May 06 2010

Weird Fiction in an Even Weirder World

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It’s no secret that I love weird fiction. Bookish scholars confronting tentacled horrors? Love it. Lighthouse keepers mysteriously devoured by indescribable things that floated down from the moon? All over it. A prehistoric exile from Atlantis turned king, only to discover that his court is infiltrated by a shadow-government of serpent-men masquerading as humans? Awesome.

Weird fiction had its heyday in the late 1800’s and early third-to-half of the 20th century, and this is no coincidence — science and technology were making huge leapfrogging advances and the world was rapidly turning from one of slow tradition to fast-moving change, and the appeal of weird fiction was largely in the ironic comfort it gave people. In order for something to be “weird,” there must by definition be a “normal” to contrast it to.

But fast-forward to now, and weird fiction starts to get a lot harder to recognize. According to contemporary science, we live in a universe that is built out of infinitesimally-tiny vibrating strings, of which something like 90% of the mass and energy that we know must be there for the math to add up is undetectable and as such currently incomprehensible, and Pluto isn’t even a planet. Oh, and don’t forget all the interesting stuff about mapping genomes, tracing your ancestry via DNA, and guys in labs breeding custom oil-burping bacteria by mixing the right quantities of organic soup. We live in a world where the average issue of Discover magazine would reduce somebody like H.P. Lovecraft to a gibbering wreck. So where does weird fiction fit in, assuming it even does at all?

I don’t have a good answer to this; what was yesterday unprintably-shocking horror has become the cuddly geek toy of today. Humans are amazingly adaptable creatures, and the ever-accelerating technological and sociological changes that gave people fits a century ago, are what everybody reading this page has grown up with as a matter of course. I’m a lot more frightened of the average person swerving around on the highway than I am of half-glimpsed flapping shapes in the moonlight.

-The Gneech

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