Updated: Apr 14, 2022
"Weird" is the application of various shades of the supernatural to otherwise normal settings. Bran Mak Morn in a normal Roman environment, but twisted a bit by the addition of the worms of the earth.
- Scott Oden, author of " Men of Bronze", "Memnon" & "A Gathering of Ravens"
It's no secret that I write in the "Pulp Tradition". I like fast paced, plot driven stories, filled with action, danger, and derring-do. I'm not a literary historian, but it's clear to me that a lot of this can be traced back to a handful of authors. There are your Lester Dents, your Robert E. Howards, and even your Doyle's, Burroughs, and Haggards. Within the works of the aforementioned authors you will find Conan, Tarzan, Doc Savage, sorcery, aliens, and dinosaurs.
You know, "Weird" stuff.
Pulp-style adventure has always gone hand-in-hand with the strange and even supernatural, albeit to varying degrees. Above, you'll find a definition and example of what I am referring to as scribed by author Scott Oden. The term "weird" itself, at least in this application, was born from the pulps as well, though I gather it is more often directly associated with certain types of horror, rather than adventure thrillers. Still, the definition rings true.
Look at Doc Savage, for example. Ignoring the fact that he is basically superman, an early story titled The Land of Terror, Doc and crew find themselves face to fist with living prehistoric monsters. In one of his most lauded tales, Fear Cay, Doc battles an immortal man kept alive via the Fountain of Youth.
"The shocking size of the horror was apparent. It bulged out of the steam like a tall house. It hopped on massive rear legs, balancing itself by a great tail, kangaroolike. The two forelegs were tiny in proportion—like short strings dangling. Yet those forelegs that seemed so small were thicker through by far than Doc Savage’s body!"
Dent evidently postulated that T-Rex hopped like a kangaroo.
Talk about “Weird”.
And Tarzan? The version most people are familiar with stems from the old black and white movies, or even *shudders* the Disney adaptation. These adaptations often put the spotlight on the romantic relationship between Tarzan and Jane, forgetting the other aspects of the character's adventures. The most famous example of what I would qualify as "Weird" is probably Opar, a lost civilization of degenerate ape men ruled by an evil queen. But let's not forget that the Lord of the Jungle also travels to an alternate dimension trapped inside our planet's crust.
Haggard's Alan Quartermain crosses paths with the supernatural on more than one occasion. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle basically invented the Lost World genre.
This relationship between "Pulp" and "Weird" continues into the modern day, as well. I'm not just talking about indie small-press Pulp-centric magazines either. I'm talking Big 5, New York Times Bestsellers here.
While perhaps the least "Weird" of my modern examples, Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt has had more than his fair share of strange encounters. Off the top of my head, he has battled robot samurai, discovered Atlantis (complete with actual unicorns), and unearthed Abraham Lincoln's corpse in Africa. Being as prolific as he was/is, many of those who follow in his footsteps carry on this tradition. But, as I said earlier, most of these adventures are only slightly more "Weird" than a James Bond plot. That being said, Doc Savage has been cited as the direct inspiration for the Characters in these books.
My favorite modern example is author James Rollins, who has never been ashamed of his Weird Fiction roots. In his debut novel, Subterranean, he takes readers on a journey through an underground world populated by marsupial dinosaurs and kangaroo people. Excavation treats us to a splinter group of Catholic monks plotting to resurrect Jesus using a sentient hive of alien nanobots trapped in a lost Incan city. The agents of Sigma Force encounter super soldiers psychically linked to giant hyenas, genetically modified intelligent gorillas (How many apes does Conan fight?), a tribe of women who procreate asexually, and deadly robots powered by human brains.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, Rollins also claims Doc Savage as inspiration.
There are others, of course. The prolific duo Preston & Child hit it big with Relic, a tale in which a scientist-turned-monster stalks people through the Chicago Museum of Natural History. David Wood's adventurers, Dane Maddock and Obediah "Bones" Bonebreak, have slain their fair share of cryptids and creatures over the course of their many adventures. Finch & Schutt combine speculative evolution with ancient animals. My first novel, Remnant, also sits humbly among this vast library.
But as time passed, what constitutes “Weird" made a shift. Where once the straight up supernatural was welcome, you'd be hard pressed to find it today. That's not to say it doesn't exist. Jeremey Robinson pits his heroes against mythological creatures in the modern day, even including THE Hercules as a recurring villain. These types of modern adventure thrillers, however, seem far and few between. As the world grew, learning more about the workings of the universe, of biology, chemistry, and physics, the "Weird" adapted, taking on a distinct scientific bent. Despite many of the outlandish plots one can find in these kinds of books, most of them paint their vivid pictures with a veneer of real science, however thin that may be. At this point, while there is no hard proof of their existence, aliens are more scientifically plausible than straight up sorcery.
If it's not obvious by now, I love this stuff. I love that by the application of "Weird", an adventure thriller can take on aspects of science fiction and horror. That's a perfect mix.
But the science makes it tough.
At least for me.
My current work in progress is very light on the weird. Some may argue it doesn't exist at all.
I wouldn't argue.
The reason being is that the science aspect takes research and understanding. I love science, probably why I dig on this aspect so much, but I don't get a lot of science. Now that many of the big names are writing full-time, I imagine they have more time in their schedules to do this kind of hard research. That's not to say my novels don't or won't contain scientific facts. They most assuredly do. But I have found it difficult to hammer out a plot that goes full-bore "Weird" and can maintain some kind of scientific plausibility.
In the meantime, I'm jotting down all kinds of ideas and notes in this worn out composition book beside me. I very much want to write something in the vein of Rollins and his kin, but I want to do it right. There's nothing quite like the feeling you get when an author's twist of science makes you begin to question your understanding of reality. I can’t think of another genre that is able to deliver that sort of thrill. I hypothesize that it stems from the concoction created by mixing real world settings, actual history (another topic for sure), ripped-from-the-headlines plots, and scientific ideas. I want to be able to provide that thrill.
And one day, I will.
But for now, I am perfectly content with working to provide the best adventure I possibly can, given the time and tools at my disposal.