The Spooky World of "Weird Fiction"

There's certainly plenty of strange, creepy fiction out there, but Weird Fiction is actually a literary genre — and as you might expect, it's a difficult-to-define force to be reckoned with. Weird Fiction been around in some spooky form or another for about a century, but it's experiencing an indie resurgence today, following in the footsteps of famous Weird writers like H. P. Lovecraft and Octavia Butler, with maybe a little Neil Gaiman thrown in for good measure.

Weird Fiction tales aren't quite ghost stories and they're certainly not bloody slasher fan fictions — they're more intangible than all that, and eerie in their intangibility. In his famous 1927 essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature," H. P. Lovecraft attempts to break down the genre as such:

The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present…. The one test of the really weird is simply this — whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim.

Vague and vaguely horrifying? Sounds a lot like Weird Fiction. A 2008 anthology of Weird Fiction, called The New Weird, attempted to resurrect the genre, saying,

New Weird has a visceral, in-the-moment quality that often uses elements of surreal or transgressive horror…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 a cave in Antarctica.

In short, Weird Fiction can walk among us. It floats between genres (horror, ghost, supernatural, myth), and relies heavily on what Freud termed "the uncanny" — that sense of "dread and creeping horror" that comes from something that's simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar, e.g., your childhood doll staring at you with a more-alive-than-usual look in her eyes.

Weird Fiction lived on for a long time in the cultish publication Weird Tales , which has a bizarre, Frankenstein-like history of repeated death and revival. It started in 1923, gave Tennessee Williams his first sale, and has changed (disembodied?!) hands numerous times. Famous Weird Fiction writers of the past, some of whom appeared in Weird Tales, include Robert Aickman, Algernon Blackwood, Octavia Butler, E.T.A. Hoffman, Shirley Jackson, and H.P. Lovecraft.

Today, Undertow Books is attempting to revive the genre further by starting an annual anthology called Year's Best Weird Fiction. Volume one is slated for publication in August 2014, and features previously published tales that have appeared in niche speculative magazines like Shimmer and Ideomancer. You'll find titles like "The Krakatoan" and "Shall I Whisper to You of Moonlight, of Sorrow, of Pieces of Us?" If you're a fan of the Weird aesthetic, submit your previously published freak shows to Volume 2. And if you just want a little more of that dread and creeping horror in your life, check out back issues of Weird Tales, or read E.T.A. Hoffman's classic creepster tale, "The Sandman," before you turn out the lights.