the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Jeff Vandermeer’ Category

2014 has been a pretty good year for me.  Personally, I’m damn impressed with how many of these books were actually published in 2014. As a bonus, there’s even a few novellas and short stories in here. In no particular order, here are my favorite reads of 2014!

Favorite Novels:

city_of_stairs-cover1

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (2014) – that this book is on my list should surprise no one. And if you haven’t read it yet, seriously, get with the program. This is one of those amazing books that defies genre categorization, it just *is*.  To give you a big picture without spoiling anything, it’s about watching your worldview dissolve before your eyes, and understanding that games can be played with many sets of rules. Also? it’s simply fucking amazing.

gemsigns

Gemsigns by Stephanie Saulter (2014) – This is probably the most important book I read in 2014. Remember when Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother took high school government classes by storm? I wish the same for this book.  Gemsigns touches on enforced marginalization, building (and breaking down) cultures of racism and classism and fear, and religiously and politically promoted hatred, and handles it in a blunt and emotional way. Also? fucking awesome. And for what it’s worth, I cried at the end.

vandermeer annihilation

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer  (2014) –  I’ve been a Vandermeer fan for a long, long time (yet somehow I can still eat mushrooms). Annihilation was strange, surreal, and seemed to be magnetically attuned to me. The words in the tunnel rang for me like a tuning fork. And there was just something about characters who don’t have names. I am a jerk, however, because I own but haven’t yet read the third book in the series.

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authorityAuthority by Jeff Vandermeer (Southern Reach #2)

published May 6 2014

where I got it: purchased new

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WARNING: there are some minor spoilers here for the first book in the series, Annihilation.  If you have not read that book (but are planning to), you may want to skip this entire article.  If you’ve read just the first book in the series (or are planning to), check out this unbelievably awesome annotated excerpt from Annihilation, complete with cool pictures and commentary!

all warned?  let’s get to the review.

 

Reading the Southern Reach books is a little like a fantasy visit to Area X.  Each turn of the page is another step closer to the lighthouse, each rock turned over is another secret unearthed.  It’s a fantasy trip to Area X because I can close the book and believe I am safe.  It goes without saying, but you need to read these books in order. Annihilation will tell you what to look for in Authority. Although there is very little overlap in characters, you can’t skip any steps here. You need the warnings from the first book to know what tics to look for, what patterns to watch for in the second.

 

Tics and patterns are a little like moles and freckles on your skin.  I don’t worry about the moles and freckles that have always looked exactly the same. But the ones that change, the ones that don’t match the pattern, those are the ones to show the doctor.  Annihilation taught me what to look for. Authority allowed me to put what I’d learned into practice.  Annihilation was the warning, Authority is the beginnings of a diagnosis.

 

The story follows John Rodriguez,  the incoming  Director for the Southern Reach, the government agency that maintains Area X. He’s no stranger to agency work, as his mother is a high ranking spook handler, and she’s helped him out of a few more pickles than he’d like to admit.  As a child, John’s grandfather nicknamed him “Control”, and the name stuck. As he’s introduced to the staff members of the office building, he tells everyone to call him “Control”, and they do.

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vandermeer annihilationAnnihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

published in February, 2014

where I got it: purchased new

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If you’re familiar with the works of Jeff Vandermeer, you know he enjoys playing with the theme of infection. How we’re infected by physical things, how we’re infected by ideas, how by the time we noticed we’ve changed, it’s far too late.  The word infection itself, it has negative connotations, but it doesn’t have to.  No, not infected, that’s not quite right for what’s happening here. The word I’m looking for is colonized.

Near the beginning of Vandermeer’s Shriek: An Afterword, when Duncan returns to the surface, covered in barnacle looking fungi, he’s glittering, glowing, changed forever, infected, colonized. It’s around page 50 I think, and I still remember the beauty of those paragraphs. Duncan was infected, his insides were possibly being changed against his will, but he was fascinated and curious by what was happening. The reader was, perhaps supposed to be disgusted. But instead, I found it completely beautiful, I was fascinated, I was curious, I wanted to go deeper into the caverns. Later, In Finch, characters are also changed, are infected. Finch is horrified by it, so the reader picks up on that disgust and physical horror too.

And now, in Annihilation, our protagonist, known only as the Biologist, becomes infected with something.  She has no way of knowing how exactly it is changing her, and she teeters on the triple razor’s edge of curiosity, disgust, and terror of what’s happening.  She is not the only one in the story to be infected/colonized.

So, how do you feel about being infected? Will you grab the antibacterial soap, or open your mouth wide? The answer lies in how you react to Annihilation.  Maybe you’ll see this as a horror novel, a nightmarish, unfathomable moaning thing to run from. Or maybe you’ll see it as something beautiful, something to explore further, a place not to be feared, or at least not much. Maybe you’ll feel like you’ve finally come home.

No characters are ever named in Annihilation, the characters are only known by their occupations: the psychologist, the anthropologist, the linguist, and our narrator, the biologist.  The only things that are ever named are within the context of Area X, a nameless place itself. There’s something telling in the fact that the only proper nouns are distinct places in Area X, the base camp, the lighthouse, the ruins of a village. As if only things that we believe won’t ever change deserve to be named and put on map. When someone asks the biologist what her name is, her response is to ask why that matters.

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The recently announced Locus Awards are awarded every year by a readers poll done by Locus Magazine. These have been going since 1971, and are often an influencial precursor to the Hugo awards, which will be awarded later this summer.

It’s only these last couple years that I’ve been blogging that I’ve paid much attention to awards. Honestly, for the most part, a list of award nominees more often than not elicits a mostly “eh” response from me. Maybe I’ve heard of the authors, maybe I haven’t, and there’s a decent chance I haven’t even read any of the books or short stories that are up for an award.

