A Summer of Writing: Fiction, VanderMeer Creative, Upcoming Events

If you’ve followed me on twitter or facebook, you know I’ve had a fair number of gigs already this year, including a great one at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for the Human Imagination in San Diego last week. I also saved a toad at my sister-in-law’s wedding in San Antonio and that same night learned I’d won the Nebula Award for Annihilation (the first for my publisher, FSG)this after recently selling my new novel Borne to FSG, with the UK rights going to Fourth Estate and Canadian rights to HarperCollins Canada. Today, too, I learned the Southern Reach trilogy has a Portuguese publisher.

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Area X Secrets?


The lovely and amazing 4th Estate trade paperback covers (UK editions)–now available.

No, I’m not back on the internet. I’m pretty much off the internet until October, but through the magic of scheduling posts in advance, I can tell you: go forth and acquire the new UK trade paperbacks of the Southern Reach trilogy. They’re beautiful.

I’m also able to come to you from the past to spill some Area X secrets. I’ve followed the discussions at Goodreads and elsewhere about Area X and what happens in the novels. I’m really humbled and flattered readers are willing to spend the time analyzing the books in such an in-depth way. I’ve been blessed with readers who are willing to accept ambiguity and recognize that this particular trilogy was never going to be about easy answers. But those readers have also gleaned a fair number of the clues and hit upon those answers the series does provide.

In support of that, I thought I’d let slip some little bits of information. This info may not come as a surprise to some, but it does qualify as SPOILER, so I’ll put a big image of Area X here between you and it. Scroll down if you wish.


Regarding speculation about the plant/flower: Think of the plant and the bloom as markers on a map. A kind of planting of a flag. But in this case one that draws attention or influence to it. It doesn’t bode well that Control finds a dead one in his desk drawer…

Regarding the animal transformations: Area X doesn’t feel threatened and doesn’t encounter “abnormalities.”

Regarding doppelgangers: Something is wrong or some threat is identified, and thus the “spy” is sent back as counter-spy. To put it as simply as possible.

Complicating matters: Environmental factors and other Area X imperatives can interfere with these definitions or explanations having through-line clarity. Because of this, it seemed unlikely the Southern Reach would ever have enough data to figure it out.

As for the use of hypnosis in the novels…there are a few hints that Lowry came back from the first expedition with special knowledge used to enhance conditioning and hypnotic effect beyond what is possible in the here-and-now. I do not think hypnosis in the real world works the way it does for Southern Reach operatives. (I *do* think a lot of us are brain-washed by ideology and counter-factual information, however…and that’s a form of hypnotism if you think about it.)

As for [redacted], the truth is more astonishing than you might think. It’s actually [redacted], who was [redacted] in the [redacted] because of [redacted].

Shared Worlds Teen SF/Fantasy Writing Camp: Year Eight!

(Shared Worlds 2015 poster and student writing book cover. Art by Jeremy Zerfoss.)

For eight years I’ve been a part of Shared Worlds, a unique SF/Fantasy writing camp located at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. I currently serve as co-director of the camp, with founder Jeremy L.C. Jones, with my main focus running the creative writing track, publishing the Shared Worlds book, and bringing in five or six guest writers each year. My wife Ann VanderMeer serves as the editor-in-residence, overseeing things like the critiques and student meetings with guest writers. This year our week one guest writer was Catherynne M. Valente, who gave a marvelous reading that got the students in the right mood to start writing. In week two, we had Nathan Ballingrud, Monica Byrne, Tobias Buckell, and Ekaterina Sedia–all doing amazing work with the students.

(Week two guest writers: Monica Byrne, Nathan Ballingrud, Tobias Buckell, and Ekaterina Sedia–with editor-in-residence, Ann VanderMeer. Hub City Bookshop.)

Every year, it seems like a daunting task, and our eighth year no less so, with over 60 students, from as far away as the UK–and the mission to help the students create whole worlds in groups the first week and then write stories set in those worlds the second week. As you might expect, this requires a lot of amazing staff in addition to the guest writers–classroom instructors, guest lecturers, residential assistants, administrative and managerial assistants, and more. We’re also fortunate to have Tim Schmitz as the director of summer programs at Wofford, coordinating all of that, and assistant director Will Hindmarch overseeing the world-building track.

