbows” about Antonin Artaud, and perhaps especially “Diamond Nebula” which is a SF tale about a film maker working on a movie about David Bowie, J.G. Ballard and Andy Warhol. His poetry and essays are awesome too.

  39. Hannu Blommila says:

    Don’t know if this really counts as SF/F or Speculative, but for me “Only Revolutions” by Mark Z. Danielewski is The Naked Singularity of Strangeness. A book that pushes ergodic literature all the way to the breaking point and maybe a little bit beyond.

    Most of the stuff by James Morrow – a brilliant writer and one of the best satirists out there. “The Godhead Trilogy” (Towing Jehovah, Blameless in Abaddon & The Eternal Footman) springs immediately to mind. Morrow’s satire goes often quite effortlessly to Crazytown with his ideas of dead god’s body as a religious theme park or his skull orbiting the earth, for example. Funny and strange stuff, but tinged with certain melancholy as well.

    R.A. Lafferty. I’ve never figured this guy out, just loved his stuff unreservedly. Somehow he managed to transform his tall tales into pretty much “serious” literature. (Tall Tale Punk?) “Past Master” I think is a good example. Funny and absurd but still somehow relevant book about the nature of utopias.

    Stepan Chapman’s “The Troika”, definitely. Translating the book in Finnish was a closest thing to tripping without drugs I can imagine…

  40. I love gaining all of these reading suggestions for various novels I’ve been missing. Definitely a lot of interesting books listed in the thread.

    This past year, I was introduced to the work of Richard Calder, most notably, his “Dead Girls” trilogy (Dead Girls, Dead Boys, Dead Things), which I found to be amazing in every way. It seems that Calder is rarely mentioned along with the cyberpunk authors, and I’m guessing that is because the books just take an extra step into the surreal. Dead Girls goes some strange, cool places–ideas of gynoids, vampirism, and reality, all perhaps just ahead of its time in terms of appreciation and notoriety for the books. The prose is challenging and sometimes quite beautiful. Can’t recommend that book enough.

    The Orange Eats Creeps (Grace Krilanovich) is definitely experimental in every sense of the word, but ultimately, I have a very hard time seeing it associated with SF. I guess that depends on personal criteria. Gorgeous book, and challenging to a degree that I could only deal with it in small doses, which is fine; I just had to learn how to read it.

    I just finished Paul Jessup’s book, Open Your Eyes, and it might be worth mentioning here, if not for some of its unusual texture, but for congratulating Paul on the work. Beautiful book .

    I see Bolano mentioned, but I’m thinking more about Cesar Aira’s The Literary Conference. That little book is a nice little trip.

  41. Tim Walker says:

    I’m not sure if any of the following titles are really “experimental” or not — certainly they’re not in the same nightrealm as James Joyce’s all-but-indecipherable FINNEGANS WAKE — but if I had to pick a few favorites from the fringes of genre, they would be Barry N. Malzberg’s HEROVIT’S WORLD (which, if you haven’t read it, is an absolute MUST for lovers of this stuff), followed by Harlan Ellison’s “Pretty Maggy Moneyeyes” and “The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World”, Barry N. Malzberg’s “Corridors” and the epistolary “January 1975”, J.G. Ballard’s CRASH, along with his “The Assasination of John F Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race” and “Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan”, and Michael Blumlein’s “Bestseller”, “Tissue Ablation and Variant Regeneration: A Case Report” and “The Brains of Rats”, as well as his novel X,Y. Steve Rasnic Tem’s “The Visible Man”. Bruce Sterling’s “Our Neural Chernobyl”. Thomas Pynchon. Is Borges a genre writer? How about Kafka’s “A Country Doctor”? Ah, shit — I’m going to go take in a movie. ERASERHEAD, anyone?

  42. Allan Kausch says:

    A few more for overall general weirdness before it was trendy:

    Alasdair Gray’s LANARK
    Alfred Kubin’s THE OTHER SIDE
    Raymond Roussel’s IMPRESSIONS OF AFRICA
    Ducasse/Lautreamont’s MALDOROR
    Oulipo: Perec, Queneau, Roubaud etc.

  43. Jeff Prucher says:

    I’d include Le Guin’s Always Coming Home; it definitely seems like an experiment in how to write about a future society, and in it’s own way, it’s as polarizing as Dhalgren — some find it completely unreadable, while it’s been transformative for others. Geoff Ryman’s 253 was pretty experimental in form, at least as originally published online. I can’t recall whether it has any real sfnal elements or not, though.

  44. Allan Kausch says:

    A few more, though these barely qualify (even in the broadest terms) as SF or Fantasy–you did say you were disinclined to define yer terms, so, at the far reaches of what might be included are:

    Alfred Jarry’s Ubu books (“pshit”)
    Charles Maturin’s Melmouth the Wanderer (tales w/in tales w/in tales…)
    Bruno Schulz’ Street of Crocodiles (obsessive/masochistic)
    Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s late work especially Féerie pour une autre fois and Normance (delirious, furious & compassionate)
    Stefan Themerson’s Bayamus and Cardinal Polatuo (Polish oddness)
    Witold Gombrowicz’ Pornografia (more Polish oddness)
    Paul Leppin’s Blaugast (Czech madness)

  45. No one has mentioned ‘the sheep look up’ by John Brunner. The height of new wave narrative weirdness.

  46. I remember THE HOSPITAL SHIP by Martin Bax as being seriously odd.

  47. jeff vandermeer says:

    Damn, Warren–you’ve managed to flummox me. Only one mentioned I haven’t heard of before. Off to Google it.

