Book List: New Weird

Let's Get Weird

New Weird fiction is a subgenre of both science-fiction and fantasy, written by authors who are constantly pushing boundaries and turning those genres on their heads.

Perhaps the well-known author of New Weird is Jeff VanderMeer, author of The Southern Reach Trilogy, which includes Annihilation*. He describes it as:

A type of urban, secondary-world fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping off point for creation of settings that may combine elements of both science fiction and fantasy.

Think unsettling. Think maddening. Think hard-to-describe. These books are easier read than explained, and the list below is a a great way to get started in the genre.

*Annihilation was adapted into a critically acclaimed film starring Natalie Portman.

The Vorrh

'The Vorrh,' by B. Caitling

Next to the colonial town of Essenwald sits the Vorrh, a vast—perhaps endless—forest. It is a place of demons and angels, of warriors and priests. Sentient and magical, the Vorrh bends time and wipes  memory. Legend has it that the Garden of Eden still exists at its heart. Now, a renegade English soldier aims to be the first human to traverse its expanse. Armed with only a strange bow, he begins his journey, but some fear the consequences of his mission, and a native marksman has been chosen to stop him. Around them swirl a remarkable cast of characters, including a Cyclops raised by robots and a young girl with tragic curiosity, as well as historical figures, such as writer Raymond Roussel and photographer and Edward Muybridge.  While fact and fictional blend, and the hunter will become the hunted, and everyone’s fate hangs in the balance, under the will of the Vorrh.

The Familiar Vol. 1 One Rainy Day in May

'The Familiar Vol. 1: One Rainy Day in May,' by Mark Danielewski

The Familiar ranges from Mexico to Southeast Asia, from Venice, Italy, to Venice, California, with nine lives hanging in the balance. They include a therapist-in-training grappling with daughters as demanding as her patients; an ambitious East L.A. gang member contracted for violence; two scientists in Marfa, Texas, on the run from an organization powerful beyond imagining; plus a recovering addict in Singapore summoned at midnight by a desperate billionaire; and a programmer near Silicon Beach whose game engine might unleash consequences far exceeding the entertainment he intends.

At the very heart, though, is a twelve-year-old girl named Xanther who one rainy day in May sets out with her father to get a dog, only to end up trying to save a creature as fragile as it is dangerous, which will change not only her life and the lives of those she has yet to encounter, but this world, too… or at least the world we think we know and the future we take for granted.

Escaping Exodus

'Escaping Exodus,' by Nicky Drayden

Earth is a distant memory. Habitable extrasolar planets are still out of reach. For generations, humanity has been clinging to survival by establishing colonies within enormous vacuum-breathing space beasts and mining their resources to the point of depletion.

Rash, dreamy, and unconventional, Seske Kaleigh should be preparing for her future role as clan leader, but her people have just culled their latest beast, and she's eager to find the cause of the violent tremors plaguing their new home. Defying social barriers, Seske teams up with her best friend, a beast worker. They discover grim truths about the price of life in the void. Then Seske is suddenly thrust into the role of clan matriarch

Seske may not be a born leader like her sister, yet her unorthodox outlook and incorruptible idealism may be what the clan needs to save themselves and their world.

Welcome to Night Vale

'Welcome to Night Vale,' by Joseph Fink

Based on the international hit podcast!

Located in a nameless desert somewhere in the great American Southwest, Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are all commonplace parts of everyday life.

Here, nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked "KING CITY" by a mysterious man in a tan jacket holding a deer skin suitcase. Jackie can't seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and that no one who meets this man can remember anything about him.

Lately Diane Crayton, Night Vale PTA treasurer, has started to see her son Josh’s father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years ago. Meanwhile, Josh, a moody teen shapeshifter, is showing a strong interest in his estranged father.

Diane's search to reconnect with her son and Jackie's search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: "KING CITY".

Lakewood

'Lakewood,' by Megan Giddings

When Lena Johnson's grandmother dies, and the full extent of the family debt is revealed, the black millennial drops out of college to support her family and takes a job in the mysterious and remote town of Lakewood, Michigan.

On paper, her new job is too good to be true. High paying. No out of pocket medical expenses. A free place to live. All Lena has to do is participate in a secret program--and lie to her friends and family about the research being done in Lakewood. An eye drop that makes brown eyes blue, a medication that could be a cure for dementia, golden pills promised to make all bad thoughts go away. The discoveries made in Lakewood, Lena is told, will change the world, but the consequences for the subjects involved could be devastating.

Provocative and thrilling, Lakewood is a breathtaking novel that takes an unflinching look at the moral dilemmas many working-class families face, and the horror that has been forced on black bodies in the name of science.

The Border Keeper

'The Border Keeper,' by Kerstin Hall

She lived where the railway tracks met the saltpan, on the Ahri side of the shadowline. In the old days, when people still talked about her, she was known as the end-of-the-line woman.

Vasethe, a man with a troubled past, comes to seek a favor 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.

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.

The Library at Mount Char

'The Library at Mount Char,' by Scott Hawkins

Carolyn's not so different from the other humans around her. She was once a normal person, after all. That was a long time ago, before she and a dozen other children found themselves being raised by a man they learned to call Father.

Father could do strange things. Sometimes he even raised the dead. And when he was disobeyed, the consequences were terrible.

Since their “adoption,” Carolyn and her siblings have studied the books in Father’s library. As they’ve learned more, they've wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.

Now, Father is missing. And if God truly is dead, the only thing that matters is who will inherit his library… and with it, power over all of creation

As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her.

