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I love absurdity.  A flying angry bear,  talking animals, weird creatures, intelligent fungi, guns that shoot bears (the bullets are bears. Live bears come out of the gun when you pull the trigger!). Absurdity, I say bring it!


I’d been hearing about Vandermeer’s A Peculiar Peril for a while now, and I knew nearly nothing about it. I knew that it had something to do with Thackery T Lambshead, I knew it had Vandermeer’s brand of weirdness, and reading the back cover copy made me laugh out loud, so we were off to a good start!  If you mashed up Mieville’s Perdido Street Station with a Neil Gaiman,  you might end up with something on the same plane as A Peculiar Peril.  

The book has an wryly funny, if tragic beginning.  Young Jonathan Lambshead is officially now an orphan. His mother disappeared in the Alps and is presumed dead, and his grandfather Dr. Lambshead has passed away. The novel opens with Jonathan arriving at his grandfather’s mansion and no one is there to greet him.  Through letters and a phone call (delivered through a phone that isn’t plugged in), Jonathan learns that if he can only organize and catalog his grandfather’s collectables, he will inherit all!  Well, It’s a good thing Jonathan invited his best friends Rack and Danny to help him. (Rack and Danny are brother and sister, “Danny” is short for Danielle, “Rack” is short for something much longer)


If you thought this was to be another adventure through Dr Thackery T Lambshead’s Cabinet of Curiosities. . . you’d be wrong. But that’s ok!   By way of a strange map, an even stranger marmot, and yet stranger doors that go elsewhere, Jonathan, Rack, and Danny find themselves in an alternate Earth called Aurora, where Napoleon is a literal talking head,  Aleister Crowley hasn’t realized he’s not in control, monsters abound, animals talk, shadows do as they please, and thanks to one particular bridge, you’ll be scared of puffins for the rest of your life. 


All Jonathan wants is to understand what the hell is going on.  Why does he need to find the Golden Sphere? What is he supposed to do when he finds it? Why do people seem to talk in code whenever he’s around? Is Danny hiding something from him? What the heck is the Chateau Peppermint Blonkers (I LOVE that absurd name, don’t you?), and who can he trust? 


This book truly is absurdity piled on top of absurdity, and mostly in a good way. Let’s start with Aleister Crowley, because this poor guy is just so apeshit cray cray.  Vandermeer’s Crowley rules Aurora with an iron fist, a creeptastic familiar named Wretch, and increasingly nonsensical pronouncements involving household trash and rabid animals. Or well, Crowley thinks he runs the show, but as the story progresses we learn more about how Wretch is, well, keeping Crowley under control. One of Crowley’s advisors is Napoleon’s head. Just his head. And when Napoleon gets to chatty, Crowley puts him up on a tall pedestal where no one can see or hear him. There’s also a mechanical elephant with an escape hatch under its tail, involving a conversation that screams to be read out loud in your best Monty Python voice. 

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I needed a comfort read.

After 4 days of trudging thru the world’s most boring political thriller and finally DNFing it, I needed a comfort read. Something I knew I was going to like, something distracting and escapist, ideally something I’d read before and maybe forgotten the ending of.

So I picked up Borne, by Jeff Vandermeer, which I read  a few years ago, and loved.

My strong memories from the first time I read Borne were:

Rachel sleeps with her shoes on. I understand why, but that sucks.

Borne has major sensory overload (i think?). I get that.

I remembered some stuff that Rachel had a boyfriend, I remembered it was a post apocalyptic story where everyone is near starving, I remembered the “villain” was a flying psycho-bear.  I remembered thinking Vandermeer seems to have a thing for bears. And a thing for tidal pools.

Borne is a book about, among other things, living with discomfort.  When you’re just trying to survive another week, comfort is at the bottom of your priority list. In this burned out,  half blown up, shell of a post-apocalyptic city, everyone scavenges anything they can find.  Bugs and lizards are dinner, because that’s all there is. You’ll trade anything for the medications that keep you alive. Finding a new set of clothing is easy, there’s usually someone recently dead in the road who doesn’t need theirs anymore.  Rachel is so desperate for good scavenge, that she’s willing to climb on a sleeping bear.