The culminaann1tion of all of this effort–fraught with timing issues–is that in the space of about 48 hours at the second week, the students complete their stories, put the finishing touches on their worlds, receive a critique from a guest writer, meet with the guest writer to discuss their story (and writing in general), and then present their worlds via video to each other and to their parents. During that stretch, they also receive the reward of a lot of free books donated by publishers along with other perks. The alien baby, which has been around the world, serves as their mascot, and staff commit to doing silly things as rewards for meeting deadlines. This year, Ann dyed her hair purple and wore her sushi pajamas when the students turned their stories in on time…while I fulfilled a promise I made to “eat my hat” if I turned in the 2014 SW book late and ate a cake that looked like a hat–without aid of utensils or my hands.

The Shared Worlds’ 2015 student group was amazingly energized and creative for the entire two-week stretch, without let-up–just a great group of students. We also had a lot of TAs and RAs who were former students, and one former student, Jackie Gitlin, who served as a classroom instructor. It’s nice to see that institutional knowledge come back in the service of the camp. TA Aimee Hyndman even has a novel coming out that’s based on a story she wrote while a student at Shared Worlds.

SW students
(Students in a Shared Worlds classroom, taking a break to look at their stories from a different perspective. Photo by Jackie Gitlin.)

The broader goal with Shared Words is to provide a place where creative types can use their imagination and can engage in imaginative play in a structured environment that also includes art and sometimes gaming. Yes, the creative writing component is important–and for many students having a professional consult with an award-winning writer is a huge plus at the camp. But we’re not as concerned with helping teach future writers as we are with allowing for a wider range of creativity. In the camp, students have to work in groups and negotiate as they create their worlds. They have to analyze and synthesize information provided to them about politics, biology, philosophy, and more. They also have to work on their own, self-motivated, and meet deadlines. Really, they’re asked to do so many things, and it works because they love the fantastical, they love the freedom to run wild with their imaginations. The structure gives them that freedom.

(Students browse the free books at camp’s end, provided by publishers and private donors.)

It’s remarkable to me that we’ve made it to the eight-year mark, with the camp in good order as we head into the ninth year–remarkable guests in 2016 include Nnedi Okorafor, Julia Elliott, Kelly Barnhill, Tobias Buckell, and Terra Elan McVoy. We’re also grateful for past support for some of our PR campaigns from such greats as Neil Gaiman and Ursula K. Le Guin.

So I guess it’s time to start planning for a ten-year reunion weekend, too. In the meantime, below find some more photos and videos from the camp this year. If you are a teen interested in this kind of a camp, you’ll be able to register for 2016 soon. If you’re a parent of such a teenager, feel free to email Shared Worlds with any questions.

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Redefining Utopia and Dystopia or Post-Apoc

I thought that this review by Niall Harrison at Strange Horizons of James Bradley’s Clade was pretty fascinating and extremely useful. I like that he acknowledges the potential disconnect between the reality we’re headed toward and the way this reality is depicted in fiction—and just how difficult it is for fiction writers to tackle the subject. I also understand his point about “hyperobjects” and agree to an extent, but my point about hyperobjects, as discussed in my “Slow Apocalypse and Fiction” essay is really the same as Harrison’s: that any term we do use had better be complex enough to really help us make a paradigm shift in our thinking, because the very problems we face have occurred because we’re too simplistic in our thinking. That term could be “Fred” if Fred does the job, as far as I’m concerned. But, alas, Fred won’t do the job. We’re already running too much of our software using Fred.

The exasperating thing is that good writers are forever meant to be running data through bullshit machines that live in their heads—all while recognizing that writers are no more or less absurd or irrational than anyone else. If your bullshit machine dies, then you die on the page. But it is harder than ever for the bullshit machine to work in the current era–or to keep up with the ways in which the world outside of fiction has become fictionalized, fragmented, and layered with storytelling.

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Annihilation Wins the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel: Acceptance Speech

Annihilation, the first novel in the Southern Reach trilogy, has won the Shirley Jackson Award.

This comes on the heels of Annihilation winning the Nebula Award as well as being nominated for the Locus Award and longlisted for the 25,000-pound Warwick Prize, and the entire trilogy being nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the Campbell Award, among other honors. The novels are also now being published in 25 countries, along, of course, with the plans in place for Alex Garland to adapt the series for Paramount Pictures / Scott Rudin and Eli Bush. I feel extremely blessed and fortunate.

This time, Hugo Award-winner John Chu was kind enough to accept on my behalf, as we’d just gotten back from a festival in Sardinia. And this time I wanted to recognize some influencers on the Area X novels that I haven’t really talked about before. I think it’s clear these novels are personal to me, but they’re personal to me on so many levels, from work experience and my relationship with the wilderness here in Florida–and also, in terms of family. I’m a huge fan of Jackson’s work, so this award means a lot. Thanks, too, to all of my editors and publishers and readers worldwide.



