Scott Nicolay

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Tag: stories from the borderland (page 1 of 4)

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

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

Stories from the Borderland #14: “Les Xipéhuz” by J.-H. Rosny aîné

First edition of "Les Xipéhuz" published by Albert Savine (1888).

First edition of “Les Xipéhuz” published by Albert Savine (1888).

A horde of conical, unstoppable, and seemingly indestructible antagonists, exterminating all organic life with mysterious heat rays, resisting every attempt at communication and impervious to all conventional weapons everywhere but a single vulnerable point…this is a familiar scenario to most of my readers, n’est-ce pas? Only I am not describing the Daleks. My subject is les Xipéhuz. The Daleks have been around for a long time—they were born the same year as me—but the Xipéhuz have been among us a good deal longer. Continue reading

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