Book Club Nominees

Corkscrew Into These 6 Globetrotting New Weird Tales 

by Leviathan15, curator of HOWLS Book Club nominees for July’s “New Weird Heard Round The World” category

Back in 2003, M. John Harrison kicked off a discussion* on his online message board with the following question: “The New Weird. Who does it? What is it? Is it even anything?… Should we just call it Pick’n’Mix instead?” Authors and readers chimed in, with suggestions like:

  • “Is it a bit like science fantasy, but with more than a passing nod towards horror?…Personally, I think ‘Weird Shit’ would be a better label– I’d like to see bookshops with a Weird Shit section.”
  • *(Wouldn’t we all!)*
  • “Uncomforting fiction.”
  • “It’s a kickback against jaded heroic fantasy which has been the only staple for far too long.” 
  • “It is incredibly eclectic… but the main influence is modern culture– street culture– mixing with ancient mythologies.”
  • “The New Weird attempts to place the reader in a world they do not expect, a world that surprises them– the reader stares around and sees a vivid world through the detail.”
  • “The text is not ‘baroque’; style must be elegant even though it can be dense.”

A lot of New Weird authors you hear about when doing a brief search– Jeff VanderMeer or China Mieville, for example– are predominantly from the United States or United Kingdom. This list aims to explore a more international sampling. Here the US and UK are included, but also featured are authors from Australia, South Africa, Japan, and Sweden. Dig in!

*Source: The New Weird Discussions: The Creation of a Term from The New Weird edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer*

Cover of The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (US)

Carolyn’s not so different from the other people around her.  After all, she was a normal American herself once.  

That was a long time ago, of course. Before her parents died. Before she and the others were taken in by the man they called Father. In the years since then, Carolyn hasn’t had a chance to get out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father’s ancient customs. They’ve studied the books in his Library and learned some of the secrets of his power. And sometimes, they’ve wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.  Now, Father is missing—perhaps even dead—and the Library that holds his secrets stands unguarded. And with it, control over all of creation. (Goodreads)

The only book I’ve read on this list, Mount Char still sticks with me years later. It’s packed with action and reveals itself bit by bit, drawing the reader along. There’s nothing else quite like it.

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Etched City by KJ Bishop

The Etched City by KJ Bishop (Australia)

Gwynn and Raule are rebels on the run, with little in common except being on the losing side of a hard-fought war. Gwynn is a gunslinger from the north, a loner, a survivor . . . a killer. Raule is a wandering surgeon, a healer who still believes in just–and lost–causes. Bound by a desire to escape the ghosts of the past, together they flee to the teeming city of Ashamoil, where Raule plies her trade among the desperate and destitute, and Gwynn becomes bodyguard and assassin for the household of a corrupt magnate. There, in the saving and taking of lives, they find themselves immersed in a world where art infects life, dream and waking fuse, and splendid and frightening miracles begin to bloom . . .  (Goodreads)

Use “gunslinger” to describe a character and you have my attention. The fantasy-esque elements promise decadent worldbuilding, who can say no to that? Bishop has two stories in anthologies The Weird and The New Weird, “Saving The Gleeful Horse” and “Whose Words You Wear,” respectively.

Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall

The Border Keeper by Kerstin Hall (South Africa)

Vasethe, a man with a troubled past, comes to seek a favour from a woman who is not what she seems, and must enter the nine hundred and ninety-nine realms of Mkalis, the world of spirits, where gods and demons wage endless war. (Goodreads)

The Border Keeper spins wonders both epic—the Byzantine bureaucracy of hundreds of demon realms, impossible oceans, hidden fortresses—and devastatingly personal—a spear flung straight, the profound terror and power of motherhood. What Vasethe discovers in Mkalis threatens to bring his own secrets into light and throw both worlds into chaos.