Carolyn can win, but what she doesn't realize is that her victory may come at an unacceptable price. In becoming a God, she's forgotten a great deal about being human.

The Hike

'The Hike,' by Drew Magary

When Ben, a suburban family man, takes a business trip to rural Pennsylvania, he decides to spend the afternoon before his dinner meeting on a short hike. Once he sets out into the woods behind his hotel, he quickly comes to realize that the path he has chosen cannot be given up easily. With no choice but to move forward, Ben finds himself falling deeper and deeper into a world of man-eating giants, bizarre demons, and colossal insects.

On a quest of epic, life-or-death proportions, Ben finds help comes in some of the most unexpected forms, including a profane crustacean and a variety of magical objects, tools, and potions. Desperate to return to his family, Ben is determined to track down the “Producer,” the creator of the world in which he is being held hostage and the only one who can free him from the path.

The Scar

'The Scar,' by China Mieville

Aboard a vast seafaring vessel, a band of prisoners and slaves, their bodies remade into grotesque biological oddities, is being transported to the fledgling colony of New Crobuzon. They are joined by a handful of travelers, including Bellis Coldwine. Coldwine is renowned linguist whose services as an interpreter grant her passage and escape from horrific punishment.

For Bellis, the plan is clear: live among the new frontiersmen of the colony until it is safe to return home. But the ship is besieged by pirates, and survivors are brought to Armada, a city constructed from the hulls of pirated ships, a floating, landless mass, where they are forced to serve.

Lonely and embittered in her captivity, Bellis knows that to show dissent is a death sentence. Instead, she must furtively seek information about Armada's agenda. The answer lies in the dark, amorphous shapes that float undetected miles below the waters--terrifying entities with a singular, chilling mission.

The Bone Clocks

'The Bone Clocks,' by David Mitchell

Following a terrible fight with her mother over her boyfriend, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her family and her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: A sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as "the radio people," Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life.

For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics--and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly's life, affecting all the people Holly loves--even the ones who are not yet born.

Kafka on the Shore

'Kafka on the Shore,' by Haruki Murakami

A tour de force of metaphysical reality, Kafka on the Shore is powered by two remarkable characters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom.

Their odyssey is enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerizing events. Cats and people carry on conversations, a ghostlike pimp employs a Hegel-quoting prostitute, a forest harbors soldiers apparently unaged since World War II, and rainstorms of fish (and worse) fall from the sky. There is a brutal murder, with the identity of both victim and perpetrator a riddle–yet this, along with everything else, is eventually answered, just as the entwined destinies of Kafka and Nakata are gradually revealed.

The Rending and the Nest

'The Rending and the Nest,' by Kaethe Schwehn

When 95 percent of the earth's population disappears for no apparent reason, Mira does what she can to create some semblance of a life: She cobbles together a haphazard community named Zion, scavenges the Piles for supplies they might need, and avoids loving anyone she can't afford to lose. She has everything under control. Almost.

Four years after the Rending, Mira's best friend, Lana, announces her pregnancy, the first since everything changed and a new source of hope for Mira. But when Lana gives birth to an inanimate object--and other women of Zion follow suit--the thin veil of normalcy Mira has thrown over her new life begins to fray. As the Zionites wrestle with the presence of these Babies, a confident outsider named Michael appears, proselytizing about the world beyond Zion. He lures Lana away and when she doesn't return, Mira must decide how much she's willing to let go in order to save her friend, her home, and her own fraught pregnancy.

The New Weird

'The New Weird,' edited by Ann VanderMeer

Descend into shadowy cities, grotesque rituals, chaotic festivals, and deadly cults. Plunge into terrifying domains, where bodies are remade into surreal monstrosities, where the desperate rage against brutal tyrants. Where everything is lethal and no one is innocent, where Peake began and Lovecraft left off--this is where you will find the New Weird.

Edgy, urban fiction with a visceral immediacy, the New Weird has descended from classic fantasy and dime-store pulp novels, from horror and detective comics, from thrillers and noir. All grown-up, it emerges from the chrysalis of nostalgia as newly literate, shocking, and utterly innovative.

Here is the very best of the New Weird from some of its greatest practitioners. This canonic anthology collects the original online debates first defining the New Weird and critical writings from international editors, culminating in a ground-breaking round-robin piece, "Festival Lives," which features some of the best names in New Weird fiction.

Annihilation

'Annihilation,' by Jeff VanderMeer

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide; the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer.

The twelfth expedition is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one another, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.
They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers―they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding―but it's the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.

Bourne

'Borne,' by Jeff VanderMeer

Rachel is a scavenger in a ruined city half destroyed by drought and conflict. The city is dangerous, littered with discarded experiments from the Company, a biotech firm now derelict, and punished by the unpredictable predations of a giant bear.

One day, Rachel finds Borne during a scavenging mission. Borne is little more than a green lump, but exudes a strange charisma. Against her instincts, and definitely against her partner Wick's wishes, Rachel keeps Borne. Borne, learning to speak, learning about the world, is fun to be with, and in a world so broken that innocence is a precious thing.

But as Borne grows, he begins to threaten the balance of power in the city and to put the security of her sanctuary with Wick at risk. The Company, it seems, may not be truly dead, and new enemies are creeping in. What Borne will lay bare to Rachel as he changes is how precarious her existence has been. In the aftermath, nothing may ever be the same.

Published on April 01, 2021
Last Modified April 10, 2021