Literature of the Strange
November 14, 2015 6:02 PM   Subscribe

I am pleased to see my friend Nick Harkaway on one of these lists! Also, damn straight Kelly Link should be on here too. Her work is just insanely good. She is like magic.
posted by Kitteh at 6:05 PM on November 14, 2015 [10 favorites]

These are damn good lists! I've read and mostly lived about 2/3 of these books, which is a massive endorsement for the remaining 1/3!

posted by anotherpanacea at 6:14 PM on November 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Lots of intriguing books to look up here. The Universal Baseball Association, Inc. sounds right up my alley.

I read Gun, with Occasional Music some years ago. It really does pull off the "sci-fi noir detective novel" style, without seeming like a pastiche of either. What immediately caught my attention was the talking kangaroo with a gun, but there's plenty else distinctive to it—for one thing, asking questions is rude at best and can be illegal, and detectives need a license (and a good government Karma rating) to ask any. I thought the ending was depressing and sad, but that's not a critique, just a warning.
posted by Rangi at 6:17 PM on November 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

I see Kelly Link is covered, so I put down my pitchfork. Also, Robert Aickman is brilliant, timeless.
posted by echocollate at 6:29 PM on November 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

So a LONG time ago in my twenties I made a similar list. Somehow it's still online!

My favorites from the linked lists in the OP:
-Stranger Things Happen (how embarrassing that twentysomething me didn't have any women writers on that list! But I think my favorite was always Le Guin and she doesn't really fit.)

-Dhalgren (Delany is probably the most mind-expanding author I've read since then)

-Flesh & Gold by Phyllis Gottlieb (Gottlieb is really fucking good! Also try O Master Caliban! which has a terrible, terrible cover but is great)

And one that I didn't see on these lists: Cordwainer Smith. SF stories, but the weirdest fucking SF stories. Love them.
posted by selfnoise at 6:29 PM on November 14, 2015 [7 favorites]

Excuse me who doesn't have at least one shelf of obscure hasidic science fiction?
posted by sammyo at 6:31 PM on November 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

All of my most favourite books are in the list in the first link. Wow. Seriously half of that list could be called "Books I buy multiple copies of to give away to people".
posted by annathea at 6:32 PM on November 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

Cordwainer Smith! Some of his short stories are available online; I particularly liked "Scanners Live in Vain."
posted by Rangi at 6:34 PM on November 14, 2015 [11 favorites]

Guys I have stuff to do I can't re-read Stranger Things Happen for the 50th time tonight while I snack on chocolate chips and drink lots of tea.

Okay, you talked me into it.
posted by annathea at 6:37 PM on November 14, 2015 [9 favorites]

I like to call my favorite genre (not that I think I invented it, just what I like to call it) - "unusual fiction." While it can be sci-fi or fantasy flavored, it doesn't have to be. Often I dig them because they excel at taking a premise that has just enough weirdness it in where the weirdness makes it way more interesting than it would have been if it had just been in a 100% normal universe.

I like Lethem a bunch, because he does this (although my other fave of his is another that was not as popular as his bigger books -
As She Climbed Across the Table

Some others on my bookshelf -
The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break - Steven Sherrill
Lexicon - Max Barry
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom - Cory Doctorow
posted by bitterkitten at 6:46 PM on November 14, 2015 [7 favorites]

So if you really dig Kelly Link might I recommend the short stories of:
Gene Wolfe (Ok, you've probably already read him)
Eileen Gunn
Michael Swanwick
Avram Davidson

I'm sure there are more, but these authors scratch the same itch for me as Link's stories (which is good for when you run out).
posted by selfnoise at 6:48 PM on November 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

Spoiler alert: all 60 are Kelly Link books
posted by nathancaswell at 6:48 PM on November 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

16. The Compleat Enchanter

YES. I was trying to remember the name of this series recently. Haven't read it since high school but it was gorgeous.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:54 PM on November 14, 2015

Guys I have stuff to do I can't re-read Stranger Things Happen for the 50th time tonight

Just read Survivor's Ball, or The Donner Party and call it a night.
posted by echocollate at 6:55 PM on November 14, 2015

This is a great roundup of roundups and I am all kinds of excited that there are so many books I haven't read yet!

Miéville & Lethem & VanderMeer have done such huge work in furthering weird fiction--not just in writing weird (and excellent) books but as editors & as champions of their own strange nontentacled forebears. Lethem says Go read Coover! or Miéville says Go read Harrison!, and I do, and then it's like a whole new set of rooms opens on the side of my brain, an entire wing of the house that was built before I learned to read but was never lived in, these beautiful furnished empty rooms I had no idea were there.
posted by miles per flower at 6:58 PM on November 14, 2015 [12 favorites]

and then it's like a whole new set of rooms opens on the side of my brain, an entire wing of the house that was built before I learned to read but was never lived in, these beautiful furnished empty rooms I had no idea were there.

well put!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:11 PM on November 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you’ve ever wondered what the gene-splicing of William Faulkner and Ursula K. Le Guin would produce, check out The Wilds.