  48. protean says:

    Stanislaw Lems Futurological Congress and The Star Diarys. ‘Mindblowing’ does not even begin to describe them.

  49. Steven M. Schmidt says:

    The Nova Trilogy (The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, and Nova Express) by William S. Burroughs. All three novels were crafted using the cut-up method, in which existing texts are cut into various pieces and put back together in random order.

    You can argue about how successful this experimentation with narrative form turned out to be but I think they certainly could be read as genre novels. Nova Express was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1965.

  50. GabrielM says:

    Kenji Siratori’s work remains blissfully unintelligible to me after all these years….

  51. Gabriel–I know!! Me too.

  52. Patton McGinley says:

    As far as examples not yet mentioned, I have to throw in:
    * Superflat Times by Matthew Derby
    * Motorman, The Age of Sinatra and The Pisstown Chaos by David Ohle

    If we’re including “graphic novels” I’d have to add Elaine Lee’s Starstruck. I found the narrative structure fairly innovate… ‘course I was in high school at the time.

    In their private musings, has anyone here found that defining “experimental” is just as frustrating has trying to define science fiction or fantasy… or slipstream or New Weird… or any other literary cubbyhole?

  53. mummifiedstalin says:

    Patton, I agree. Most of us seem to define “experimental” as something that was new to us when we read it, usually early on. Almost everyone can find examples of everyone else’s “experimental” books that say it’s already been done, old hat, etc. I’d imagine for most of us, “experimental” (and “crazy,” too, to keep with the thread’s terms) is relative to what we are or aren’t expecting, and that depends on previous exposure.

    So there’s a question: is there really a genre of “experimental/crazy,” or are they terms relative to what we’ve already read?

  54. I can only say that Vadis, by Philip K Dick reads like the writer was having a psychotic episode – Report on Probability A by Brian Aldiss is pretty strange, Barefoot in the Head is almost a docudrama in comparison.
    For weirdness with humour what about The Final Program – Moorcock?
    Camp Concentration – Thomas M Disch, not very cheerful but quite strange, The Great Clock by Langdon Jones
    anyone? How about Ballard – You Coma Marilyn Monroe – my favourite The Terminal Beach?

  55. What, no Steve Erickson? Tours of the Black Clock anyone?

    I thought of Basso, but that’s stories, not novels, although I don’t know we aren’t talking about short fiction here, which is often a laboratory of fiction.

    I find Dhalgren to be too much of a classic at this point to be experimental; it’s virtually a template for New Wave. I still love it. I think that Delany’s new book is experimental in a different way, disdaining structural reorganization and play of words. It’s very barely SF, has lots of gay sex, and a character spends a lot of his time trying to unpack Spinoza. He will be totally messing with reading protocols in this one. That is in some ways a more daring experiment.

    Remember, there are also books out there whose experiments were flawed and failed that need discussion too.

  56. “I just finished Paul Jessup’s book, Open Your Eyes, and it might be worth mentioning here, if not for some of its unusual texture, but for congratulating Paul on the work. Beautiful book .”

    Ummmm…thank you…heh…that was not expected…but a happy surprise. Glad you enjoyed it.

    “So there’s a question: is there really a genre of “experimental/crazy,” or are they terms relative to what we’ve already read?”

    If I remember right, Eckhard Gerdes was in charge of a small experimental movement that was sort of straddling the lines of genre and literary, back in the late 90’s, early 2000’s. He published a series of anthologies celebrating it, called The Journals of Experimental Fiction, and they were filled with great stuff. Then I think he went on to do Bizarro stuff, which is pretty much the same thing, yet not :)

    Actually, his recent novels I think really fit this bill- My Landlady the Lobotomist a prime example. Completely gonzo, in the most wonderful way. The Rat Veda by James Chapman is also another really good one.

  57. “Remember, there are also books out there whose experiments were flawed and failed that need discussion too.”

    John- can you name some? Sounds interesting to me.

  58. Patton McGinley says:

    “If I remember right, Eckhard Gerdes was in charge of a small experimental movement … He published a series of anthologies celebrating it, called The Journals of Experimental Fiction….”

    Paul, Gerdes still publishes new issues of JEF on an “every couple of years” frequency.

    “I can only say that Valis, by Philip K Dick reads like the writer was having a psychotic episode…”

    Peter, he was…

  59. “Paul, Gerdes still publishes new issues of JEF on an “every couple of years” frequency.”

    LOL! That’s why I probably thought he stopped- I’m too impatient to wait that long! I do love those anthologies though, the writing is so…just all over the place. Each one experiments entirely different than the last. Brilliant, bold, beautiful.

  60. Sam M-B says:

    This is the part where I realize how far over my head the conversation is, but that both Dhalgren and (a different McDermott book than mentioned earlier) Last Dragon seem to fit into this conversation somewhere. I hope you’ll have hubris enough to consider your own stuff; maybe it’s my not reading enough experimental SF but Veniss and Shriek certainly did “bendy” things.