No one in this book is comfortable.  No one knows how long they’ll be safe. Or loved. Or accepted. Or tolerated.

So why the hell would I read this as a comfort book?

Your guess is as good as mine, but I read it, zipped through it, couldn’t put it down.  Borne himself is just as amazing and glorious and curious and weird and alien as he was last time I saw him.  He’s naive, but not.  Rachel needs someone she can love, and Borne realizes he doesn’t want to disappoint her, he doesn’t want her to regret loving him.

And damn did I forget the ending to this book!  It’s going along nicely,  Rachel trying to balance raising Borne and trying to figure out what the hell he is, while at the same time keeping her boyfriend Wick at bay.  Wick and Borne, um, they don’t really get along, and only Wick knows why.

The letter Wick writes to Rachel at the end, holy crap.

The wall that Rachel sees in the building, near the end. Holy crap.

The things (that are hopefully dead), that are falling out of the boxes, in that room, holy crap.

What Borne means when he says “Rachel, I can’t stop”.  And Rachel lying to herself, that she doesn’t understand what he’s talking about.  And Wick, who can’t bring himself to tell Rachel anything about his past, for fear he’ll be found unworthy of her love.

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Borne, by Jeff Vandermeer

published in 2017

where I got it: purchased new




I finally read Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne.  This book was on everyone’s Best of the Year list last year, so why did it take me so long to read it?  Uhm… i dunno. Took me a while to get out of The Southern Reach, I guess. Guess I needed the closure that was the incredible oversensoryoverload scene at the end of Annihilation more than I thought.  Anyway.


One of the nice things about read a book that had a lot of hype, a year after it came out, is that I can skip all the obligatory “what this book is about” crap, and get to the meat of what I wanna talk about in this not-a-review.


Seeing the Annihilation movie reminded me of how much I loved all the flashback scenes in the novel. I got to know the biologist through her flashbacks. Her character wasn’t only who she is right this second, while she is walking through Area X, but it’s all the things she did in her life that got her to be this particular person – the overgrown swimming pool, the tidepools, the isolated introvert-heaven projects, how she felt about herself and the world when she was outside. The biologist became who she is now, because of who she was then.


And that’s how I felt about Rachel.  The short flashbacks of her youth, of being a refugee, of how she wished her parents didn’t feel like they had to put on a happy face for her all the time, that is how I knew who she was. By who she was then, I had a better feeling for the depths of who she is now.  A well written flashback is a gem in a geode.


I’m a super tactile person.   I hate wearing shoes and i joke that when I walk around barefoot that I’m seeing the room with my feet. It’s only half a joke, because in a sense that isn’t seeing, I really am experiencing the texture of the floor through my feet, and that is being transmitting to my brain as a way of “seeing” the floor.   It’s a throwaway comment when Rachel mentions that she usually sleeps with her shoes on, that she hates taking her shoes off, something about an experience she had while she was a refugee.  When I read that, my gut reaction was “how sad, for her to be blind in that way”. I felt bad for her, that she wouldn’t be able to see a room through her feet.


Among other things that he might be, Borne is one gigantic sensory organ.  Once he starts talking and walking, and touching and tasting and “seeing the room through his feet”, he can’t stop. Well, he can’t stop doing those things just like he can’t stop doing some other things that he doesn’t like talking about.  Just like you can’t say to yourself “hmm, i’d like to shut off my sense of sight, or my sense of smell today”. You can’t stop either. But for you, not being able to flip a switch to stop seeing, or smelling, or tasting, is normal. So why would someone expect someone else to just be able to stop seeing the room through their feet?    Because we all want our kid to be fucking normal, that’s why.

