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Weird Fiction

What is Weird Fiction?

As humans we like to think we understand the world, but there are so many contraries and distances and illogical things. Weird Fiction embraces these unruly elements, but it doesn't seek reconciliation, nor does it seek stability.

So that sounds all well and good, but it doesn't give us much of a sense of just what Weird Fiction means -- and in some ways, for Weird Fiction, that's the point, being a part of something indefinable. However, historically, the term Weird Fiction has been used to describe works from the 1930s and later. It is a type of speculative fiction that takes elements and tropes from other genres, like the ghost story, horror, fantasy, science fiction, or the supernatural, mythical, and scientific. Weird Fiction is a blend of many things and yet does not fall into any one niche.

We must now turn to H.P. Lovecraft because no discussion about Weird Fiction is complete without some Lovecraft. He was one of the first writers to identify his work as Weird Fiction and his work has influenced many writers -- China Miéville, Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell. Lovecraft's work is a great example of the peculiar mood and atmosphere that Weird Fiction has (you'll have to immerse yourself in the world of the weird to really get a sense for this) as well as Weird Fiction's embracing of the unknown.

So what is Weird Fiction?

Simple: it's a story that is weird. And it's the type of story that has the literary types fawning over it. The non-literary types though may find weird fiction a strange, strange ride indeed.


Other Features of Weird Fiction


There are a few key features that we use to further describe and better define sub-genres here, but Weird Fiction does not follow the conventions of Fantasy or any other genre for that matter. Weird Fiction even predates the categorization of genre fiction (or at least its marketing categories). Weird Fiction exists in the spaces between. It juxtaposes the alien and the real. It reveals the unknowability of the universe. It uses and calls attention to conventions while simultaneously subverting them. It finds the space between the rational and the irrational. The narrative of Weird Fiction subverts expectations, always.

  • Level of Magic

    Variable. Magic is not a defining feature of Weird Fiction. It could very well be a part of the imaginary world, but it could also be non-existent.

  • Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications

    High. Weird Fiction frequently grapples with grand ideas and big questions. The ideas and questions are posed to illuminate the truth, or the unknowability of the truth.

  • Level of Characterization

    Moderate. Well, sort of, anyway. Characters in Weird Fiction are really interesting people, but more so because of what they have encountered, or are trying to find. In Weird Fiction characters often find themselves in an unfamiliar place or they are seeking out this unfamiliar thing. In some Weird Fiction characters are conduits for readers -- they allow the reader to perceive the unfamiliar and the unknown. Conduits the characters may be, but flat and bland they are not. Writers of Weird Fiction understand that characters need to be complex enough to elicit sympathy from readers. Sometimes Weird Fiction can be so out there that readers need a good solid character to ground them -- but just a little bit.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    Variable. Plot may not be important at all in a Weird Fiction story, but in other stories plots are well developed. Lovecraft has even written that action is not important to Weird Fiction, rather the emphasis should be on atmosphere -- but something still must occur in the story, so plot is not absent.

Related Fantasy Subgenres

  • Literary Fantasy. Literary Fantasy and Weird Fiction both probe for meaning and have narratives with a great deal of depthWeird West Fantasy.

  • Weird fiction in a western setting. Weird West is a specific example of how Weird Fiction uses but doesn't quite belong to other genres and sub-genres.

  • New Weird/Slipstream Fantasy. The newest generation of Weird Fiction writers are usually grouped together in the New Weird sub-genre.

  • Fantastique. This primarily French sub-genre is similarly genre bending. It also plays with the supernatural and the division between the real and the unreal.

Weird Fiction isn't for you if...

If you like stories that adhere to convention. If you like stories with resolution and all the questions answered.

Popular Weird Fiction Books

  • Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria. This is a character driven story that is also part ghost story taking places in a world that is similar to, but definitely not, our own. It raises compelling questions and doesn't always answer them.
  • William Hope Hodgson, The Night Land. One of the first Weird Fiction writers, Hodgson creates a quest story written in an almost biblical style. This is a strange story that's a bit pulpy with a bit of horror and a bit Sci Fi.
  • Samuel R. Delany, The Einstein Intersection. This book plays with reader expectations and blends the ancient and the futuristic.
  • Lenora Carrington, The Hearing Trumpet. An elderly woman is sent off to a home, where she discovers strange things -- from the mystical to the apocalyptic and increasingly irrational.
  • David Ohle, Motorman. This story uses, plays with, and undermines tropes of classic narratives. The author describes the world as "a gnarly place where anything can happen."
  • Jeff VanderMeer, Southern Reach. A trilogy that uses elements of Sci Fi, thriller, horror, and even a bit of Lovecraftian terror. 
  • Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis. Kafka is known for his affecting use of language and characters who strive forward even when faced with hopelessness. His setting is a blend of reality and fantasy.
  • Stephan Grabinski, The Dark Domain. This Polish writer creates a work that is the antithesis of fantasy. This a literary book that explores the extremes of human behavior.
  • H.P. Lovecraft, Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraft is the author most will point to when trying to describe Weird fiction. The mythology he developed in these tales are a gateway to an ancient universe of otherworldly terror.
  • Kelly Link, Stranger Things Happen. A short story collection that weaves myth and fairy tale with contemporary life so as to blur the lines between the mundane and the fantastic.