What is this wizardry and how I have never heard of it before?
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:37 PM on November 14, 2015

Looks like I'm going to have to get me some Kelly Link.
posted by cleroy at 7:39 PM on November 14, 2015

Also from these lists I've learned that I have read a lot of weird books.
posted by tofu_crouton at 7:45 PM on November 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

*prints list in first link, checks what time the local used book store opens on Sunday*
posted by mannequito at 8:00 PM on November 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

One of my favorite bits on metafilter is discovering new things to read. And weird (in all kinds of ways) is so much fun for me. I love Mieville, Vandermeer ("City of Saints and Madmen"!), Delaney, even "Une Semaine de Bonte".

Always fun to find new things to read that I'd not encountered before.
posted by Death and Gravity at 8:04 PM on November 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Weird is a strange word. I've been using it but not in the sense that any of the list authors here use it – except maybe for the VanderMeers, who put out an anthology with every author you could conceivably think of as "weird." More to describe a vibe out of Lovecraft but not about tentacles, that is more "Colour Out of Space" than "Call of Cthulhu," and also to my state's semi-annual magazine of strangeness, Weird NJ. And plenty of Weird Tales. And a huge whack of stuff that might be covered by the word Ken Hite uses, "eliptony," that encompasses all kinds of occult, paranoid and fringe beliefs.

Some of this stuff is in that corner, other stuff is in a different corner that's harder to define. Weird and strange and trippy all have overlap but they go in different directions. All the lists lack stuff like Illuminatus! that would seem like an obvious fit. It is good that some of the Alice oeuvre is there, since that's fundamentally about weirdness.

But yeah, Cordwainer Smith definitely fits in this vibe area somewhere. On the "uplifted psionic cats" corner, probably, although that's being flip about a really excellent author (and dodgy human being, given his work in psychological warfare). His writing is pretty intoxicating in a genre that rarely bothers to be beautiful.
posted by graymouser at 8:10 PM on November 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

Robert Aikman?
posted by carping demon at 8:29 PM on November 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Great post, jcifa! Everybody loves Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle and I do too, but now that Hangsaman is FINALLY back in print you have no excuse not to read it (very possibly the weirdest book in a weird weird canon) and come back here and discuss it with me.
posted by thetortoise at 9:27 PM on November 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, she's not genre by any classification but maybe I missed where Jane Bowles was mentioned? If not, JANE BOWLES
posted by thetortoise at 9:32 PM on November 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

These are damn good lists! I've read and mostly lived about 2/3 of these books, which is a massive endorsement for the remaining 1/3!

And I've read very few of these, which is also probably a massive endorsement for the list quality.

(Also, please tell me that saying you lived 2/3rds of the books is *not* a typo. That would be awesome.)
posted by mark k at 10:04 PM on November 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

Vance certainly has a strain of the weird, usually used as a garnish -- I am thinking of the Minie of the Waels of Wellas in Maske Thaery, appearing in Jubal Droad's air car or, later, when Ramus Ymph is turned into a tree.

And Dick is riddled with the uncanny, like when the discredited, exposed fraud and false prophet Wilbur Mercer* walks out of a wall before J.R. Isidore and Rick Deckard and restores to life the spider off which Roy Batty pulled all the legs.

*On a side note,.I hope to live to see someone truly make a movie out of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. I mean, one with Buster Friendly, a deserted world, Mercer and Mercer boxes and the whole schmear.
posted by y2karl at 10:07 PM on November 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

Yeah, these lists are pretty great! Like anotherpanacea, I've read about 2/3 of what's on them, and I'm *really* looking forward to checking out some of the remaining third.

Here are a couple of other books that I think would appeal to lovers of this sort of literature:

Gabrielle Burton's Heartbreak Hotel: A chaotic, delightful book about an enormous, imaginary museum of womanhood (The Museum of the Revolution) and the people who staff it.

Unica Zurn's Man of Jasmine: An exceptionally clear-eyed personal account of an artist's descent into phantasm, obsession, and mental dissolution. (Hugely compelling in her own right as both a visual artist and an author, Zurn was also the long-time romantic partner of Hans Bellmer.)
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:42 PM on November 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Wow, I do not need more books on my read-these-someday list right now. Yet somehow here they go adding themselves. Darn you to heck!

