A Good Weird is Hard to Find

Tuesday , 15, July 2014 9 Comments

The Helsinki Science Fiction Society has offered up its free magazine-style anthology, Finnish Weird, to introduce science fiction and fantasy fans to the country’s unique take on weird fiction. Paper copies will also be available at the upcoming Loncon 3.

Finnish Weird highlights the work of three authors and also has some interviews and editorials.

But there’s something–uh–weird about Finnish Weird.

Take Jenny Kangasvuo’s Flow My Tears! Fall from Your Springs! This folktale tells of the supernatural lengths a maiden goes to avoid marriage to a powerful but ancient warlord. It is well-written, emotive, and personal. It even has an honest-to-goodness plot. Despite all the recent claims by Finnish fantasists that the key to good science fiction and fantasy is to “break across genres”, Flow My Tears! Fall From Your Springs! is pure genre fantasy (folkstyle).

Finnish Weird unleashed!

And yet…it, like all of Finnish Weird is fiction that is distinctly of a different category – wholly unrecognizable to Atorox the robot after whom Finland’s highest science fiction award is named. “Outsider” (the old pulp author pseudonym of the now forbidden racial, sexual and misanthropic ideas expressed in the Atorox series) would almost certainly not recognize the works in the Finnish Weird as sharing the same tree as his own work.

The quality that distinguishes Finnish Weird from the tradition of Atorox is obvious: it is feminine.

In a genre founded by men, for men, there’s absolutely nothing wrong about a story or novel having a feminine identity. This isn’t about right or wrong. It isn’t about female characters or male characters, or even the ideas expressed in books. It is about how fiction that traditionally identifies as men’s fiction has all but vanished from the country’s premier showcase for it.

It is kind of like going to the Apple Store and finding the shelves stocked with X-boxes and Windows 8.

In a country that produced Martii Lofberg and certainly Aarne Haapakoski, it is fairly clear that feminine fantasy and masculine vision-casting may never discover a way to be equal bedfellows. Eventually, the masculine voice falls silent.

  • Jill says:

    Why does the masculine voice fall silent? That’s an honest question. Is it no longer accepted in publications, or do men choose not to share publication space with feminine fantasy? I know nothing of the Finnish publishing scene. In our dear country, we have an ideological barrier to the kind of masculine fiction you speak of. But that is a thesis, not a blog comment.

    Honestly, I wish fantasy and sci fi were their own distinct genres. They are about as different as night and day, yet they aren’t treated that way. As an editor, I find pure fantasy to be nothing short of tedious to edit, though it is often more difficult to get sci fi “right” (as in, it has to have punch to it, IMO). I would like them to be separate because it’s too difficult to synthesize the two for one publication.

    A quick precursor of this magazine you link to demonstrates something else entirely is going on, that they are going for a Finnish brand of “weird” fiction of any variety. Perhaps the person defining the term simply prefers a feminine voice in literature. I don’t know. Shrug. Cue MLK speech of having dreams, etc., because we shouldn’t lose masculine for feminine or vice versa. The human race has two sides to its coin.

    • Daniel says:

      Why does the masculine voice fall silent?

      This is a tremendous question by the way. I actually think Flow My Tears! Fall from Your Springs! answers this in some ways. In traditional fantasy, you have a knight type – a heroic warrior that fulfills certain duties and has a sense of honor. You can do a lot of things with that character, but it is important to the genre that he follows his type. If you have a knight who is evil and dishonorable, you don’t have a “knight type” you have a villain.

      Well, this story insists that the knight type itself is a complete sham, a deception, and that heroism is sorrowful and individual.

      So why the silent voice? Pragmatism. A masculine voice knows instinctively that the art functions on understood tropes. Once those tropes are confused for out-of-genre ones, it is better to tell your story elsewhere, or even not at all.

      • Jill says:

        I’m not sure if a voice can know something instinctively. 😉 I do think that these tropes you speak of are recognized by all of us on an instinctive level. I blame postmodernism for skewering them and destroying them such that there is often an emptiness to modern storytelling. Yet, subconsciously, we still demand the tropes. You can see that it’s true through what is actually popular in films and stories.

        • Daniel says:

          Right…but when that trope is attacked in public, when readers are accused of perpetuating privilege for accepting the trope, when the leading voice of the feminine side views genre as something to be obliterated, when the only purpose of a trope is for it to be challenged those who write in a masculine voice will examine the hill where that battle is being waged and, in more cases than not, will decide it is not the one to die on.

          It seems silly: both to permadoubt a perfectly natural trope, and to go to war over it.

          The feminine voice is an expression against the way things are. The masculine is a defense of the way things are. If the way things are are not conducive to the masculine voice (i.e. if it is damned if it speaks and damned if it doesn’t), I can guarantee that it will not be raised.

          Now, it is an entirely different story when the masculine voice finds a hill worth dying on. Then it wouldn’t be drowned out in a flood.

          • Jill says:

            “The feminine voice is an expression against the way things are. The masculine is a defense of the way things are.” These statements lack nuance, as I’m sure you’re very aware that the postmodern voice has been brought to us by both male and female authors, both decrying any sense of real truth and, consequently, expressing themselves against the way things are.

          • Daniel says:

            It has almost nothing to do with male and female authors. There are plenty of male authors who write in the feminine voice. There are women who write in the masculine voice, although far fewer these days now that the incentives to do so have passed on. The postmodern voice–being at root, critical–is necessarily feminine. The modern voice–being at root one of mourning–tends to be feminine in English-written literature.

            What is interesting is that science fiction provided some of the earliest critiques of modernism as well as a viable alternative to postmodernism. A reader steeped in the Modern/Postmodern universe of 20th century fiction would do well to read That Hideous Strength, A Canticle for Liebowitz, Dune, The Programmed Man, A Planet for Texans, and VALIS just to sample what a literary world separate from the legacy of the twin devil-children might be like.

          • Jill says:

            That is interesting what you say about postmodernism having a feminine voice. I had never thought of it as such. Likewise the part about mourning. By feminine voice, I would assume you mean broadly and archetypically feminine. You might have a point, but I will have to think on this further. I’m hesitant to agree because when you live in a world where traditional archetypes mean nothing, androgyny and/or confusion prevails. Women become warriors and men become mothers, etc. Maybe I’m being too obtuse about this. I’ve read most on your list at one time or another. I would like to read “That Hideous Strength” again. Its concept rung true to me over 20 yrs ago now. I’d like to reread, see how I’d view it today.

  • Daniel Eness says:

    Fantasy and Sci Fi were distinct genres until the SFWA allowed Anne McCaffery in and briefly changed their name to SFFWA. Before that, there was a fairly clear line between the two, even if you had an author who worked in both.

    Interestingly, one of Finland’s most prominent current authors in Fantasy/Sci Fi is a major proponent of this odd but popular idea of “blurring genre lines.” She certainly isn’t the first person to think of this, but she sure gets a lot of credit for it being original. I personally think it is an awful idea. While you can make too many rules for a genre, creating bad formula, that is a lot rarer of a condition than believing it is avant garde to “break rules”.

    And before anyone thinks I am some sort of specialist in the Finnish scene…I most certainly am not. Aside from a few translations (or original works in English) – I’m merely a casual observer. I haven’t even ever found a full Atorox novel in English – only excerpts! Hmm. I wonder if they are in the public domain…

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