Helen Marshall: Weird Fiction

Helen Marshall's new novel is The Migration, which writer M.R. Carey calls, "A dark fable that somehow feels both timeless and urgently topical." In this recommended reading list, she explores the fantastic and mesmerizing world of weird fiction. 

*****

Weird fiction zigzags across the boundaries between horror and fantasy, sometimes chilling, sometimes beautiful, but always unsettling. 

*

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

After a deadly virus wipes out most of the world, those left behind struggle not only to rebuild, but to connect to their own vanishing past. This is not your typical post-apocalyptic novel. At the heart of Station Eleven lies an important question: If civilization fell, what parts of it would you try to preserve? 

*

Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

The doyenne of speculative fiction, Atwood has produced one of the finest tales of near-future dystopia and disaster. In a world destroyed by a mad genius, Snowman may be the last man alive (if you don’t count the genetically engineered Children of Crake). Acerbic wit and black humour make this a wickedly readable tale of love and adventure.

*

The Doll’s Alphabet, by Camilla Grudova

By turns gorgeous, scandalous, and deadpan, these stories combine the strangeness of Kelly Link with the existential horror of H. P. Lovecraft. Women who turn into sewing machines, angels and grotesque clowns, half-spider gentlemen, the monsters within are beautiful, broken things who delight even as they discomfit. This book is a treasure trove of the absurd.

*

Experimental Film, by Gemma Files

When Lois Cairns watches Untitled 13—an assemblage of found footage—she stumbles upon the mystery of an early Canadian cinematographer and Spiritualist. Cairns’ growing obsession puts her in the sightlines of the film’s sociopathic creator as well as its disturbing muse, Lady Midday, a powerful supernatural being who will threaten her sanity and her young son’s life. An extraordinary tale of compassion and loss from one of Canada’s most innovative horror writers.

*

Through the Woods, by Emily Carroll

Make no mistake: these fairy tales are only suitable for the most stalwart children. Filled with young brides, disturbing neighbours and terrible secrets, these fantastical graphical stories bring the Gothic to life with gorgeous artwork. Think Angela Carter with a touch of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

*

Pontypool Changes Everything, by Tony Burgess

What if language were a virus and its effects were devastating? Pontypool Changes Everything is a genuinely disturbing re-imagining of the zombie novel, equal parts homicidal rage and blood-spattered poetry. You will never read another writer like Tony Burgess.

*

Hopeful Monsters: Stories, by Hiromi Goto

The term, "hopeful monsters," refers to genetically abnormal organisms that adapt and thrive in their environment—against all odds. The mythic and the modern merge in this collection, which explores the nature of the monstrous, both literally and figuratively.

*

About The Migration

When I was younger I didn't know a thing about death. I thought it meant stillness, a body gone limp. A marionette with its strings cut. Death was like a long vacation—a going away. Not this.

Storms and flooding are worsening around the world, and a mysterious immune disorder has begun to afflict the young. Sophie Perella is about to begin her senior year of high school in Toronto when her little sister, Kira, is diagnosed. Their parents' marriage falters under the strain, and Sophie's mother takes the girls to Oxford, England, to live with their Aunt Irene. An Oxford University professor and historical epidemiologist obsessed with relics of the Black Death, Irene works with a Centre that specializes in treating people with the illness. She is a friend to Sophie, and offers a window into a strange and ancient history of human plague and recovery. Sophie just wants to understand what's happening now; but as mortality rates climb, and reports emerge of bodily tremors in the deceased, it becomes clear there is nothing normal about this condition—and that the dead aren't staying dead. When Kira succumbs, Sophie faces an unimaginable choice: let go of the sister she knows, or take action to embrace something terrifying and new.

Tender and chilling, unsettling and hopeful, The Migration is a story of a young woman's dawning awareness of mortality and the power of the human heart to thrive in cataclysmic circumstances.

March 4, 2019
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