Turning Traitor: Juxtaposition, Corruption, the Bleed

Jeff VanderMeer • September 11th, 2010 @ 12:37 pm • Book Reviews

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Radically different author backgrounds, radically different approaches to characterization and narrative. Arrived on the same day, spent several hours on the same stack. May contain commonalities not immediately evident. In Alternative Universe #24, Our Kind of Discarded Dreams is a phantasmagorical rumination on global corruption from the perspective of characters living in a singularity. House of Traitors is also found in the Phantasmagoria section of the bookstore, and the two books are compared and contrasted in the context of major review blogs and other critical apparatus throughout the year.

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Israeli cult classic meets grim fantasy written by a Vietnam vet. The dark wars in Dolly City are ongoing in Alternate Universe #89B. The world grows colder with each passing year and people in the city fear mauraders and the Grauken—a time when intellect gives way to both cannibalism and the impulse to sculpt love ones to bizarre ideas of perfection. When Marika finds a baby in a plastic bag, the child may be the answer to attacks by the mysterious Silth, who can kill with their minds alone. The bleed-through is complete.

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In the Half-Made World, with its Agents of the Gun, its degraded Republic and western frontier, Linesmen can detonate minds and fragment them into oblivion. More subtle infiltrations occur from the detritus such attacks cause, allowing stories from Alternate Universe #45B to enter the dreams of those altered by the Linesmen. These dreams are manifestations of the Night Soul, an entrypoint for the McElroy Effect. While the remnants of the Republic fight for autonomy, they are permeated by the ghosts of “Mister X”, “Annals of Plagiary”, and “Particle of Difference”. Soon, the colonization will afford more blatant transmigration.

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Transition, not transference, occurs in Alternate Universe #8910B. In Tokyo Bay, the “Isle of Dreams” is a chunk of reclaimed land that serves as a garbage dump. Massive piles of trash attract a middle-aged widower and a mysterious woman in black who uses the island as an obstacle course for her motorcycle. In amongst the trash is the memoir of Araxie, which includes reference to an encounter with a gendarme during an exodus from Turkey. Somewhere, too, is a warped copy of The Gendarme in the Japanese translation, a fictionalized account of true events. Only the mysterious woman in black knows the signficance of finding both texts on the Isle of Dreams, and if she can safely return to Dolly City the Republic may be saved.

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Channeling Maldoror and Dorian Gray, Viscount Lascano Tegui, friend of Picasso and Apollinaire, lives his life as a renegade of Latin American literature in Alternate Universe #001A, all while composing a vast commercial epic fantasy novel that comes to him in fits and starts during dreams. In the dreams, he is on a strange island of detritus in Tokyo Bay and torn pages from the novel The Way of Kings are scattered in amongst used food containers, condoms, coffee grounds, fish skeletons, cracked computer monitors, and mountains of other items. In each dream, he retrieves different, nonsequential pages and must write down the text as remembered as soon as he wakes up. The novel is coming to him as a mystery—a crime of disconnected thoughts, characters, and situations, often cut-off in mid-sentence. But no matter how true to the memory of the pages he tries to be, the Viscount’s version is becoming corrupted. He is translating the English of the original into his own native Spanish, and the pages are stained when he finds them, or illegible, or chewed on. At times, too, he becomes confused because he encounters stray pages from other novels—accounts of a gendarme and an Armenian woman, a surgical experiment, grim battle of republic versus agents of a gun. So no matter how he tries, he will not be able to recreate the actual novel. His own life is also seeping into it, as he desperately attempts to fill in gaps—gaps that panic him because they seem like gaps in his own existence, his own memory. So The Way of Kings soon includes references to his experiences as a journalist, curator, painter, decorator, diplomat, mechanic, orator, and even dentist. Sometimes, too, as he is reading pages from The Way of Kings in his dreams, he sees a mysterious woman in black staring at him from across dessicated water jugs and rusted motorcycle parts and hills of nothing but empty shampoo bottles. And her presence makes him ever more desperate to complete his transcription of the novel, even as he is driven by an odd compulsion to murder unconnected to his writing.

The doors in his house…the Viscount is reluctant to open them anymore. They lead to strange places.

4 Responses to “Turning Traitor: Juxtaposition, Corruption, the Bleed”

  1. jere7my says:

    Oh, wow…”Our Kind of Discarded Dreams” is such a better title than either of the originals.

  2. Sovay says:

    You have a new John le Carré. I covet.

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