Archive for the ‘Jeff Vandermeer’ Category
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)
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)
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)
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.
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
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.
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!
We came home from vacation laden with fudge, wine, cherries, a few books, and wonderful memories. Vacations out of town: I highly recommend ‘em. Even if you only go a few hours away.
Came home to find a few packages waiting for us on the kitchen table as well (thanks garden/house sitter!)
behold, books review-copy, purchased, and borrowed, and hopefully to be read soon:
from bottom to top, we’ve got:
The Thackery T Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, Edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer – This is my top priority, once I finish the book I’m reading right now (more on that later). I really have no idea how to describe this book, but I’ll try. It’s a massive collection of stories, articles, photos and artwork of the strange things (and the stories behind them) that were found in Dr. Lambhead’s sprawling home after his death. The man was a hoarder/collector of anything and everything strange. I believe the Vandermeer’s solicited entries for this, and accepted only the strangest. Suffice to say, I’ve been excited about this one for a while, and when I tore open than shipping envelope I squee’d around the apartment for most of that evening. I’ve only been able to spend about 10 minutes with the book so far, and just reading random opening paragraphs I can tell I’m gonna be squeeing the entire time I’m reading.
Lowtown, by Daniel Polansky – my 2nd priority. I’ve been looking forward to this title for months. Since I got a well written e-mail from a gent that started out something like “Hi, my name is Daniel Polansky, and I’ve written this book. . . . “. Early reviews were positive, focusing on the anti-hero and darkness of the book. Well, ya’ll know I loves me an anti-hero, and I loves me some dark. Not to mention this is a beautiful hardcover edition too.
We picked up Jeff Vandermeer’s The Steampunk Bible the other day, and while I haven’t had a ton of time to look through it, I’ve drooled over the photos and read a handful of the guest essays.
as you can see, It’s book pornalicious.
Cat Valente? After reading your essay, I love you even MORE! “parents, talk to your children about steampunk . . “
(more photos after the jump) Read the rest of this entry »
Finch, by Jeff Vandermeer
Published in 2009
Where I got it: purchased new
why I read it: have enjoyed previous Vandermeer books
John Finch hates his job. Hates watching his beautiful city of Ambergris crumble, destroyed, looted, rebuilt into something it shouldn’t be. He hates his “detective work”, informing on his friends and neighbors to his grey cap boss whose smile is all teeth, the Partials who follow him everywhere, recording everything he says and does with their fungally recording eyes. Hates what a fungal parasite is slowly but irrevocably doing to his best friend Wyte, the only man who knows all of Finch’s secrets. Hates how he always falls back to playing both sides, in hopes he can keep his friends and loved ones alive.
But most of all, Finch hates that there is no escape. Not from Ambergris, not from the grey caps, and not from who and what he is.
His latest cast, a double murder, defies description. Found in a nondescript apartment: One dead adult human male, one very dead grey cap of undetermined sex or age (if such a thing can ever be determined), amputated at the waist. Grey caps are pretty hard to kill, maybe he should take notes. The memory bulbs of the dead are useless, offering only hallucinations and impossible places. Through his network of spies and snitches, Finch learns who the dead man was. Someone impossible. Someone who couldn’t have been there because he’s been dead for a hundred years.
Finch and Wyte investigate and learn the mystery is about much more than just the dead man, it’s about what the dead man can do. Wyte is dying, has exacted a promise from Finch to help him, when the time comes. Wyte can’t fight the thing inside him much longer, and they both know he won’t go quietly.
You don’t read VanderMeer, you experience it, you swim through it, you breathe it, you smell it. anyone who knows me knows that is one of the highest compliments I can give anything. I made my way through The Third Bear, sometimes meandering, sometimes biting my nails, sometimes swimming through the salty surf. Wherever VanderMeer took me, it wasn’t where I was expected. Most of these stories start out light if strange, and then the light turns to dark and the strange only gets perfectly stranger. They are startling and surreal, and much Lovecraftian deliciousness abounds.
So spoiled on epic series and 800+ page books, it’s no surprise I often have a tough time with short stories. What happened before? what happens next? who are these people? where the hell are we? I don’t know what specifically I need for a short story to work for me, but I know VanderMeer does it. Most of the stories contained in The Third Bear are told in first person, often by people who are at a crossroads – they’ve done something horrible, or they are about to.
I was happily surprised at how much of The Third Bear worked for me. On the rare occasion that I do pick up a book of short stories, I expect a bell curve of enjoyment: a few stories will knock my socks off, most of them will be OK, and a few will suck. The Third Bear worked out pretty much like this: One entry didn’t do it for me, and the rest knocked my socks off to one extent or another. There is a reason I can’t say no to Jeff VanderMeer.
I am slowly working my way up to Finch, really I am! If you’re new to Vandermeer, start with Shriek, An Afterword, then read City of Saints and Madmen, then you’ll be good and ready for Finch.
* * * * *
At least in the version I got a hold of, the oddness began right from the start. The two covers of the book were a story unto themselves, describing a visitor to Vandermeer’s port city of Ambergris. This visitor falls out of the ferry, and is clutching a copy of Vandermeer’s City of Saints and Madmen to his chest. Stranger yet, the inside cover speaks of Mr. Vandermeer’s untimely disappearance, and the strange notes he left in his wake. Turn a few pages, and under the “Also written by” list, many non existent tomes appear. This isn’t false advertising, it’s foreplay.
Vandermeer’s City of Saints and Madmen, a.k.a. The Book of Ambergris is exactly that: a collection of short stories in and about the port city of Ambergris (and yes, you find out how the city managed to get such a beautiful name that means something so disgusting. Look it up), her history, her religions, her politics, with minor cameos by Janice and Duncan Shriek, of Vandermeer’s Shriek: An Afterword.
Reading this book is like being in a haunted house, populated by the friendly ghosts of all the relatives you wish you could have met, but you can’t understand what they are saying. It’s like being in the Sistine chapel, and although it’s emtpy and abandonded, but you can still the chanting if you don’t try to listen to hard. No matter how much time I spend with this book, I don’t know if I’ll ever learn all the secrets of Ambergris.