    D. Harlan Wilson’s Dr. Identity? It’s hard for me to differentiate “experimental” from things like this.

    I worry a bit that what we’re seeing a lot of here is “metafiction as experiment” when there are other forays into the dark. (Though on that score: The Man in the High Castle.) What about The Illustrated Man and Scorch Atlas (novel in stories)? The Universe in Miniature in Miniature is an experiment, but with mixed results.

  61. Patton McGinley says:

    I think the term “metafiction” is getting kind of abused these days probably thanks to simplistic reviews and marketing of things like the Thursday Next and Inkheart books. You actually see some people referring to it as some sort of “genre.” In it’s “purest” sense, metafiction is “self aware” fiction. There’s plenty of ways to do that without falling back on things like incorporating popular characters or having the author overtly “invade” the narrative.

  62. Paul: need to scan my bookshelves at home, so perhaps tonight I can address the question of good tries and awful failures. I thought that Malzberg’s Galaxies did not work as well as it could have. But I need to ponder this a bit more; maybe that’s a good blog post; this thread has really got me thinking about Jeff’s initial question and how we view non-standard fiction. It comes back to our own definitions of experimental, crazy, or whatever other adjective we want to apply to work that makes us scratch our heads or makes milk come out of our ears (ahem, Mr Jessup!). For myself, I think that writing that is intentionally subversive or pointedly designed to rock your assumptions may come under this banner.

    Which makes it strange that I neglected Last Dragon earlier, since I wrote a goram review of it. Never Knew Another is at the top of my queue for review. McDermott is doing some crazy, subversive stuff in his fiction.

  63. Josh Lukin says:

    If we’re invoking Dhalgren, I think we should also mention from that era the late Joanna Russ’s work. The Female Man is pretty crazy/experimental: it took a few years to find a publisher and is still polarizing. Maybe We Who Are About To as well. Many of Kate Wilhelm’s books from 1969-1979, especially all those novels with unresolved endings that she said were influenced by Robbe-Grillet, should perhaps count too.

    For a novel that aspires to crazy/experimental and falls flat, I’d nominate Golem100.

  64. I wondered if that one would get you, Jeff… by now, you’ve fallen down a googlehole, and possibly also recalled that JG Ballard was Martin Bax’s literary editor on AMBIT magazine, too…

  65. JimO says:

    anything by Cordwainer Smith.

  66. Gregory Thompson says:

    What about Brian Evenson? His use of tone and the role of violence is pretty experimental (not to mention the plot of Last Days is somwhat crazy). I’d choose Wolfe’s “Fifth Head of Cerberus,” for its structure and I would focus as well on Ballard for his use of what I *think* he called invisible literature – scientific journals, prescription drug bottle labels, advertising disclaimers, etc. – in some way a mirror of how the internet informs us today. Finally, Tom Phillips’ A Humument which maybe fits neither SF or Fantasy, but is quite unique.

  67. Jmorrison says:

    Subjective, as with damn near everything, but also a definition more susceptible to the ravages of time than most. For example, Varley’s “A Voyage to Arcturus” might not tickle a single modern braincell in the “experimental cluster” but I have to believe in its time it ticked a fair share. Made me feel a bit odd in the noggin when I read it, and for my purposes, that qualifies as experimental.

    Some others which perhaps qualify:

    T-Zero (or, indeed, “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler”) by Italo Calvino
    The Box Man by Kobo Abe
    Molly / Malone Dies / The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett
    Motorman (and sequels) by David Ohle
    Hell by Henri Barbusse
    The Obscene Bird of Night by Jose Donoso

  68. Jmorrison says:

    Whoops! S/b Lindsay’s Arcturus.

  69. Johanna Vainikainen-Uusitalo says:

    I’d love to see some more books not originally written in English here :-)

    Pavic’s Dictionary of the Khazars and Lem’s Futurological Congress seconded. Calvino was mentioned, but I’d prefer Cosmicomics and Invisible Cities since IIRC the stories themselves in If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler are not speculative… If YA counts, Neverending Story by Michael Ende quite blew my mind as a kid. And also Troll or Not Before the Sundown by Johanna Sinisalo and Tainaron by Leena Krohn.

  70. ZMW says:

    Pretty much anything by Phillip K. Dick was experimental at the time it was written. Most of the stuff would still be considered experimental now.

  71. Andrew Ward says:

    Coin Locker Babies – Ryu Murakami. Simply crazy.

    To add an experimental one nobody’s mentioned yet Time’s Arrow – Martin Amis. I guess the question would be if it’s considered Sci-fi. There’s certainly a lot of Medicine in it.

  72. Chris M. says:

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned David R. Bunch’s MODERAN yet. Strange, satirical stories about a world of cyborgs.

    Also Langdon Jones’ collection THE EYE OF THE LENS and David I. Masson’s THE CALTRAPS OF TIME.

  73. Eeleen Lee says:

    A Clockwork Orange was pretty experimental for me when I first read it because of the use of Nadsat, the fictional teen slang. Loved the use of media excerpts in John Brunner’s “Stand On Zanzibar” and David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” plays with structure.

    Some books you admire more than you love though….such as “Solaris” and “Only Revolutions”

  74. Chris S says:

    Starmaker by Olaf Stapledon – it’s quite an old text, but it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever read, and I read a LOT.

  75. Eugenio says:

    I´m very surprised more people haven’t mentioned The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe.

  76. Ashley says:

    Hal Duncan – Vellum & Ink

    Anarchic genius.