Lately I’ve been loving NK Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy, another epic of gods and demons, so The Border Keeper seems right in the same vein. Expansive worldbuilding and intense character development, I’m all for that! (Hall has another novel, “Star Eater,” billed as queer sci-fi fantasy, and that’s for sure going on my TBR pile)

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Sisyphean by Dempow Torishima

Sisyphean by Dempow Torishima (Japan)

Even after the world and humanity itself have been rendered nearly unrecognizable by genetic engineering, a day in the office can feel… Sisyphean.

The company stands atop a tiny deck supported by huge iron columns a hundred meters high. The boss there is its president—a large creature of unstable, shifting form once called “human.” The world of his dedicated worker contains only the deck and the sea of mud surrounding it, and the worker’s daily routine is anything but peaceful. A mosaic novel of extreme science and high weirdness, Sisyphean will change the way you see existence itself.

A strange journey into the far future of genetic engineering, and working life. After centuries of tinkering, many human bodies only have a casual similarity to what we now know, but both work and school continue apace.  (Goodreads)

Weird AND corporate horror? Hell yes! This one seems timely too, what with the state of the world as it is… One reviewer described Sisyphean as “kafkaesque biopunk” so if that phrase makes you salivate, read no further. Also, this is a collection of four novellas, as opposed to one long novel, so if you like different stories within the same world, this might do it for you. 

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck

Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck (Sweden)

Enter the strange and wonderful world of Swedish sensation Karin Tidbeck with this feast of darkly fantastical stories. Whether through the falsified historical record of the uniquely weird Swedish creature known as the “Pyret” or the title story, “Jagannath,” about a biological ark in the far future, Tidbeck’s unique imagination will enthrall, amuse, and unsettle you. How else to describe a collection that includes “Cloudberry Jam,” a story that opens with the line “I made you in a tin can”? Marvels, quirky character studies, and outright surreal monstrosities await you in what is likely to be one of the most talked-about short story collections of the year. (Goodreads)

Short story fans, this one’s for you. Tidbeck’s gaining traction in the literary world and their collection looks fascinating. This is the shortest entry on the list, listed at 142 Kindle pages, so if you’re craving a light reading week, this could do it!

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

Cover of Light by M. John Harrison

Light by M. John Harrison (UK)

In contemporary London, Michael Kearney is a serial killer on the run from the entity that drives him to kill. He is seeking escape in a future that doesn’t yet exist—a quantum world that he and his physicist partner hope to access through a breach of time and space itself. In this future, Seria Mau Genlicher has already sacrificed her body to merge into the systems of her starship, the White Cat. But the “inhuman” K-ship captain has gone rogue, pirating the galaxy while playing cat and mouse with the authorities who made her what she is. In this future, Ed Chianese, a drifter and adventurer, has ridden dynaflow ships, run old alien mazes, surfed stellar envelopes. He “went deep”—and lived to tell about it. Once crazy for life, he’s now just a twink on New Venusport, addicted to the bizarre alternate realities found in the tanks—and in debt to all the wrong people. (Goodreads)

Haunting them all through this maze of menace and mystery is the shadowy presence of the Shrander—and three enigmatic clues left on the barren surface of an asteroid under an ocean of light known as the Kefahuchi Tract: a deserted spaceship, a pair of bone dice, and a human skeleton.

**Why?**: It would be remiss not to include something by Harrison, who’s credited as using “New Weird” as a term for the first time. To be completely honest, I Googled “where to start with M. John Harrison” and several people mentioned trying Light. (I was initially tempted by Viriconium, but that looked like a lot to read in one week.) Then, after reading the summary, I was hooked! Interstellar adventures and weird clues? Who could say no to that?

Bookshop* | Goodreads | Amazon

And The Winner Is…

Out of these six books, HOWLers voted to read Sisyphean by Dempow Torishima. Join HOWL Society on Monday, July 11, 2022 to begin discussion!

Lindsey Ragsdale (she/her) is a writer from Chicago, Illinois. Two of her stories appear in the anthologies Howls from Hell and Howls From The Dark Ages. She loves reading, writing, cooking, and long walks by the lake. On Twitter, find her @Leviathan15.

*The HOWLS affiliate storefront pays a 10% commission to HOWL Society and gives a matching 10% to independent bookstores

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