I've read a few of them, and can recommend all I have to some degree or another. I'll particularly call out “Labyrinths” as my introduction to the writings of Borges. And I'll agree Cordwainer Smith should be in this neighborhood with writing unlike anything else I've read.

Gödel, Escher, Bach is a funny one. People have such a difficult time classifying it but for me, with a broad interest in general science and a more recent specialization in computer science, I see it as the fullest expression of "why CS?" for general audiences. Computer science has a sort of ad-hoc origin and outsiders can be forgiven for thinking it's about actual computers—and to be fair, it isn't not about them, either. But the gestalt of what it's about is an odd, and I think very new, way of thinking about everything: by necessity people more or less took the map of "All Domains of Human Thought" and drew a straight line from Electromechanical Switches to Semiotics, passing through some unlikely neighborhoods along the way. Hofstadter's GEB is like a tour along that line, showing the interconnections between its stops to people who probably hadn't traveled that route in their heads before. No wonder people have a hard time figuring out the overall direction.
posted by traveler_ at 11:19 PM on November 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Just noticed the mention of Caitlin R. Kiernan in the VanderMeer link. Oh, The Drowning Girl, how I love that book. I can't find the right words for this, but there are some fringey mental experiences that can only be fully expressed in weird fiction.
posted by thetortoise at 2:38 AM on November 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Cait Kiernan is a powerhouse of weird fiction, and despite her becoming more unpleasantly opinionated these days (she hates trigger warnings, the outcry for diversity in fiction, etc), her body of work remains formidable.
posted by Kitteh at 6:16 AM on November 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Quite surprised by the fairly trad/mainstream/well-known books popping up in Mieville's list. I might just be sore because he wrote an introduction for a re-release of one of the amazing Weird Fantasy author Hugh Cook's novels a few years back and I was so sure he'd be on the list.

Great selection of lists though, definitely a few novels that I know and a few that appeal.
posted by comealongpole at 6:51 AM on November 15, 2015

Once again, I feel illiterate.

But there is one ultra-weird book that is oddly absent from these lists, a book I was alerted to by Bookslut.

Lanark, by Glasgow author and artist Alasdair Gray. It's quite a trip.
posted by kozad at 8:12 AM on November 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

oh my god, thank you for this (these)!!!!

i've been reading mostly SF for the last four years or so. trying to get through landmark works and Golden Age classics. i'm almost done with a re-reading of most of Ursula K. LeGuin, as well as finally reading all of Phillip K Dick and an omnibus edition of what i think will be the last of the JG Ballard stories i hadn't gotten to yet, and was wondering what i could read next. i was planning to read non-fiction for a while: NY State geology, Clovis Culture, Ohioan River valley mound builders, the Great Basin geology and cultures, but this is a really, really great diversion from that diversion.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 8:27 AM on November 15, 2015

Suspect most people interested will have already seen it, but can't hurt to drop Bruce Sterling's classic Slipstream list in. Doris Lessing is always good.

FWIW The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break is a decent read which flows naturally to its eponymistic climax, although it's maybe more magicaI realism? I dunno. Also, I do keep meaning to read We Have Always Lived In The Castle not least on the power of its name.
posted by comealongpole at 10:12 AM on November 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you want to define "weird fiction" by its opposite - I'd say, look at Lois McMaster Bujold, who manages to take some oddball ideas (werewolf soldier chick?? actual evil twin? an all-men planet?) and make them entirely sensical and well-grounded.

And authors like Cory Doctorow and Neil Gaiman can take quotidian, salt-of-the-earth premises, and make them mysterious and symbolic.

.... and then Ursula K Le Guin does something entirely different which I'm not sure how to describe.
Anyway, I was going to recommend her book "Left Hand of Darkness". It seems to be in a similar vein.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 10:35 AM on November 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Kitteh, I really enjoyed Harkaway's "Gone Away World". It's definitely weird, but my initial scepticism was quickly swept away by the story.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 11:40 AM on November 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Add to the list:

Thomas the Obscure by Maurice Blanchot
Songs of a Dead Dreamer by Thomas Ligotti
Ant Colony by Michael DeForge
posted by panoptican at 12:33 PM on November 15, 2015

These titles look interesting too. Unfortunately, many of them look like they'd look much more intriguing while sitting on the bookshelf than be actually interesting to read.
posted by wwwwolf at 1:42 PM on November 15, 2015

I wonder where A Humument fits on the weird scale.
posted by chavenet at 1:54 PM on November 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have nothing, nothing at all against Ubik, but shouldn't Valis really be the Dickian choice here? I mean, it's a novel that gives up on even being a novel about halfway through.
posted by rokusan at 5:08 PM on November 15, 2015

Nay, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch...
posted by y2karl at 5:42 PM on November 15, 2015

I think VALIS is the winner as far as PKD goes. Ubik is a fine work but its uncertainty about what's happening has been co-opted enough that it feels quite dated, whereas VALIS still manages to hit me on page 3:

“I am Horselover Fat, and I am writing this in the third person to gain much-needed objectivity."
posted by solarion at 6:12 PM on November 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Kitteh, I really enjoyed Harkaway's "Gone Away World".

