Bizarre Fiction: Let’s Get Weird
by J.P. Flarity
Up here in the Pacific Northwest we are zen gardeners of the strange, encouraging our population, like little sapling bonsai trees, to grow ironic tattoos, shave in edgy haircuts, and cultivate a fashion sense that’s somewhere between garage sale hobo and last week’s hipster. The television program Portlandia often hits a little too close to home for some of these folks, and I’ve even heard the term “racist” used to describe the show, as if the lampooning goes too far!
Are we going to see a “weird” rights movement course its way across the Unites States?
How do we draw the line between “normal” and “weird” anyways? And when does fiction, in particular, go way beyond what we can handle and get super-fuckin’ weird? As writers, I feel like we lean towards more “out there” types of media than the majority of the population–its a sort of tolerance, if you will. So what lays at the end of the wacked-out rainbow?
Personally, I enjoy almost everything that get me out there into the unknown dimensions, but even I have my limits. Mohs Scale of hardness worked so well for rocks and science fiction (warning, TV tropes link), I’ve decided to translate it for weirdness here. Note: I had to limit the examples to literature in order to keep this blog post from becoming too long.
Mohs Scale of Fiction Weirdness
Extremely popular works of mainstream fiction, such as Harry Potter, or The Hunger Games would fit into this category, as well as most of the books that grace the NY Times bestseller list. “Hey, but there are some pretty weird books on that list, right?”
A koan for you, my student of the abnormal:
Can something still be weird when it is practiced by the majority of the population? Ehh? What do think of that ironic tattoo, now?!
One standard deviation away, books by literary giants like Stephen King might be considered a little unusual (okay, The Stand would not fit in this category, though The Shining would), but we have just started down the rabbit hole, my Alice. Also, literature in the well-loved alternate universes, like Star Wars/Trek, Game of Thrones, or Dr. Who would fit here
Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, and Alice In Wonderland are some classics in the category of “weird fiction.” Modern authors like Philip K. Dick and Vonnegut have graced us with The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (one of my personal favorites) and Slaughterhouse Five, yet there are so many other weird books and stories could be listed here, unfortunately, I don’t have room for them all. Please add any of your favorites to the comments below!
- Too Weird
I would classify many of China Meiville’s works here, as well as about half of the stories out there that self-identify as being “slipstream.” For me, there is a threshold that is crossed between levels 3 & 4, where a piece of fiction has a high chance of turning down a dark path. Instead of being strange in its own right, like modern “pop” art, it becomes a twisted caricature of itself.
To quote Moe from The Simpsons, works in this category start being “weird for the sake of weird.” This is also where the “cult” phenomenon starts gaining steam, and where my own interest starts to wane.
This is the penultimate of weirdness, the kind of things that make me want to douse my eyeballs in bleach after reading them. Physically, I can’t read them, as I find my vision blurring as I scan the pages. If you’re brave (and over 18), check out the independent publisher Eraserhead Press for examples.
I cap out at the 3.5 range or so on the Mohs weirdness scale, as I find many of Meiville’s books frustrating reads, and bizarro fiction makes me plain uncomfortable.
Where do you find yourself ranking?
Enjoy the weirdness out there, wherever you might find yourself on the scale!
J.P. Flarity was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, acquiring a teaching degree from Central Washington University in 2007. When not teaching or playing bartender, he enjoys dabbling in science fiction as an attempt to discover “the real.” He currently lives near the foothills of Mt. Rainier with his herd of elk.
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