Thank you for this honor—my thanks to the judges and my heartfelt appreciation to the other nominees for their great work. Thanks to my wonderful wife Ann—the characters and situations were immeasurably enriched by her contributions, as are most things. I must also thank my agent Sally Harding and my editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Sean McDonald. Both of you have been godsends and I am humbly grateful.

Sometimes you can forget the people in your past and present who have contributed to a worldview or a way of thinking about story. For the Southern Reach, then, I’d like to thank a few relatives and friends in science or science-related fields who are present in the series indirectly. And whose research in various ways supports a view of the mundane world as complex and deep and also, in its way, strange and uncanny.

–My father, Robert K. VanderMeer, an entomologist and research chemist whose groundbreaking work has led to him, among other things, using poison frog venom to control fire ants. His commitment to process, his work ethic, and his inventiveness have inspired me—as have my glimpses of the scientific community through him from an early age.

–My mother, Penelope Miller, whose biological illustration of sea turtles and other ocean life for a number of publications and naturalists made me want to become a marine biologist before I became a writer and whose painter’s eye she, thankfully, passed down to me.

–My stepmother Laurence Morel, whose breakthroughs on lupus have brought us closer to a cure and whose scientific work shares the same rigor and thoughtfulness as that of my father.

–My sister Elizabeth VanderMeer, whose environmental work (policy and ethics) and study of environmental planning in cities, both in Brazil and in England—combined with her other emphasis on primate studies—has given me valuable insight into both the human and animal worlds.

–My close friend of almost 20 years, Eric Schaller, a molecular biologist whose testing and questioning extend beyond the lab he runs at Dartmouth and into interrogations of scientists and the lives they live in fiction like my novel Authority.

–And, finally, my stepdaughter Erin Kennedy, also in environmental studies, whose spirit is especially present in Acceptance and without which the novel would be much diminished. Her big heart and creative stick-to-itiveness I will always love.

If the Southern Reach is any way weird science fiction, or telling a true story, it is in part because of them. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Scientists can also be storytellers—they have big, bold imaginations and they enrich the world by better communicating the true oddness of its reality to us. Thank you again for this award.


2015 Shared Worlds Teen Writing Camp Line-Up Change: Buckell and Sedia Added

Happy to say that Ekaterina Sedia and Tobias Buckell are returning to teach at Shared Worlds again this year. They’re both excellent instructors and the students will really enjoy them.

Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant unfortunately have unforeseen circumstances that will not allow them to attend as our guests. But we hope to reschedule them in the future.

Here’s more on Sedia and Buckell–and you can see our entire line-up online, including Catherynne M. Valente and Monica Byrne. All of our guests will be reading at Hub City Bookstore, schedule to be announced. Ann and I will also be there, of course.

Tobias S. Buckell is a New York Times Bestselling author born in the Caribbean. He grew up in Grenada and spent time in the British and US Virgin Islands, which influence much of his work. His novels and over 50 stories have been translated into 18 different languages. His work has been nominated for awards like the Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus, and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author. He currently lives in Bluffton, Ohio with his wife, twin daughters, and a pair of dogs.

Ekaterina Sedia resides in the Pinelands of New Jersey. Her critically-acclaimed and award-nominated novels, The Secret History of Moscow, The Alchemy of Stone, The House of Discarded Dreams, and Heart of Iron, were published by Prime Books. Her short stories appeared in Analog, Baen’s Universe, Subterranean, and Clarkesworld, as well as numerous anthologies, including Haunted Legends andMagic in the Mirrorstone. She is also the editor of the anthologies Paper Cities (World Fantasy Award winner),Running with the Pack, Bewere the Night, and Bloody Fabulous as well as The Mammoth Book of Gaslit Romanceand Wilful Impropriety.

A Summer of Reading, Sardinia, the Warwick Prize, & More


This summer I’m a guest at the Isle of Stories Festival in Sardinia, with an event July 3 (more details here). I’m taking some writing with me–about done with a novella entitled “Bliss” and some short stories. But I’m also taking some books! And what books. Great stuff has come in the door recently. In addition to the Lispector Complete Stories (more info below), I’m in the middle of reading some great books. Here are some first impressions.

