Scott Nicolay

Ana Kai Tangata

Stories from the Borderland #18: The Weird Fiction of Zenna Henderson

“Stevie and The Dark”
“Hush!”
“And a Little Child—”

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”

Isaiah 11:6, KJV

Many are the reasons why great Weird stories slip through the cracks of whatever passes for a canon of Weird Fiction. Slip through the cracks, fly under the radar, remain hidden by a veil, obscured by clouds…choose your metaphor. Canon may not be the right word either for this thing we share, but it’s our thing, and we all need to work on it together. Here at Stories from the Borderland, we take that mission seriously. so damn the would-be gatekeepers, full steam ahead! Over the last couple years, Michael Bukowski and I have presented tales that have been forgotten and others that never became memories, formerly ubiquitous stories that haven’t seen a reprint for a generation or more, works by authors whose entire known oeuvres consist of only one or two stories, stories never translated into English, and most of all, stories hidden in plain sight that no one thinks of as Weird because everyone identifies their authors with science fiction, fantasy, or mainstream lit. Here are purloined letters of Weird Fiction, if you will, though here we are liberating what never had to be stolen in the first place.

Even in this company, Zenna Henderson is a special case. Not only was she one of a very few mid-century female authors publishing science fiction under her own name (along with Margaret St. Clair, whom we have previously featured), her approach to the genre was vastly different from most of the Campbellian “Golden Age” science fiction writers, with the exception of the “pastoralist” Clifford D. Simak, to whom she is often compared, and whose work shares a combination of rural settings and a certain tonal background with Henderson’s. I realize, though, that Simak is both fraught and apt as a reference point, in that neither author is a household name today, even in houses where spec lit maintains a hold. The fact that the most frequently invoked comparison point for Henderson’s fiction is an increasingly obscure male author should emphasize the overall uniqueness of both her work and her position in speculative fiction.1 There really was no one like her, nor has there been since (except maybe Nnedi Okorafor). Continue reading


Tales from the Crossroads #1: “Solid Objects” by Virginia Woolf

Copyright 2017 Jeanne D’Angelo

Introduction: Notes from the Artist 
By Jeanne D’Angelo

When I first started this illustration, I had no idea that the accompanying essay was going to be about Object Oriented Ontology, or even what that was. However, the opening passage struck me immediately because in it human forms are reduced to some unknowable mystifying shape in the distance. Having more of an understanding of the project now this actually seems like a perfect window into a philosophy that decenters humans and describes objects as having agency outside of our perception of them. 

The way I chose to compose this image is meant to echo just that.  The foreground/true subject of the painting is a beach littered with both objects specifically described in the story, and objects I could imagine I would feel compelled to pick up if I found them. A crowd scene as it were, with objects clustered, balanced, and woven through each other. To me, all the special objects should be conceivable and unremarkable in most ways, probably manmade refuse but which had taken on an unintended and improbable form. I think the way the story described the small patterned piece of pottery somehow broken into an almost perfect star shape was a perfect example of this type of object. We can deduce it was originally made by human hands, but what kinds of circumstances after its creation could have led to it being in this particular state?  This could be the hidden world of objects, with their own trajectories, histories and evolution, and as the story shows, their own ability to act upon human consciousness.

On a purely aesthetic level, this sort of illustration presents an interesting challenge. Often the objects we choose to depict in art are remarkable, ornate, or part of some world of symbolism. The subjects of this image and story are mysterious detritus. Something you might just kick along the sidewalk on your way to run errands. It’s interesting to consider the magical little world of street trash with as much attentive detail as you would a painting of a vase of beautiful flowers or a chest of glittering treasure.

Tales from the Crossroads #1
By Scott Nicolay

“Aboli bibelot d’inanité sonore.”
—Stéphane Mallarmé, “Sonnet en X”

I allot a significant portion of my time to thinking about The Weird; to considerations of the strange and the uncanny. To cosmic horror. Those who have read any of the essays I have written in collaboration with artist Michael Bukowski under the rubric Stories from the Borderland may have already noticed this predilection. This preoccupation. This fixation. This obsession. I make no pretense that it is healthy. Continue reading


Stories from the Borderland #17: “Hippie Hat Brain Parasite” by William Gibson

“I’d called my slab ‘science fiction,’ but the art I’d cultivate would be the art of interstice, burrowing from surface to previously unconnected surface, through the waiting wealth of weirdness I sensed between those surfaces.”
—William Gibson, blog post Jan. 8, 2003

With special thanks to Edward Austin Hall, Marc Laidlaw, and especially Lewis Shiner for their invaluable support and assistance…

By now it should be obvious to readers of this series that science fiction is a virtual cornucopia of only loosely camouflaged great Weird Fiction. Without its own literary ecosystem to occupy during the previous century, The Weird quietly, patiently extended its mycelia beneath the leaf-littered forest floors of science fiction, fantasy, and mainstream modes alike, infiltrating their various oΐkoi with utter disregard for critical taxonomy. Now that its fruiting bodies are bursting forth all around us in a Weird Renaissance, we can finally take some measure of its full expanse. Here at Stories from the Borderland we specialize in spotting and plotting those loci where weirdness has long since spread beneath the surface, and we work like tireless truffle pigs, snuffling up the treasures we deliver you on our finest silver serving ware. This week’s fungal entrée comes your way with a side of brains. Continue reading


Stories from the Borderland #16: “The Bunyip” by Rosa Praed

A mysterious resident of Manitoba named John E. Wall coined the term “cryptid” in a 1983 letter to the newsletter of the now-defunct International Society of Cryptozoology. Credit for the coinage of “cryptozoology” goes to either Ivan T. Sanderson, Bernard T. Heuvelmans, or Lucien Blancou. Though the word’s exact origins are appropriately unclear, it definitely appeared in print by 1959. The first usage of “weird” in the literary sense now familiar to us belongs either to Sheridan LeFanu in the late nineteenth century or H.P. Lovecraft in the early twentieth. Cryptids and cryptozoology however, have been fixtures of Weird Fiction since long before popular culture cemented any of these terms in their current forms and denotations.1

Continue reading


Stories from the Borderland #15: “The Inhabitant of the Pond” by Linda Thornton

Michael Bukowski and I began this Third Series of Stories from the Borderland with “The Cactus” by Mildred Johnson, a mysterious author with only two publication credits to her name: the first a great Weird Tale, the second a more conventional ghost story. Now we are ending with “The Inhabitant of the Pond” by Linda Thornton…another mysterious author with only two publication credits to her name: the first a great Weird Tale, the second a more conventional ghost story. Obviously Michael and I were conscious of the parallels when we chose these stories, and should the readiness with which we found two such similar examples lead you to consider what this says about the circumscribed trajectories of female authors in Weird Fiction, the flat circular nature of time, or our esthetics and intentions behind this project, then we encourage you to think with those things. Ces sont bonnes à penser. Continue reading


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