At the Mountains of Weirdness

(I was too ill to link this from my blog when it was published on The Guardian online, so here it is now.)



I am forced into speech because men of letters refuse to act without knowing why. It is altogether against my will that I tell my reasons for opposing the publication of this tome – with its dangerous unearthing of such potent weird tales – and I am the more reluctant because my warning may be in vain. Doubt of the real facts, as I must reveal them, is inevitable. But the hitherto ignored evidence – the madness of the many authors contained in its pages and clearly inhuman determination of its “editors” – must surely count in my favour.

The Weird. The first intimations of the terror awaiting the unwary reader must surely be the inhuman scale of the tome itself. Seven hundred and fifty thousand words are contained in its pages. The Necronomicon itself has not half as many! A hundred and sixteen of the century’s weirdest fictions; the transcribed ravings of those lunatic creatures known in the mortal tongue as “writers”. Algernon Blackwood. HP Lovecraft. Franz Kafka. Ray Bradbury. Jorge Luis Borges. Mervyn Peake. Angela Carter. Michael Chabon. Through these its emissaries the weird has penetrated deep into the very fabric of our reality. And now it threatens to tear it altogether asunder.

Few are there, even among even the true adepts of the weird, that might gather such a cohort of its mouthpieces in one tome. Few with the singular willpower to perform such a fell deed of sorcery. And but one, Ann VanderMeer, the witch queen of weird herself, and the muttering curmudgeon she keeps as her familiar, with the audacity to enact such devastating events. But the blame must rest with those of us who divined their purpose but did nothing to prevent it. Long have the VanderMeers mustered their forces, honing their editorial craft in the pages of the New Weird and Steampunk anthologies, reopening the cursed pages of Weird Tales magazine that had been long forgotten. They have gathered to their banner a warrior cult of weird writers in preparation for their onslaught against reality.

Do not be fooled by the tome-like appearance of The Weird. It is a mere illusion, formed to satisfy the limited capacities of your simian flesh brain and memetic mind structure. Open your third eye, gaze into higher dimensions of the multiverse, and you will see its true manifestation. Its pulsing opalescent body. Its beaked, gaping, chewing maw as it feeds upon reality itself. Soon the chrysalid will form, and The Weird itself will burst into the the world as a radiant winged moth of metaphysical doom!

I meant only to pry apart the covers, to take the briefest glance, deluding myself that my long exposure to the weird would inure me against the tome’s most potent effects. But the portal opened vistas of weirdness I had not dared even to conceive. The Hungry Stones of poet and mystic Rabindranath Tagore and Eric Basso’s The Beak Doctor. I was shown the eruption of true weird in the work of otherwise mundane writers including Daphne du Maurier, Ben Okri and Joyce Carol Oates. And I could not ignore the ever more dangerous domination of the weird over the popular imagination of mankind through the work of its tireless servants Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and Haruki Murakami. I have no sense of how many were the days, the years, the infinities of time I wandered through the dimension of weird which this portal opened to me.

Above all else, I must warn you to fear the Miéville. His path has been prepared by the Moorcock and the Harrison and now he is among us, the anointed messenger of weird on earth! Until now he has been satisfied to bide his time, but in The Weird the full horror of his plans are revealed. For even as I record these words, the fragile tissue of fictionyou call “reality” is being eaten away by the weird’s greedy jaws and the ravenous hunger that it feeds, set free in our world by the VanderMeers through the portal of their giant tome. A sick fascination will lure the great minds of the literary establishment, wriggling and writhing like blind maggots to the brink of the portal, where the weird will infect them forever. The discourses of the academy will be replaced with insane rantings of the weird. The grand narratives of science, politics, history, that have for so long dammed the waters of reality, will burst open as the beliefs on which they were founded are undermined. And the Miéville will sit upon a throne of tentacles and look upon the the shivering masses of fandom in judgement. Only a few will be chosen to walk beside him in the weird realms beyond reality. Bow now before the Miéville. BOW! BOW! Oh help me Gaiman, my will has finally crumbled before the onslaught of the weird.

There is only one hope left for the billions who will suffer as reality collapses. Give yourself to the weird! Hurl your puny mortal body through the portal the VanderMeers have opened for you, join your lord the Miéville on the other side, give your heart and soul to the saints that stand at his feet, to the mad prophets that have prepared you for his coming. Open the pages of the new gospel of The Weird.

And for Cthulhu’s sake do not click this link.

Why crap books sell millions

Look, I don’t mean to give you a big head here, but if you’re reading this then you’re probably a pretty smart cookie. Statistical research suggests that people who stop by this way tend to be avid readers, and probably writers as well. Clever clogs like us get used to each others company, and its easy to start thinking that, well, everyone is as clever as we are.

But they aren’t.

What is the Rhetoric of Story? learn with course code STORYTEN.

Now, I don’t mean to belittle stupid people. Actually there are a lot of downsides to exercising your intelligence. Once you start thinking too hard about things there’s no end to what you can think hard about. So, many people quite validly avoid thinking too much about anything.

So I wish I could agree with Umberto Eco (who I LOVE) in The Guardian when he says that ‘people are tired of simple things, they want to be challenged‘. And by wish, I mean that every fibre of my superior, snobby little soul is vibrating in agreement. But the rational part of my mind that retains a tenuous engagement with reality knows that more people will watch X-Factor this Saturday than will ever read any one of Mr. Eco’s sublime novels.

When it comes to complexity in novels, it is lost on most people. Worse than lost, it will likely make a text incomprehensible to most people. Because most people, whilst literate, just aren’t very good at reading. Dense, poetic prose, rich in symbolism  and thematic depth, the things us writerly smarty pants all love so much, will just confuse the hell out of most people. That prose passage you’re so proud of, the one that switches seamlessly between the internal monologues of the novel’s five key protagonists whilst expanding the narrative’s core philosophical argument? Most people just couldn’t make it go in to their head even if they tried. You may as well expect them to read pure binary machine code.

Bestselling books are, by and large, simple books. Simple stories, simple language, simple ideas. But, simple is as simple does. Perhaps the real art of the novelist is saying the most complex things in the simplest ways, so that even stupid people can understand.

Tarot and so

Things have been happening and I have been remiss in linking to them here.

My Weird Things column in The Guardian continues with thoughts on Todd Grimson, author of Stainless and possibly one of our greatest and most neglected horror writers.

At the SF Signal blog we discuss mainstream authors stepping across to genre fiction. I end up tinkering with the question instead of answering it.

40k Books interview me about short fiction and novellas. It was an interesting subject to consider.

World Fantasy was, as ever, at its most enjoyable at 2am while intensely discussing writing with other writers. I’ve been playing with a pack of tarot cards during my time in San Diego, with an idea they might make their way in to a story, which lead in to a deep conversation with new Nightshade author Rob Ziegler on the archetypal significance of the cards. Just one of many highlights of the conference that will hang with me for some time.