ENRIQUE VILA-MATAS’ A BRIEF HISTORY OF PORTABLE LITERATURE (New Directions)–I must admit I envy Vila-Matas. He’s sneaky, funny, gets to be somewhat experimental but is still accessible, and underneath it all he knows how to tell an entertaining story. This tale of a secret society of writers and artists could just be an in-joke, but it’s not.

JOSEPH ROTH’S THE HOTEL YEARS (New Directions)–Written between WWI and WII, these essays cover a variety of topics, serious and less serious. Some are observations in a moment, others deeply evocative of setting, and some touch on politics. I’m just getting into this one, but it’s already an interesting look at the past, in a sense. For some reason, I’m drawn to think of the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel (perhaps I should be chided for that) and then its source material while I’m reading.

MARIANNE FRITZ’S THE WEIGHT OF THINGS (Dorothy Project). Brian Evenson blurbed this one as starting out simply and gently and then wading “into resonant darkness.” I haven’t gotten to the darkness yet, but it is already striking me in good ways and I’m intrigued. ALTHOUGH NOTHING INTRIGUES ME MORE than backcover copy mentioning a 10,000-page book by Fritz titled “Fortress” that she created elaborate diagrams in full color for and which Dorothy Project claims is untranslatable. For shame for shame, Dorothy. I think you should do it. At the very least, I am going to have to track down a copy in the original Austrian.

JUSSI ADLER-OLSEN’s THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES (Plume)–Although this one starts out a bit shakily, this first Department Q novel soon finds its sea legs and becomes an engrossing mystery about an abducted woman and the eccentric and shaken detective who picks up the cold case and begins to pursue it. Lively, with some unexpected scenes on a human level as well as good twists. I’ve become addicted to this one and expect it to hold up to the end.


Earlier this summer, I also read the following books (in no particular order), all of which I recommend and some of which seem like essential reading.

EKA KURNIAWAN’s BEAUTY IS A WOUND (New Directions) –This Indonesian author’s English-language debut is scatological, scandalous, lively, beautiful and dark and messed up and fantastical. It’s like One Hundred Years of Solitude kicked into another gear, with almost a punk sensibility housed within gorgeous writing–and stories coiled within stories within stories. One of the most brilliant things about the novel is how Kurniawan never loses the thread even when spinning so many tales at once.

PHIL KLAY’s REDEPLOYMENT (Penguin)–I still feel that this is best paired with The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim but on a re-read I really liked quite a few of these stories. A couple fall flat, like one set on a college campus, but in general it was a recommended read, with several that seemed brave and different to me.

JOANNA WALSH’s VERTIGO (Dorothy Project)–Stunning short, sharp shocks with insight that reminds me of the very personal work of Clarice Lispector. Forthcoming–don’t miss it. Packs a wallop into a very small space. I suspect this will get some year-end kudos.

AMELIA GRAY’s GUTSHOT (FSG Originals)–Odd, weird, disturbing stories about people in air ducts and casual conversations about, well, being gutshot. Modern fables with a visceral quality that will alter your brain.

ALEXANDRA HOROWITZ’s ON LOOKING (Scribner)–“Eleven walks through expert eyes” that should be required reading for writers as it’s a fascinating showcase of bias, emphasis, and how we miss things in our environment depending on our background.

NELL ZINK’s MISLAID (Ecco)–A hilarious but also serious comedy of errors and comedy of clashing cultures. Zink’s strengths from her first novel Wall Creeper are all on display in this tale of the South. Some good interrogation of dominant hierarchy and systems as well.

CLARICE LISPECTOR’s The Complete Stories (New Directions)–I don’t know how to describe this book except as a revelation and transcendent. It’s tough to write such personal stories that seem so universal. Lispector can take the smallest detail and make it fascinating and the center of a story, or she use a wider lens. This collection, to me, is as important to any writer as the collected stories of Vladimir Nabokov. Like the Nabokov, these stories are arranged in chronological order, so you can chart the writer’s progress over the years. (I’ll be reviewing this one shortly.)


Finally, in other news, my Nebula Award for Annihilation came in the mail yesterday–and if you missed it, Annihilation is on the long list for the Warwick Prize, which comes with a generous 25,000-pounds for the winner. Will my slim novel containing multitudes beat out some of those heavy hitters? We’ll see. The short list is announced in a few months.
VanderMeer--Nebula Award

Nebula Award Acceptance Speech for Best Novel–Annihilation

Saturday the Nebula Awards were announced, and my novel Annihilation won in the best novel category. You can find the entire list of nominees and winners here–congratulations to all. I was in San Antonio for a family wedding and so couldn’t attend the ceremony. But my friend (and very talented writer) Usman Tanveer Malik accepted on my behalf and read the speech below Thanks for all of the congratulations on social media–I’m afraid I haven’t yet caught up on my thanks individually since it’s been overwhelming and I was away from my computer much of the weekend. Special thanks to my editor Sean McDonald at FSG.