    Also, his short story ‘The Eye of the Behold’ is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read.

    PS. Everything by Jorge Luis Borges.

  77. Ashley says:

    Oops. That should have read ‘The Behold of the Eye.’

    Sorry Hal.

  78. Dan Geiser says:

    I haven’t read it but I always thought Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream would be an interesting read.

  79. Tim says:

    I’d have to add Jonathan Letham’s “Gun, with Occasional Music” and “Girl in the Landscape”. It’s been a while since I’ve read them, but I recall some pretty strange narrative ideas and even the fact that they might be literature, maybe sci-fi, maybe ???

  80. Jake says:

    The four novels by GX Jupitter-Larsen: http://ebooks.jupitter-larsen.com/

  81. Jim says:

    PKD’s Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

  82. Stanislaw Lem and Olaf Stapledon have been mentioned already, but their books A Perfect Vacuum and Last and First Men have both blown my brain in the past.

    Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, by PKD, seconded

  83. scottc says:

    Cows, by Matthew Stokoe.

  84. ChuckEye says:

    I’ll be another to toss in Danielewski. And I’ll second Cyclonopedia. My new addition to the list would be David Mamet’s novel Wilson: A Consideration of the Sources. (Reminding me a bit of Calvino’s Cosmicomics, which might also fit here.)

  85. Lamar says:

    John Crowley’s Aegypt series always struck me as somewhat experimental, with its story-within-a-story construction. Of course, most of his earlier books, especially Little, Big, come very much out of the New Wave traditions of the ’60s.

  86. Craig says:

    Creatures of Light and Darkness Roger Zelazny

  87. Candiss says:

    I wouldn’t say either of my suggestions are the “craziest” genre books I’ve read, but several I would mention have already been mentioned, and these have not, so…

    I would call Steven Hall’s “The Raw Shark Texts” experimental. It uses nested narrative, parallel stories, text/font shenanigans, dream-like sequences (I will not spoil by attempting to pin these down further.) and various purposeful structural anomalies that all come together to place the book squarely in the “experimental speculative fiction” pool, despite the mildly unfriendly “literary fiction” label the book has often been tagged with by critics.

    Another work that comes to my mind when I think of the structure of Delany’s “Dhalgren” is Roger Zelazny’s classic “Lord of Light”. In some ways, the book may be fairly straight-forward, but it also utilizes a circular structure, and it does so as an almost meta-fictional symbolism for the “Great Wheel of Life” of Hindu and Buddhist tradition. I think it was quite experimental, especially in its own time.

  88. I agree – “Light” by Marrison.

  89. Bob Holliman says:

    The Atrocity Exhibition by J. G. Ballard
    Nova Express by William S. Burroughs

  90. ChuckEye says:

    Yeah, I’d put The Raw Shark Texts up there with House of Leaves in the experimental department.Good catch (no pun intended).

  91. Vnend says:

    “Creatures of Light and Darkness”, by Roger Zelazny comes to mind first. I re-read it last year, and it is still bizarre and wonderful. Roger wrote it as an experiment and exercise, and did not intend to sell it.

    Part of the problem with the is the limitation you have put on the question. It is one thing to invest the time to write an ‘experimental’ story under, say, 25000 words, and another entirely to do the same with something over 50K. So you see people doing their experiments in their shorter work, and writing more conservatively when it’s a novel.

    Not to mention that “experimentation” with the form of the novel has its own problems.

  92. Arkuz says:

    Philip K. Dick: Dr. Bloodmoney
    Brian M. Stableford: To Challenge Chaos
    Scarlett Thomas: The End of Mr. Y
    Also agree about M. John Harrison: Light

    “To Challenge Chaos” is weird for its concept and for its chosen narrative and characterization style. Its not like other Stableford books (afaik from reading a few others), so I assume he was intentionally experimenting — an approach that failed for me (I could not finish it).

  93. Don’t overlook 253: A Novel by Geoff Ryman.

  94. Russell says:

    Craig & Vnend:
    Thanks for “Creatures of Light & Darkness”! Zelazny writes some of the most awesome, drugged-out pulp on the market! …Right next to Moorcock. Both blend Kipling-esque colonial adventure tales with counter-culture psychedelia to create a read that is both mind-blowing and fun!

    Since people are wearing their literary top coats by mentioning such high-brow reads as 2666, Gravity’s Rainbow & Hopscotch (Belaño and Cortázar are amazing! Don’t care for Pynchon), I’d like to indulge in a little low-brow t-shirt wearing with, “The Airtight Garage” by Moebius. It’s a comic, but it’s one of the best things on the planet and it not only blew my mind, but has influenced me more than any other SF/Fantasy work to date!


  95. Ah, The Hospital Ship, yep that was an odd one, don’t have a copy any more. Great montage cover. Yes, that one does open up that strange journey into AMBIT as well.

    Aldiss’ Barefoot in the Head, that’s one I want to read again.

    Jeter’s Dr. Adder was odd, and also Alligator Alley by Mink Mole & Dr Adder…

  96. Ria Byss says:


  97. Ria Byss says:

    also, as said above, STARSTRUCK by Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta still seems one of a kind. more dense than WATCHMEN… more baffling than… many other things. like an turned sidewise and exploded space opera/soap opera, really.

