by Lon Sarver
Konrad Hartmann is a weird dude. I don’t mean that as a personal judgment—we’ve never met in person, so I have no basis—but as a literary one. Konrad’s work stands firmly in the line tracing from pulp-era weird fiction, the movement that transformed the gothic romances of old Europe and the ghost stories of young America into a literary form to hold the unease of the Great Depression. In doing so, weird fiction laid the groundwork for modern horror and dark fantasy, and the recent New Weird.
If you look at it, there’s a clear lineage to be traced from Edgar Allen Poe to H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Bloch, through Shirley Jackson and Stephen King, up to China Miéville and Caitlin Kiernan. Konrad Hartmann belongs in that lineage. Perhaps as Kiernan’s odd cousin; both of them write about characters with dangerous urges, sexual and otherwise, that lead them into dark places and life-altering encounters with the Other.
Each of these stories contains some degree of the weird. It’s most subtle in Glad Rags, and not subtle at all in Frogger Says. When I first started working with Konrad (on Frogger Says), we got to talking about the weird. To paraphrase Konrad’s definition (sorry if I get this wrong, man), the weird is what you get when an alien reality intrudes on the mundane world of the characters, leaving them questioning what this “reality” thing is, anyway. To this, I’d add that, in the best weird, the alien reality mirrors—or actually is—the character’s emotional life, forcing them to confront the parts of themselves that they’d rather never admit. The characters are transformed by their encounter with the alien, whether they ever understand it or not.
Mixing this with erotica is a tricky dance. On the one hand, it has to be sexy, on the other, we’re dealing with characters the reader would more likely run from than hit on. The ideal emotional response we want from the reader is a progression from “do I want to see?”” to “oh, yeah, I want to see,” with an aftertaste of “what does it say about me that I found that hot?”
If you think you see a parallel between that and the weird fiction protagonist’s encounter with the alien, you’re not wrong. Fiction is an alien world, and by letting it into you, you invite it challenge and change you.
You’ve been warned.
If you’ll allow me a brief plug for Konrad’s other work, I’d recommend his novel Spidermilk to anyone who enjoys the stories in this anthology. It’s post-cyberpunk noir erotica about a struggling private eye hired to find a gangster’s runaway daughter, in an underworld of junkies who drink drugged breast milk and cultists worshiping spiders from Mars.
But that’s enough from me, I’m not the one you wanted to read. Konrad’s waiting just around the corner, and he has some surprises for you. Turn the page and dive into the weird.