Thank you for this honor—my thanks to the voters and my heartfelt appreciation to the other nominees. Thanks to my wife Ann, love of my life and the only person I felt comfortable talking to about the Southern Reach trilogy while writing the rough drafts. The characters and situations were immeasurably enriched by her contributions—as are most things. A huge thank you to my agent Sally Harding and to Farrar, Straus and Giroux, as well as the many publishers world-wide who have been so enthusiastic about this series.

My novels have been nominated for many awards, but this is the first time I’ve won something. Which is funny because I wrote this novel while I had severe bronchitis and for a long time thought maybe I’d just written something aimless about four women wandering a wilderness landscape that happened to resemble the 14-mile trail I hike in North Florida. Also, given that the Southern Reach trilogy as a whole is an examination of the dysfunction and absurdity found in human-created systems, it’s astonishing to me that I was up for a Nebula rather than this year’s Hugo. For which fact I am eternally grateful, however.

If I have anything else left to say—beyond cursing the fates at having a scheduling conflict the year Nick Offerman hosted the Nebulas—it would just be this…It’s an encouraging sign that Liu Cixin’s novel made the ballot this year, and I hope it’s the start of a trend. I’m uncomfortably aware of the fact that for a lot of international writers US- and UK-based awards seem distant and inaccessible. The more that writers from outside of  the Usual Places feel like their work is being seriously considered, the more we build a broader and more diverse community. The more we enrich our own work as well.

If I had to confess to influences on the Southern Reach trilogy, they would come from all over the world, and from amazing writers who published stunning novels and stories in English but who never even made a Nebula ballot. In accepting this award, I must also accept that I am only as good as the sum of that diverse reading. So I dedicate this win to those writers and to their legacy.

Thank you very much again for this honor.

My Novel Borne Sells to Farrar, Straus and Giroux: More Details

As the Hollywood Reporter reported last week, I’ve sold my new novel Borne to Sean McDonald at Farrar, Straus and Giroux in a mid-six-figure deal that’s a landmark for me. Many thanks to my agent Sally Harding and everyone at the Cooke Agency. In all things career-wise Sally has been a great boon. There’s also a very robust deal with The Fourth Estate for the UK rights, and it appears there will be more news soon about other rights sales involving Borne—on several fronts.

FSG did an amazing job with my Southern Reach trilogy and I am really glad to be back with them. They’ve been kind of a dream to work with, and even though I’ve been in this business 30 years I’m continually learning from what they do and how they do it. I also appreciated their tenacity and endurance in supporting the release of all three Southern Reach novels in one year. I’m very thankful they’re taking such good care of me, and I look forward to seeing what they’ll do with Borne.

Borne is the novel I’ve talked about for a couple of years now, the same one the New York Times wrote about here last year. An excerpt from an early draft appeared in Black Clock, edited by Steve Erickson. Erickson’s comments on the excerpt also were helpful in thinking about Borne as a whole. The novel’s about a woman in a ruined city of the future who is a scavenger of biotech, who finds a strange creature in the matted fur of a giant, psychotic bear named Mord that’s been terrorizing the city. The woman, Rachel, takes the creature home and slowly begins to bond with it, against her best instincts. Is Borne an animal or plant? A deity, or a cruel experiment?  “Am I a person?” Borne asks Rachel, in extremis. “Yes, you are a person,” Rachel tells him. “But like a person, you can be a weapon, too.”

What follows is kind of like an intense Chekov play in the round, with monsters fighting in the backdrop. It’s meant to be harrowing, yet sometimes very funny. If ever I’ve written something that’s dark and dangerous but also hopeful and uplifting, it might just be Borne. A lot of it is taken from life and my family and there’s a lot that’s relevant to our current environmental situation. But more than anything, it’s kind of satisfying that Borne has a traditional three-act structure and lots of natural resolution at the end. The Southern Reach trilogy was always going to be more ambivalent about closure due to the nature of the novels. But Borne’s a different kind of creature…

An exact publication date for Borne hasn’t yet been set, but hopefully I’ll know by the fall or winter.