  98. Like a few above me, Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun gets my vote. While it may not be hallucanitory or psychadelic, it is far stranger because it hides it’s strangeness so well. You could read the whole tetrology and not realize the incredibly strangeness that is lurking under every sentence.

  99. Mr. Shankley says:

    John Clute’s “Appleseed”. Mind bending Joyce flavored space opera. Short too, and stunning.

  100. Bob Caler says:

    For me, John Varley’s Gaea trilogy will be the set that always draws me back. Not just because of the setting, but also because of the caracter evolution, as well as the realization that even a bush league god needs love.

  101. Most recently, Brian Conn’s “The Fixed Stars.” The setting is a totally alien post-apocalyptic future Earth with “post late-capitalists” and various strange happenings concerning a boar-bristle woman and others. It’s the kind of book that doesn’t let you in easily – hell, I’m not even sure it *wants* you inside.

  102. Also, Mario Vargas Llosa’s “Conversation in the Cathedral.” It’s not exactly experimental in the…traditional sense (boy, that was a stupefying thing to write), but how the dialogue oscillates between varying conversations happening past and present, was fairly interesting.

  103. I’ll third Cyclonopedia. Lovecraftian horror by way of Deluze and Guattari.

  104. Russell says:

    Also agree with “Starstruck!”

    Surprised no one has mentioned Harlan Ellison by this time: “Repent Harlequin! Said the Tic-Tic Man” is one of my favorites of his…

    …and to Allan Kausch: Lautreamont, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Alfred Jarry,. etc.? Good God!
    Your erudition and taste are formidable, but come-on… if you are going to throw out such esoteric weight, let’s see something a little crass (like maybe a Piers Anthony book or somethin’). Dropping such names is just a TAD pandering. (I do intend to check out some of the authors I don’t recognize, though… just gotta give you a little crap.)

  105. aaron.boxerman says:

    Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace.

    House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski

  106. Aaron Lariviere says:

    Awesome batch of books that have been mentioned here. I’ll second each and every mention of Delany, Wolfe (also look at the Latro books for a true thought experiment), and Ballard, as their innovations still strike me as distinctly singular in their own ways. And also, John Crowley’s work, I think one person mentioned Aegypt… he’s experimental in the way that he touches on genre but dodges away quickly. His stories have a magical strangeness that is uniquely his own, though. Little, Big is unique, despite its massive influence on Neil Gaiman, and all the subsequent urban fantasy that would follow. Engine Summer also, despite its similarity to A Canticle for Leibowitz, is striking in its use of perspective and language.

    M. John Harrison has been mentioned for Light, which I’ll agree is an odd book, but not nearly as experimental as the Viriconium series, which starts firmly in Moorcock-land and veers into meta-madness by the third book. He pulls the walls down around us, until there’s nothing left.

    I’d call Mervyn Peake experimental in that his work is unlike any other, barely narrative, and really fucking strange. Anna Kavan’s Ice is only loosely genre, but it’s brilliantly experimental once you watch the fantasy narrative fall away and the true story of heroin addiction comes into focus. Thomas Bernhard… not really genre, though his early work feels strange enough that it almost could be. The hundred-plus page monologue in Gargoyles is truly something to behold, if you can drag yourself through it.

    And for a much more mainstream, but still oddly experimental writer, I’d put forward Steven Erikson’s Malazan series, which pushes the limits of in media res to the furthest extremity, past the point of logic into the realm of the nigh incomprehensible… and yet these books are popular! Boggles the mind.

  107. Adam Thomson says:

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is The Legend of Redenta Tiria by Salvatore Niffoi. It’s a very weird collection of anecdotes and fairy-tale type stories set on an island where everybody commits suicide. There’s little to no dialogue and the fantastic element is subtle but necessary.

    Another fairly unique book, Jonathan Carrol’s The Land Of Laughs, is effectively pre-spoiled by being published as fantasy. Mostly the subject matter makes it unusual.

    I’ve heard good things about The Last Ringbearer, by Kirill Eskov, though I haven’t yet read it. A retelling of The Lord of the Rings from the Mordor perspective.

    Speaking of which, would Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality count? While it’s both fan-fiction and online-only, it’s very…different.

    If we’re counting comic books, another one to put in there is The Arrival by Shaun Tan – it’s a story about an immigrant to a strange country with no dialogue – or indeed any readable text at all. It made a splash a little while ago in Australia at least.

  108. markb says:

    I’d have to echo the sentiments of an earlier commenter. I have never read anything like Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy in my life. It must be what Dicken’s novel would end up like if Dicken’s was on acid or if he was in the depths of a long, long fever dream.

  109. mark says:

    Doris Lessings Canopus in Argos – bewildering, clever, brilliant and I’m pretty sure I missed most of what was going on but images and ideas from them still haunt me.

    Stanislaw Lems book reviews in perfect vacuum surely have to be considered experimental

    Good to see M John Harrison mentioned – one of the best writers of the english language around (and I read a *lot* not just genre things)

    David Mitchells novels also stray into SF I think and they certainly have interesting structures

  110. one book that deserves a little love in this context is Kim Newman’s ‘Life’s Lottery’, described by the publisher as a ‘choose your own adventure’ novel for grown-ups. It’s certainly strikingly different from anything else I’ve ever read.