Good thing I have a scifi/fantasy blog, and have pretty much been reading nothing but scifi and fantasy for the last little while! For the first time, ever, I’ve actually read a small chunk of these. Ok, maybe not a respectable amount, but way more than in previous years. For the first time, ever, my mind is responding with a “sweet! I’ve read that!” or at least a “I’ve heard of that, and I really want to read it!” instead of “meh”.

Here are this years Locus Award winners (bolded) and nominees. If I reviewed the piece, I’ve linked to it. A few questions for you to contemplate as you peruse the list: how many of these author, works, editors, authors and publishers have you heard of? How many of them have you read, or are interested in reading?

The 2012 Locus Awards, as announced in Seattle Washington, June 15-17th 2012:

Science Fiction Novel

Embassytown, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
11/22/63, Stephen King (Scribner; Hodder & Stoughton as 11.22.63)
Rule 34, Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit UK)
The Children of the Sky, Vernor Vinge (Tor)

Fantasy Novel

A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin (Bantam; Harper Voyager UK)
Snuff, Terry Pratchett (Harper; Doubleday UK)
The Wise Man’s Fear, Patrick Rothfuss (DAW; Gollancz)
Deathless, Catherynne M. Valente (Tor)
Among Others, Jo Walton (Tor)

First Novel

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday)
Ready Player One, Ernest Cline (Crown; Century)
God’s War, Kameron Hurley (Night Shade)
Soft Apocalypse, Will McIntosh (Night Shade)
Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, Genevieve Valentine (Prime)

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The rules for my “best of” post were simple: I had to have read and reviewed the book in 2011, and it couldn’t be a reread (otherwise this list would taken over by Lynch, Powers, Brust, and others).

In no particular order (saving me the impossible task of choosing my utmost favorites), here are my top reads of the last 12 months. I’m surprised so many of them are new-ish books, as that wasn’t really part of the plan. Enjoy the little teaser then click on the title for the full review.

Grey by Jon Armstrong (2007)  frantic, insane, completely over the top, hilarious, refreshing, and at times completely sick.  This is dystopia like you’ve never read before. This is body modification and mortification, life imitating art to the nth degree, and performance art like you’ve never imagined. This is fashion punk.

The Third Section by Jasper Kent (2011) The third in Kent’s Danilov Quintet, one of the most brilliantly frightening books I have ever read, and brimming with betrayals and violence, seductions and patience, this is the series you’ve been waiting for if you prefer your vampire fiction to be more Bram Stoker than sparkly.

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The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer

Published July 2011

Where I got it: rec’d  a review copy from Harper Voyager

Why I read it: have been following this doctor for a while, and I want to get my hands on anything Jeff VanderMeer is involved in

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In homage of the Neatorama game that would have an utter nerdgasm if faced with Dr Lambshead’s Cabinet of Curiosities, I offer you the ultimate meta’d “What is it?” game: The Thackery T Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities itself.

Well, what is it? Exhibition? Self guided museum tour? Self referential satire? A massive inside joke? Eulogy? An unearthing of the madness of a harmless eccentric? I think a line from the movie Catch Me if You Can, (which coincidentally came out the year before Lambshead’s death) sums it up nicely: “people only know what you tell ‘em”.

Dr Thackery T Lambshead was born in 1900. Trained as a physician and scientist, but a true renaissance man, Dr. Lambshead travelled the world, collecting things here and there, making sure other things got back to their home countries, filling countless diaries with descriptions along the way. Briefly married in the 1950’s, the doctor may have never fully recovered from his wife’s tragic death in a car accident. Filling his home with collectibles and oddities, and occasionally culling the collection by permanently lending items out to museums, he became more and more eccentric. After his death in 2003, appraisers made their way through his home, discovering wonder after bizarre wonder, and trying to connect the objects to descriptions and references found in Thackery’s diaries. And then they happened on the secret underground bunker, a cabinet of curiosities that made the upstairs collection look like nothing more than a museum gift shop.

The Thackery T Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities then, is a collection of remembrances of the doctor himself, descriptions (and some outright guesses) of the strange items found in his home, and most importantly it is an attempt to discover what would cause a man to fill his home with such strange and disturbing things. With entries by Ted Chiang, Rachel Swirsky, Charles Yu, Michael Cisco and Reza Negarestani, Lev Grossman, Naomi Novik among many, many others, along with corresponding artwork and photographs, this is a book that’s more than a book. It’s a curiosity unto itself, an experience, a portal, a self guided tour through the mind of someone whose collection created him as much as he created his collection.

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Guess who at ComicCon?

Eh,  I finished one book this morning and am about a third of the way through another one.  No reviews even close to be being ready to post, let alone even started.  And I got a busy crazy blog-on-fire week coming up (more on that later, I promise).

Here’s some delicious link soup for you. Tastes like Epic.

Wanna join our read-along for Lord of the Rings? starts this coming week, one book per month till we finish. Sign up here.

Awesome article on Jeff Vandermeer’s Ambergris series, focusing on City of Saints and Madmen.

Neat article/video on blood & guts CGI in HBO’s Game of Thrones (no fake blood was harmed in the making of this show).

Love fest for Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series. Tastes like blood and guts. . .

My buddy Jim got me hooked on Mercury Men, a noirish SF alien invasion 7 minutes per episode webshow on Hulu. Go check it out.

Patrick Rothfuss answers your questions at SDCC.

and Patrick Rothfuss’s epic blog post about being epic at SDCC

Vote for your favorite SFF titles on NPR’s top 100 SFF book list. Everyone gets 10 votes, so make ‘em count!


2014 Hugo Awards

I reviewed some Hugo nominated stuff. Click here for the list.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.