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Acceptance (Southern Reach #3) by Jeff Vandermeer

published in 2014

where I got it: purchased new




The Southern Reach series came out in 2014, and I didn’t even need to wait for the series to be completed as all three books were published in the same calendar year.  So what the hell took me so long to finish reading it? None of these books are very long, and I wouldn’t describe any of them as difficult reads. So what gives?   A couple of things.


  • I didn’t want the series to be over
  • After reading the 2nd book in the series, Authority, I was a little intimidated to continue. Ok, A lot intimidated, because I really struggled with Authority.  (Which has led to me being a little intimidated to read Vandermeer’s newest book, Borne, which yes, I know is completely silly.)


Why did Authority intimidate me? I talked a good talk when I reviewed that book, but I struggled to read it and I had no idea what was going on.  Jeez, now I know how Control felt.  He’s been hired to do a job, and walks into this Kafka-esque tapestry of the WTFery that he’s supposed to summarize in reports to his superiors.  He can’t look like a fool to his employers, of course. Even worse, this is a government research agency.  If this is anything like actual R & D, the paychecks stop if you don’t produce results. Any kind of results. As an employee of the South Reach agency you’ve got to justify your existence, right?


So anyway, the mistake that I made was reading Authority as a standalone.  What finally worked for me was to binge read all three books, literally picking up the next book 10 minutes after finishing the previous one.  Authority and Acceptance worked very well when I read them as one longer novel.  I highly suggest reading these 3 books as one long novel to anyone who is interested in this series.


After all of that rambling, let’s talk about Acceptance, yes?  Sure.  But there are going to be spoilers for the entire series from this point forward.  And more rambling.

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VandermeerMany of you know Jeff Vandermeer for his acclaimed Southern Reach trilogy.  The novels Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance took the science fiction community by storm. These books were weird, they followed no known set of rules, and they were marketed as mainstream novels. And the response couldn’t have been better.  Some of you know the name Vandermeer from the countless anthologies Jeff and his wife Ann have edited, including the massive Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, The New Weird, The Time Travelers Almanac, Odd?, and the forthcoming  The Big Book of Science Fiction, which lands with a thump (seriously, this thing is 1200 pages!) this summer at a bookstore near you.   If you’ve been around a little longer, you know Jeff Vandermeer for his surreal and Ambergris fiction – the novels Shriek: An Afterword and Finch, and the short fiction collection City of Saints and Madmen.  I’m a pretty big Vandermeer fan, he’s been one of my favorite authors for what, nearly ten years now?  I’ve sought out his short fiction, his novels, his curated anthologies, even the funny stuff.


A talented and imaginative writer and editor,  Jeff is passionate about ensuring the next generation of writers and artists have the opportunity to learn about world building, writing, and character creation, and how to make all of that work together. To make this happen, Jeff is the co-director of Shared Worlds, a two week summer writing camp for teens, held at Wofford College.  Fictional worlds are created and populated, and then with coaching from authors such as Nnedi Okorafor, Tobias Buckell, Lev Grossman, Daniel Abraham,  Nathan Ballingrud, Terra Elan McVoy, and Leah Thomas,  the students bring these worlds alive through short stories, artwork, even video games. If you know an imaginative youngster, this is the camp for them.  Thanks to a grant from Amazon, critically claimed author Julia Elliott has been named the 2016 Amazon Writer-In-Residence for Shared Worlds. Her work has appeared in Tin House, The New York Times, Electric Literature, Best American Fantasy, and Best American Short Stories, among other publications. Her debut novel, The New and Improved Romie Futch, arrived in October 2015.


Shared Worlds, now in it’s 9th year, has been giving young writers and artists the opportunity to grow their creativity for about as long as I’ve been recommending City of Saints and Madmen to everyone I know.  Jeff was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the how’s, what’s, and why’s of Shared Worlds, and then he let me dive into fangirl territory. I promise, I only pestered him with a fraction of the questions that I’ve had for him since I first cracked open City of Saints and had my mind blown.

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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 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 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














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












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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FTC Stuff

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.