    Not a novel, but ‘Chaos Surfari’, a short story by Marc laidlaw and Rudy Rucker, first published in Interzone, is equally deserving of attention. One half of the story runs forwards, while the other half runs backwards, and they meet in the middle. I seem to recall that one half of the story was also printed upside down

  111. Nat says:

    I’ll second Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos series which completely rearranged my brain in my teens. Also Hal Duncan’s Vellum and Ink – I didn’t know books were allowed to do that! Stunning.

  112. Can’t believe I forgot this one; City of the Iron Fish by Simon Ings, one of my favourite ’90’s sf writers. It’s what I’d all a work of deonstructionist fantasy that questions the inherent limitations of fantasy worldbuilding. the further the characters get from the city in which they live, the more their reality begins to break down. A brilliant novel, and definitely, I think, in the ‘experimental’ box.

  113. I’ve been a huge fan of Michael Cisco since the Divinity Student, and Danielewski is often a test I put to my friends, but one I have to add to the discussion is Iain Sinclair and Dave McKean’s Slow Chocolate Autopsy. Not only is it a fun book title to give in a game of charades, but it beautifully warps your mind.

  114. And now that I think about it, a couple more titles to add. Stands on Zanzibar by John Brunner. His use of the seven types of chapters and how they inform each other is brilliant. Also, If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino. That one pissed me off by the time I got to the end with all its layers of obfuscation.

  115. Aaron Lariviere says:

    Wow, how did I forget Henry Darger? I can’t claim to have read it, but The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion is generally considered outsider art, but it’s essentially a fantasy of ridiculous proportion. I’d love to read it someday, if anyone ever bothers to publish all 15,000 pages of it… If ever there was a perfect use for kindles and nooks, this is it.

  116. Noddy Tibet says:

    Has anyone mentioned Dr. Adder by K. W. Jeter? Perhaps not as ‘arty’ as some suggestions, but it does occasionally aspire towards a hybridisation of PKD and WSB which can be fun. ‘Weird tale’ writer Thomas Ligotti can be experimental in an atmospheric fashion with some of his short stories. Burroughs’ Cities of the Red Night might qualify for the list as well. Definitely agree with others on Ballard, Pynchon and MM’s The Cornelius Chronicles.

    I know I am forgetting a few….need more caffeine and sugar here.

  117. Some great recommends! I don’t know if it’s experimental per se, but Hannu R’s newest, The Quantum Thief, is kinda mind-blowing: http://www.omnivoracious.com/2011/05/finnish-science-fiction-and-fantasy-johanna-sinisalo-hannu-rajaniemi-and-moomins.html

  118. And on this list, Orange Eats Creeps, the Brian Conn, and a couple of others are definitely experimental: http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&plgroup=1&docId=1000628171&ref=blogs_omni_link

  119. ed hall says:

    >If we’re including “graphic novels” I’d have to add Elaine Lee’s Starstruck. I found the narrative structure fairly innovate… ‘course I was in high school at the time.

    i enjoyed /starstruck/ a lot when it first appeared in book form from marvel’s epic imprint.

    imagine my surprise to see how vastly expanded [and seemingly more comprehensible, tho’ no less oddball] the work is in its recent idw hardcover version.

  120. ed hall says:

    and don’t forget the /other/ steve erickson [sic], whose first novel is the delirious /days between stations/.

  121. Vnend says:

    Hmmm… two more have come to mind, though I haven’t read them in years.

    If I remember correctly, Roger Zelazny’s ‘Roadmarks’ had all of the chapters numbered either 1 or 2, as the two main threads of the story wove around each other.

    Taking that concept even further was Glen Cook’s “A Matter of Time”, dealing with some of the questions of time travel by telling the story(ies) with chapters identified by the date and ‘axis’ the section is set in. It was pretty wild when I read it back in 1985; I haven’t re-read it in over twenty years, so I don’t know if I would still think so.

    Has anyone taken a time travel story and told it in two (or more, potentially) threads, where one is moving ‘forward’ in time while the other is moving ‘backward’, until the two meet at the climax? Working in a third (or more) plotline, with someone moving between event outcomes (‘sideways’ in time, as it were), looking for a particular one would be another variation. Or another type of story entirely; the same chapter, over and over, with small changes in the starting configuration resulting (or not!) in big changes in the outcome. (This one would get compared to ‘Groundhog Day’, I suspect.)

  122. GLF says:

    What about Kathy Acker’s “Empire of the Senseless”? It owes a great deal to Burroughs, and even to William Gibson, but as fantastical fictions go, it’s pretty unusual.

  123. Vnend says:

    Ah, thought of one more, though I don’t know how good a match it is from your point of view. I thought it was damned strange.

    Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, by Cory Doctorow.

    Part of the book is a guy who builds wifi access points from the stuff he can scrounge, mostly from dumpsters. He is trying to set up a free and secure ‘mesh’ network in downtown Toronto. It is slow going until he meets up with Alan, who likes the idea and has a talent for getting people to join the undertaking (by letting access points be mounted in or on their building).

    That’s the normal side of the story. Most of the strange side is Alan and his family. For starters, his father is a mountain, and his mother is a washing machine. His siblings are, mostly, even stranger.

    The success of the experiment is that Doctorow does a good job of bringing across the alien nature of Alan and his family, while still creating a sympathetic character. One that is usually understandable, while still being different enough to be somewhat unpredictable.

