When I released The Other Room I called it a collection of 'weird fiction' rather than horror stories. Weird fiction is a term that was first used with reference to fiction by the likes of Lovecraft and Machen, and has been used intermittently by writers ever since. It's a term which seems to have come into vogue again, especially with the publication of The Weird, a vast (and I do mean vast) new anthology which you do need to get. You do.
In a similar vein, Robert Aickman called his fiction 'strange stories' meaning much the same thing, I think - horror fiction that wasn't quite horror, ghost stories that didn't necessarily feature ghosts - weird, odd, strange, ghostly, uncanny fiction.
In this weekly feature I plan to talk about some of my favourite 'strange stories' (I also plan to open up the slot for some guest posts). Each post will be about a single story, whether short story, novella, or novel length (although a lot of the best of this kind of fiction has been done in the short story form).
But what distinguishes strange stories, or weird fiction, from normal tales of horror?
Well, for certain it's a sprawling and largely undefined tradition of writing, but one I feel very much a part of. I don't think it has rigid boundaries or borders; some authors write almost nothing but 'strange stories' and some more traditional horror or literary writers occasionally wander into its strange territory, and report back on what they find.
One of the key things that distinguishes this kind of writing, for me, is ambiguity (a topic I recently touched upon in a guest post on the Greyhart Press site). Maybe it's perverse to try and define 'ambiguity' to any great degree, but the kind of things I mean are:
- Ambiguity of perception - how much of the story is real (in the context of the story) and how much is a product of the central character's distorted, confused perception?
- Ambiguity of events - how certain can the reader be exactly what has happened?
- Ambiguity of significance - how certain can the reader be of what the things that have happened mean? Both to the characters themselves, and symbolically?
- Ambiguity of omission - do important details or emotional responses seem lacking from the story, stopping the reader make full sense of it?
- Ambiguity of reality - does the story imply in some way that we can't trust our senses, and reality may be slightly or completely different to how we perceive it?
I'm sure there's more, and I'm sure I'll feature stories that don't seem to meet the above criteria, but the literary weirdness or strangeness I'm after is more a feeling than anything. I'll certainly aim to feature stories by writers such as Julio Cortazar, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, T.E.D. Klein, and Algernon Blackwood. But first...
Next Week: Strange Stories #1. What Water Reveals by Adam Golaski
Coming soon...! Volume Two of Penny Dreadnought.