In other news, rumor has it that Natalie Portman may join the cast of the movie version of my novel Annihilation, which is being written and directed by Ex Machina’s Alex Garland. More info on the Annihilation movie when I have it.

Haeckel slime moulds

Area X: The Bird Watchers


For those who’ve asked me on Twitter about the possibility of new Area X/Southern Reach fiction, I can report that I’m (slowly) working on a novella entitled “The Bird Watchers.” The novella is set during the last week before the event that created Area X and the viewpoint character is Old Jim. Some readers will remember Old Jim as “ol’ piano fingers” in one of the more chilling scenes in Acceptance. Well, it turns out Old Jim was involved in the Seance & Science Brigade’s mission, among other nefarious things.

Without giving too much away, I can tell you that Control’s grandpa Jack makes an appearance. You might also catch sight of some characters from the lighthouse keeper’s thread in Acceptance. Structurally, the story is broken into sections that delve into the present and the past, each with Old Jim in the title. Like, for example “Old Jim and the Lighthouse” and “Old Jim and the Thing From Below”.

This isn’t an attempt to “wrap things up,” and I really didn’t expect to even work on any additional Southern Reach fiction. But the idea came to me while thinking a bit more about the S&S Brigade–an organization that has really stuck in my brain. It’s stuck there not just in the context of Central parasitically infiltrating and using the Brigade, but also in thinking about how their mission might extend to other places than the Forgotten Coast.

I had the idea for the S&SB when I visited the Coral Castle near Miami several years ago. On the day I visited, I stumbled upon two separate groups of researchers taking readings. One was comprised of psychics and the other of physicists. As you might imagine, I couldn’t let go of that juxtaposition and knew it would eventually come out in my fiction.

I’m letting “The Bird Watchers” coalesce slowly and organically, so I have no idea when I’ll have a final draft, but I’m enjoying revising the S&SB, exploring Old Jim’s involvement with various elements along the Forgotten Coast, and also in returning to a fictionalized history of that area. It feels very natural.

Here’s the start of the section entitled “Old Jim and the Biologists.” It’s atypical of the style of the novella as a whole, but the only part I feel comfortable unveiling for now…


Once there had been biologists here, in numbers so great that the forgotten coast shook with the tremors of their vehicles. These men and women bestrode the terrain like conquerors, sent by government money in the form, it was rumored, of gold bars well-hidden that could not devalue or decay like the money kept in banks.

In the summer of that first year they established their headquarters in the ruins of the ghost town, a bivouac of scientists unprecedented for that place even when it had been alive. As they spread out across their migratory range, the biologists as observed by the locals began to carry out a series of arcane rituals. They shoved pieces of swamp grasses and bits of bark into vials. They put up tents out in “the field” as they called it, even when it was just black swamp. They used binoculars, scopes, and microscopes. They took readings with innumerable peculiar instruments. At times, they stopped in their labors to swear about the heat and humidity, which did not endear them.

The biologists tagged many living things—at least one of every creature that moved and breathed across the pine forests and the cypress swamp, the salt marshes and the beach. They took fine nylon nets and set up capture zones for songbirds, the worst among them running clod-stepped to the rescue of what they had themselves endangered. Fragile wings and fragile beaks, heads to the side; small eyes looking up at giants that held their bodies in half-closed fists. They tagged so many things, had brought so many tranq darts, that the blue caps removed from the tips still showed up years later in the marshes, along the river bank or crushed into the gravel of the dirt roads.

In their heyday, at the zenith of their powers, some said their boot prints outnumbered the tracks of deer and raccoons and otters on the salt flats.

But over time, the effort that had quickened slowed, the impulse behind it dulled, and the biologists began to die out. Their mobile tents that had once dotted the camping ground near the lighthouse began to disappear. The sounds of their idle conversations before expeditions in the early morning became muted and infrequent. That last spring there might have been a hundred of them and by the fall only four or five. Their diminishment hastened by a lack of grant renewal and a moving on of government attention, that great eye roving toward other lands and foreign wars.

Research and development went to other projects, men who would soon walk upon the moon, while down below soon no one observed the marshes except the few people who had always lived on the forgotten coast. In the winter, the last biologist assigned to an area of remote swamp was recalled, never to return. The great initiative had receded into history, the ghost town left to the ghosts again.

At least, that was the story told down at the village bar, where Old Jim often sat and paid in cash for beer and sandwiches tossed to him out of coolers. Sometimes they told it for the strangeness, sometimes more serious. Every time it achieved an added velocity and detail that might not have been there before.