  124. Jenn says:

    I think there is definitely an interesting quality to crazy/experimental fiction in that the writing style can become more polarizing then then say, the actual plot of the books themselves. As such, I love anything written by Jeff Noon (Vurt, Pollen, Nymphomation, Automated Alice) for the word play and frenetic pacing, I like the meandering style of Hal Duncan (Inked, Vellum), I am still on the fence as to whether or not I like China Mieville who seems to alternate between interesting and meh, and I am definitely not a fan of Gene Wolfe as interesting as the world he creates is, and as far as Philip K. Dick’s Valis goes, way beyond my ken.

    I am not sure if the following qualify as experimental or crazy, but they sure are awesome: Murakami (Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World), William S. Burroughs (Cities of the Red Night), John Crowley (The Deep, Beasts, Engine Summer).

    Thanks for putting Dhalgren next on my reading list!

  125. Toni says:

    Well, it took me so long to find a free moment to do this list that I’m quite sure all of these have allready been mentioned here. But as I finally got it done, I’m not just gonna leave it hanging on my computer.

    For some odd and crazy reason I decided beforehand that I’d only mention 22 authors. Why so, I don’t know.

    Some of these are both experimental and fabulously crazy, some just crazy or experimental. All of them great.

    In alphabetical order by the author’s surname. Hope I didn’t forget anything really important…

    Brian Aldiss: Report on Probability A, Barefoot in the Head
    Steve Aylett: all of his books – Atom, The Complete Accomplice etc
    J. G. Ballard: The Atrocity Exhibition, Crash etc
    Flann O’Brien: The Third Policeman
    William Burroughs: Nova trilogy, Red Night trilogy etc
    Stepan Chapman: The Troika
    Michael Cisco: all I’ve read from him
    John Clute: Appleseed
    Mark Z. Danielewski: House of Leaves
    Samuel R. Delany: Dhalgren
    Philip K. Dick: more or less most of his books
    Hal Duncan: Vellum/Ink
    M. John Harrison: Light, Viriconium-series etc
    Simon Ings: City of the Iron Fish, Hotwire etc
    Michael Moorcock: the Jerry Cornelius stories
    Jeff Noon: all of his books – Vurt, Pixel Juice etc
    Thomas Pynchon: Gravity’s Rainbow etc
    Joanna Russ: The Female Man
    Kimmo Saneri: everything he has ever written – Avaruussirkus, Valon takana etc
    Michael Swanwick: The Iron Dragon’s Daughter
    Jeff VanderMeer: Shriek, Veniss Underground etc
    Gene Wolfe: The Book of the New Sun

    Weird Facts No. 1: Over half of these authors have surnames starting with A, B, C or D. Does that make them more eager to test the limits of storytelling?

    Weird Facts No. 2: This list also reads like the list of my favourite authors with lots and lots of omissions.

    Weird Facts No. 3: If you’d asked about short stories the list would be huge. So here’s just 666 stories by the aforementioned authors that have been translated to Finnish in Tähtivaeltaja.

    Steve Aylett: “The Siri Gun”, J. G. Ballard: “Report on an Unidentified Space Station”, Stepan Chapman: “The Prison of Sod”, M. John Harrison: “The Neon Heart Murders”, Michael Swanwick: “Mother Grasshopper”, Jeff VanderMeer: “The City”.

    Weird Facts No. 4: There’s been many really great books mentioned by previous writers that I myself don’t count as crazy/experimental. Mainly the books by Jonathan Carroll, Stanislaw Lem, Jonathan Lethem, John Varley, Mervyn Peake, Norman Spinrad, John Brunner, K. W. Jeter, Cory Doctorow – but that might be just me.

    Weird Facts No. 5: For some odd reason I didn’t like Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts or David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas that much – my bad.

    Weird Facts No. 6: If you’d included comics the list would of course be a lot longer. Still I just have to mention one comics artist and that’s Ted McKeever (Metropol, Transit, Eddy Current etc) as I just finished reading his latest offering, Meta 4. It is really experimental and cool!

    The comic starts with a amnesiac astronaut wandering around an empty amusement park. There he meets for example an alien whose dressed as Santa Claus and who talks only with symbols. And it’s gets a lot weirder from there!

    Weird Facts No. 7: I’ve overstayed my welcome by a wide margin. Not so weird though…

  126. Nina says:

    The Gormenghast trilogy, one of the most imaginative and quirky books I have ever read. So many ideas, and written in a way that makes you savour every exotic word. It defined mannerpunk and paved the way for steampunk. A great book.

  127. Allan Kausch says:

    Also like to add any of Iain Sinclair’s novels:
    Landor’s Tower, Lud Heat, Suicide Bridge etc. all great, experimental prose like a cross between Moorcock and Ballard with some Guy Debord thrown in for psychogeographic good measure.
    A note to “russell” who said:
    “…and to Allan Kausch: Lautreamont, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Alfred Jarry,. etc.? Good God!
    Your erudition and taste are formidable, but come-on… if you are going to throw out such esoteric weight, let’s see something a little crass (like maybe a Piers Anthony book or somethin’). Dropping such names is just a TAD pandering. (I do intend to check out some of the authors I don’t recognize, though… just gotta give you a little crap.)”

