by Evelyn Platt
This collection of stories verges on the darkly surreal and deliciously deranged and is penned by the Australian author K.J. Bishop, who also brought us The Etched City. There are fables here, stories of post-apocalyptic worlds in which lunacy and reality collide and lurch off into other dimensions. That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote is filled with the unexpected, with magic and science fiction, and it makes a fascinating read.
Bishop’s previous work, The Etched City, is an urban fantasy about how magic can transform worlds and features a healer escaping a ruined country and seeking a new life out of old debris, with a killer for company. ‘Have you seen a split cranium, growing flowers like a window box? I saw that, a mere hour ago’ (Tor, 2004). The book gained Bishop recognition as one of Australia’s startlingly good new writers as well as winning her the William L. Crawford Award and two Ditmar Awards.
Mad Ancestor is fluid and vibrant and utterly compelling and features a story that was reprinted in The Weird, (Saving the Gleeful Horse), and surrealist tales such as We the Enclosed. Each story leaps into a different realm with great energy and is infused with wonderful, original writing.
Her short story The Love of Beauty can be found in Mad Ancestor and follows an artist’s journey through an otherworldly place, the Ravels, to meet a veiled lady who has asked him to paint her, but only if he has courage. Seaming, the artist, is afraid of this place, he thinks of childhood memories that scared him. He is a new man, articulate, sociable, educated, and interested in the human form and its defects. His journey leads him to a house on a hill, where a child in a circus costume answers the door, only to reveal herself to be an grotesque old woman. When Seaming meets the lady of the house and she removes her veil, he is completely unprepared for what he sees.
Bishop writes about beauty and the grotesque with an assured nature. She is inquisitive about the idiosyncrasies of the human form and its biological workings and this permeates her writing to bring us a fascinating, thought provoking read. Bishop plays on the traditional and transforms it into something that is not quite fantasy or science fiction, but somehow gives us the best of both. This is the New Weird genre at its finest.
The New Weird movement began in the 1990s, with the introduction of niche anthologies for experimental science fiction, fantasy and horror. China Mieville became the icon for New Weird with his novel Perdido Street Station, set in an alternative London, and the genre has gone from strength to strength as new writers have emerged to grasp its form and focus on dissecting the reality of our world to immersing themselves in complete science fiction. New Weird is truly pioneering and it is bringing the previously stereotypical genres of fantasy, horror and science fiction to the forefront of exciting new writing.
Bishop writes New Weird with a very literary spin on it; her words flow like honey blossom tainted with poison. She pulls the reader into each world with a confidence that we believe and bewitches us with her fables. By mixing the traditional with the new, she entwines a rich tapestry of words together to create surprising, compelling universes and characters, many of them injected with themes of science and the human form.
In an interview for Weird Fiction, Bishop explained how she likes to explore neurotic and eccentric personalities, and ‘a deep experience of wonder’ in writing. She confesses to being inspired by Cook’s Chronicles of an Age of Darkness for its gritty and moral themes, which she uses in her stories, as well as drawing on myths and fairytales. The New Weird genre pushes writers to their boundaries to create experimental, often surreal stories that gain their audience’s attention. Their interest in science fiction is deep rooted and, in dissecting a moral universe, many find that an exploration of science complements their writing, particularly biology. With the wealth of material available to read online, researching this field is more accessible than ever for science fiction writers who are keen to push their boundaries and create alternate worlds and characters that are ultimately grounded in reality.