If you liked that, you may like Steven Hall's The Raw Shark Texts too, which has a similar vibe to it
posted by MartinWisse at 12:12 AM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

please tell me that saying you lived 2/3rds of the books is *not* a typo.

"Lived" was a typo at least in this sense: it's probably always wrong to say that one has experienced Butler, Dick, Russ, Calvino, Delany, Bolano, or Jackson in the past tense alone. The best one can say is that you have put the books down for a time and are living other lives. And there are often side effects, flashbacks, bleed-throughs.

For instance, Delany's Trouble on Triton includes a set of characters who run a micro-theater troupe and before that lived together in a communal house working on modular calculus. I often find myself reliving (writing mental fan fiction about) the conversations these logicians-cum-performers had over dinner or in drunken revelry: and I haven't picked up Triton for sixteen or seventeen years.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:14 AM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

The reference to "slipstream" above and another pass through these awesome lists remind me of something I've learned from weird fiction: I didn't think I liked horror but it turns out I do. Creeping dread, feelings of being unsettled, the ineffability of the Other (alien / monster / criminal / void / etc.)... all that! Sometimes this eeriness gets mixed with hard SF (some Stanislaw Lem & Peter Watts), and I like those better than other hard SF. Sometimes it gets mixed up with tropes from fairy tales (The Bloody Chamber, Alice in Wonderland, lots of Neil Gaiman) or fantasy (The Iron Dragon's Daughter, Viriconium) or even jangly '60s pop (Robyn Hitchcock!) & I like those too. This is somewhat an issue of marketing, I guess -- finding and digging so much eeriness in books not marketed as horror has helped me understand horror much more broadly.
posted by miles per flower at 9:42 AM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also: Because I see I'm not alone in thinking this thread is going to be a goldmine of future reading recommendations, a few more links & titles I didn't notice up above:

- China Miéville's list of 50 SF/F books every Socialist should read

- For very different literary terms covering a lot of the same (weird) ground, the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction's entries on Equipoise and Fantastika (with a good list of authors at the bottom of the first)

- And because Ortberg: Text Messages from a Ghost!
posted by miles per flower at 9:49 AM on November 16, 2015

Fuck man.... Maze by Christopher Manson.

I had forgotten all about that book. Jesus. I'm sitting here feeling seriously traumatized, ok you know what I mean, about it because I had forgotten all about the copy that was in one of the classrooms of my youth and how amazing it was and how terrible and awful it was to discover that some of the pages were missing after becoming engrossed in it.

God. I wonder if the local library system has a copy........ *runs off to look*

Oh and I was sad, but not upset or surprised because *lists*, to not see The Carpet Makers on any of these lists because it is one of the best and least talked about sci-fi books I've ever read.

Also, fuck the Gormenghast books. They are terrible and should feel terrible.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:18 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Until I read your comment, anotherpanacea, I did not know Delany had added Trouble on to the title of Triton nor appended the subtitle An Ambiguous Heterotopia thereon nor that the book was written in answer to Le Guin's The Dispossessed.

But, as to the last, it was pretty obvious at the time that he had that book in mind when he wrote it.

Triton often comes to mind for me, too.
posted by y2karl at 10:06 AM on November 18, 2015

It WASN'T a response, actually: Dispossessed came out while he was finishing it up. Just parallel thoughts from geniuses thinking through the Zeitgeist. He liked Dispossessed so much that he renamed it to make the parallel obvious.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:35 AM on November 18, 2015

I must have misread the interview.
posted by y2karl at 1:19 PM on November 18, 2015

Oh, wait, he hadn't read The Dispossessed before he wrote the first draft of Triton, or the second: he fudges a bit -- My added subtitle was to clearly put the two novels into a dialogue I already felt was implied. This is from the Depauw interview from 1990, which I would link, were I on a pc rather than a phone.
posted by y2karl at 1:36 PM on November 18, 2015

  Also, fuck the Gormenghast books. They are terrible and should feel terrible.

Well, I'm sure you'd write something better when suffering from post-Belsen PTSD and showing symptoms of early-onset LBD.
posted by scruss at 7:38 PM on November 19, 2015

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