    Sorry–I don’t know what you mean by “pandering” but I’m incapable of recommending crap. There’s so much crap out there I’m sure you won’t have any trouble stepping in some…once you’re done with it, try some of the names I’ve mentioned: they won’t bite! I do like CR@SS though…

  128. In truth I’m sure if my pick is either PURE Science Fiction or Fantasy, but then again how can a book in which the protagonist spends the night roaming about with a retinue including but not limited to a hit man, a Talking Cat, a conductor and oh yeah the DEVIL, be consigned to the vacuous limitations of simple fiction?

    Inter-cut this wild evening with a retelling of Pontius Pilate and the trial of Jesus and man you have a book that blew my mind more than a bit the first time I read it. I speak of course of The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.

  129. Pingback: Links « Stuff
  130. jack says:

    I think this one is real experimental.


  131. CGF says:

    John Clute, Appleseed

  132. Thomas Calle says:

    For me it will always be Zelazny’s ‘Shadowjack’ … check this oldie out…. (the book, not me)

  133. I am writing on behalf of Ben Wood.
    Ben has recently started his own fiction story site called Army of Puppets.

  134. First, “Cryptozoic!” by Aldiss — I was only nine when I read it and it blew my mind. Then “Dhalgren”, of course. And I have to mention the Dangerous Visions anthologies as well.

  135. Fairly recent

    Super Flat Times by Matthew Derby
    The Fixed Stars by Brian Conn
    The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus
    Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich
    Witz by Joshua Cohen
    Dark Property by Brian Evenson
    There is No Year by Blake Butler

    Oldies but goodies

    Watchmen by Alan Moore
    Arc d’X by Steve Erickson
    House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
    The Resurrectionist by Jack O’Connell
    Atrocity Exhibition by J.G. Ballard
    VALIS by Philip K. Dick
    Dhalgren by Delaney

  136. BOB says:


  137. graywyvern says:

    good suggestions; i like seeing Cyclonopedia offered–this is the only one of these that feels truly 21c to me–& i support all the usual suspects (Surrealism, New Wave scifi, Cyberpunk, PoMo & PoPoMo) here.
    but does no one remember David R Bunch? his Moderan is not only the greatest anti-war satire ever written, it’s also a stylistic tour-de-force.

    of contemporaries, i found the quartet, beginning with Archangel Protocol, of Lyda Morehouse interestingly far-fetched–if it were a genre, something like “faithpunk” comes to mind– apparently it was not a success, & these books aren’t easy to find. but unique, & suggestive beyond the crazy plot. seeing as how our world is not Star Trek’s, devoid of religious, racial & sexual chasms, but an exploding mass of contradictions & mutually unintelligible hostilities, the astounding thing is how science fiction has managed to mostly avoid portraying it… there should be dozens of books like this. there aren’t.

    Jeffrey Ford’s The Physiognomy also contains some curious moments…

  138. graywyvern says:

    (i see that Bunch was indeed mentioned.)

    so how about Ishmael Reed? in the 70s he wrote a series of genre-bending books like Yellowback Radio Broke Down & Mumbo Jumbo that combine pop culture, satire, anarchic humor & poetic wordplay in an intoxicating mixture that made him, as i once suggested, “the black Kurt Vonnegut”…

    William Hope Hodgson deserves more than his tiny footnote in really complete histories of science fiction. if you want to get pulpy, i kind of dig the loopy adventure scifi books that Emil Petaja made out of the Kalevala. and Joanna Russ these days seems only to be remembered as a feminist, not the experimental novelist of And Chaos Died.

    but the weirdest of all, i reckon, is A Voyage to Arcturus. it’s kind of like the graphic novel Nietzsche would have written if he had lived in the 60s. only, David Lindsay published it in 1920… plus, the 1970 short film that was made of this, can be found on the internet, too!

  139. tom says:

    .A great new thrilller by the Founder of Prehistoric Channel has just been published called THE ICE GORILLA. Rumor has it that movie producers are trying to turn THE ICE GORILLA into a movie but are going to first wait and see how book sales go so far. THE ICE GORILLA is available right now at Amazon. Lets all band together if we can and get this cool SyFy channel made into a full length movie

  140. tom says:

    Absolutely love Jurassic Park as a kid. Was completely stoked to find out that there is a PREHISTORIC CHANNEL. How perfect a concept is that. The Founder of PREHISTORIC CHANNEL has just released his first thriller book. THE ICE GORILLA book is being looked at by movie producers i read, and may be made into a movie. It all depends on how well the book in fact sells. Would be cool to see THE ICE GORILLA made into a movie as well as Jurassic Park 4. Then I could die in peace. LOL

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  142. John Doe says:

    First I’ll mention Richard Calder’s Dead Trilogy as a stylistic oddity of the genre. Than I’ll yap some…

    There should be a distinction between what constitutes experimental. There is a gulf of difference between someone who knows the craft and is experimenting with it to push communication of concept and story further, versus the glut of pretentious purple novels out there where nothing much happens but casual atrocity and, to quote John D. MacDonald, ineptitude is hidden behind “long words, Germanic sentence structure, obtrusive symbols, and no sense of story, pace, or character”.

    While we’re splitting hairs, just what the hell is Science Fiction anymore anyway in the age of drone-delivered fast food and smart phones? This is why “Speculative Fiction” was the preferred term of that Arch-Rager Harlan Ellisons. Science-Fiction sounds like an oxymoron.

  143. John Doe says:

    …And now looking at these dates I’m 2 years too late to the conversation. Story of my life.

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