I just came across Damien Walter’s Guardian blog post, announcing his search for the best new weird fiction. I’m rather taken by this idea of weird fiction, which implies something fresh and strange and unfettered by genre conventions, whether they’re literary or generic conventions. SF, fantasy and horror books qualify as weird, but weird can also be broader than that. Weird proposes a fiction that’s slightly askew, that makes its own rules, that looks at the world – our world, or other worlds – with a fresh, unique eye. Real life is often weird.

Walter invites us to nominate weird books they’ve discovered through non-traditional channels – self-publishing, or small independent publishers. I have nothing to suggest, given that most of the things I read are filtered through the old cultural channels – via reviews, blogs, word of mouth, books with buzz. I still read books with covers. (Although a Kindle did arrive in my household this week, which I’m hoping will eventually transform my bookshelf situation.)

And he raises a very interesting and real question: with all this activity happening online, and publishers going through a fast, brutal process of adjustment, how do you find the stuff you’re looking for? All of those old processes of sorting, where manuscripts had gone through agents and publishers and newspapers before they came to your attention, is disappearing, but what replaces it?

I started reading the comments string for Walter’s piece, and found this comment:

What is it about people recommending their own work that makes me all the less likely to click on over to it?

As readers we must have some sort of inbuilt narcissism detector perhaps, which also begins flashing when people self-publish. I don’t know what the answer is, because other more subtle forms of self-trumpeteering (Twitter, when used well, Facebook etc.) seem to do the trick.

Truth of it is, if you have a look at Duotrope listings, there is so much weird, wired, and wider out there (thousands of fiction titles, mostly, alas, only read by the people submitting, or about to submit to them), surely it’s not about recommendations of where to look, but more about just diving in there and FINDING SOME GOOD SHIT.

THE GOOD SHIT, is probably even harder to define than that word “weird”, I would guess.

I salute your quest Damien and will follow it with interest.

And I couldn’t help agreeing with the commenter, because I too find myself reacting negatively to all the people nominating their own work. I know it has something to do with status anxiety, and my not-so-buried belief that if your work is any good, a real publisher will publish it. But that isn’t necessarily true now, and will probably become even less true in the future, as people move away from the traditional publisher model entirely.

But then you come back to the problem of how you find the good shit. Will there be new gate-keepers? New vectors of opinion to replace the old ones? Or will it just be down to good old word of mouth?

And am I the only one who sometimes finds it just massively depressing, not exhilarating, that there are SO MANY BOOKS IN THE WORLD?

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