I’ve always primarily thought of myself as a science fiction writer, but over the last few years, I’ve grown more and more interested in the weird borderlands between science fiction, fantasy and horror.
Last year I officially crossed over into the darkness by publishing a story called ‘The Water Kings’, in Undertow Publication’s literary horror / weird fiction anthology ‘Shadows and Tall Trees Vol. 7’. The response has been pretty surreal. Firstly, the anthology is awesome, and I still can’t believe the calibre of writers I’ve been published alongside. I’ve read it cover to cover now, and pretty much every story is fantastic.
Also, reviewers seem to really like ‘The Water Kings’! This Is Horror called it “gorgeously written” and “a true highlight”. British novelist James Everington put it on his 2017 list of favorite short stories. It’s been really heartening to me that these reviewers, mostly based in the US and the UK, enjoyed ‘The Water Kings’, which is not only set in Singapore, but also set in a very specific Singaporean Indian merchant-family context.
In fact, one particularly thought-provoking LA Review of Books essay, ‘Foreshadowing the Weird’, which uses Shadows and Tall Trees 7 as a jumping-off point for a broader discussion of weird fiction, called my story “a standout” in part because its geographical, historical and cultural context allows my tale to go “far beyond the orbit of much modern weird fiction”, which is often about “subtly dissociative tweaks on white middle-class everyday life.”
This point, along with the other points made in that essay, are definitely worth reflecting on. For my part, I think that some of the most interesting places that Anglophone weird fiction is going to are distinctly non-European places. There’s a universality to the weird. It’s about strange interstitial spaces; hidden rooms in houses; cracks appearing in reality’s fabric, letting in all the things we’d rather leave buried and forgotten. The weird, the uncanny, the monstrous-yet-familiar: these things manifest themselves differently in different places, but they spring from the same dark and gurgling well; the absurdity, horror and hope of human experience.
Case in point: one of the stories I most loved in ‘Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 4’, also from Undertow, was Usman T. Malik’s novella “In The Ruins of Mohenjo-Daro”, an explicitly Lovecraft-inspired horror tale about ancient, hungry gods and weird ritual set in Sindh Province, Pakistan. (Yes, the same Sindh province that my ancestors came from before Partition).
All in all, this has been a really wild ride to the dark side. Long may it continue. I’m proud to be associated with weird fiction—and hey, if the LA Review of Books says I’m now part of the “New Weird”, it could well be true! I’m deeply appreciative of Mike Kelly and Undertow Publications for publishing and believing in “The Water Kings”. If you like your fiction weird and unsettling, you should really, really check their catalogue out, because they are doing fantastic work for weird fiction and literary horror.