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Shimmin Bloeg

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Talking Weird in China

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Shimmin Beg

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It's 2.30am here in China, but that's fine because I spent most of yesterday asleep due to yet another cold. The classic campaigns really don't showcase the real-world travelling experiences: constant assault, not from the forces of the Mythos, but from an endless array of unfamiliar viruses. A diet of throat medicine and whatever is within arm's reach, rather than exotic Parma kippers.

 

Something I should probably have mentioned ages ago, but didn't, is that I've ended up giving a short lecture series on weird fiction. This may not strike you as that odd, but I'm in no sense an expert on the topic. Basically, my university has a policy that my staff group must give lectures in addition to teaching classes; they can be on anything, but I couldn't really think of a topic. After all, I'm much more a broad-ranging butterfly than a deep-delving expert on anything. In the end, I decided that weird fiction would broaden my Chinese students' horizons about English literature, introduce some cultural background, and would at least be interesting for me. Which is more than can be said for many other potential topics.

 

An additional difficulty has been getting utterly swamped by workload, which has meant I've had remarkably little time to actually prepare the lectures. There's only one per month, but I have only managed to complete a single book (Joshi's Evolution of the Weird Tale) since I arrived here, over three months ago. Given my usual appetite for reading that's shocking. So the kind of serious research I'd have loved to do for this simply hasn't been an option.

 

I did manage to read a few articles, and thankfully I have been a long-term fan of the fabulous "HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast", so I have gathered a lot of general knowledge that way, as well as from the MR James podcast "A Podcast to the Curious", the sadly-deceased "Double Shadow" (Clark Ashton Smith) and some brief visits to the mighty "Cromcast". On the downside there are a good few recent weird collections sitting unread on my Kobo.

 

The audience has turned out to be pretty small - I say pretty small, I mean around 6 people! - which is disappointing for my boss and delightful for me. Two are existing fans of weird fiction, despite the absence of the genre in China, and a couple of others are fantasy and sci-fi fans with a strong interest in learning more. The lectures are my first ever lecture series, so they're definitely not classics, but I'm vaguely proud of them nonetheless. The second, discussing antecedents of weird fiction, was definitely better than the first (and full of material I really wish I'd had time to dig deeply into beforehand).

 

Tomorrow, or rather today, I'm due to give the third and final lecture, which is on recent and modern weird fiction. This is the one I'm least confident about, because as I said, I just haven't had time to catch up on it. Since I don't tend to enjoy actual horror, I didn't read it growing up, you know, in the period when free time existed. To make matters worse, I never got into the habit of watching TV somehow, and I rarely watch films compared to most people, so that's a whole swathe of stuff that's passed me by! A whole lake of ignorance to wallow in. Hopefully I can still keep any audience interested... I do have to talk about RPGs (I don't think you can possibly discuss the revival of weird without it) so that helps.

 

For some reason it was only yesterday that I realised it would have been sensible to mention this on YSDC, since I'm sure people would have all sorts of suggestions to offer. Dim! But I'd still love to hear them, partly for interest, and partly as I'd like to improve the lectures if I'm asked to give them again. There is oodles of room for improvement. I do have recordings of them and could probably find somewhere to put them if there's any interest, though I do warn you it's neither excellent quality nor excellent material. Talking about weird fiction to a group of people with almost no cultural prior knowledge has been a challenge - never mind Lovecraft, they largely don't have any knowledge of Cthulhu (not part of Chinese internet), Conan, tabletop gaming, pulps, Western ghost stories and horror, the social and cultural background to the rise of weird fiction... challenging but in a good way.

 

There's enough interest that I'm hoping I may be able to set up a little weird fiction reading circle and discuss short stories with them, which would be great, but depends mostly on workload. We'll see.

 

Right, time for bed I suppose. Wish me successful Luck rolls!

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Well, if you've already established Lovecraft, I think it's worth mentioning the modern post-Lovecraftian movement exemplified to my mind by Ruthanna Emrys: take the stories as the output of an unusually racist and sexist writer attempting to describe true things. In other words, rather than just trying to ignore the problematic bits, actively engaging with and subverting them.

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Shimmin Beg

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This is a good point, thanks. I didn't actually finish my material (another lecture may follow) but I did touch on this during Q&A, so your insight is much appreciated.

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Shimmin Beg

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I've done three lectures now and may do a fourth. I'd be interested to post the audio somewhere and ask for comments, but I'm not sure where would be preferred. Any suggestions? I know Google Drive isn't universally welcome (and hard to reach from China) but I also don't want it somewhere permanent like Archive.org since I hope to improve and redo them... Does anyone actually want to hear them?

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Sure! I'd be happy to host at tekeli.li (at which point taking them down is a matter of sending me email).

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