Ecstatic Days Jeff VanderMeer Thu, 18 Sep 2014 02:39:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bear Versus Texting Man: Our Spectacular Disconnection Thu, 18 Sep 2014 02:32:55 +0000
(Photo by Mike Bender/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

I wrote the short essay below before encountering this blog post about dystopic fiction, this op-ed about useless creatures, and Steven Shaviro’s blog post of 22 short theses. But all three are relevant to the issues set out below. (And in talking about the environment and our relationship to animals, let’s be clear: I’m not making any special claims about my own Southern Reach trilogy.)

The op-ed about useless animals cuts to the heart of our problematic relationship to our fellow animals. The blog post of theses is important because it begins to suggest, on a philosophical and practical level, how to begin to move forward on these issues.

As for the blog post on dystopias, my two cents: It’s become harder and harder for near-future science fiction to be considered cutting edge or paradigm-shifting if it doesn’t on some level or sub-level engage with an aspect of the issues set out below, in my opinion. This may be a different issue than whether a novel is aesthetically successful or works in other ways. However it is worth noting as well that most contemporary mainstream novels with no speculative elements in them do not successfully convey the “science fictional present” in which we live. Which is to say, they could have been written any time in the past 50 years–plus smart phones.

That lack in contemporary realism isn’t great. But the escapism in a fair number of Collapse novels is, to my mind, perhaps more insidious because it trades off our own fears of, well, almost imminent collapse and turns them into somewhat comforting disaster porn. At the same time, this is a difficult endeavor. The instantaneous commodification and coopting of terms like “eco-fabulism” and “cli-fi” by pop culture and culture at large speaks to how difficult it is to find fresh ways to address these issues in fiction that do not immediately lose the shock of the new required for them to infiltrate minds in a meaningful way. (Especially in a context within which the 1970s disaster novels of, for example, J.G. Ballard, still seem more relevant than much current fiction.)

For additional, related discussion, read this “in conversation” piece between me and Karen Joy Fowler.


In a popular YouTube clip, a man walks out of a doorway in some suburban location and meanders down the sidewalk, texting, his attention locked in on his phone. The black bear padding down the sidewalk toward him lumbers in the questing way typical of ursines. The man doesn’t see the bear and keeps on not seeing the bear for a very long time. When the bear is so close it has eclipsed the man’s vision, the man jumps half out of his skin and runs away. The bear also seems startled. The video has aired on many found-footage television shows and a lot of people find it very funny. But I’m not sure how funny it is, really.


Black bears are common here in North Florida, but it’s rare to spot them while hiking except through binoculars because they are shy, careful creatures. A black bear crossing the trail far ahead is a graceful, almost ethereal shape, delicate in a way you wouldn’t suppose from seeing them on film.

When hiking, smart phones distract because part of the point is to exist in the moment and because in the wilderness it’s important to be observant of your surroundings. The landscape I walk through transitions from pine forest to black-water cypress swamp, and then to marsh flats and, finally, the sea. Along the way, you might encounter anything from wild pigs to alligators to water moccasins—and sometimes that snake is lunging at you, the pig charging, and the alligator, sprawled across the trail, triggers a decision about whether to jump over it or not.

Wildlife encountered in its natural environment—whether a bear, bandy-legged raccoon or myopic armadillo—gives you some sense of animals as they really are and how they live. This is a kind of contact we’re losing, and with it our own connection to the landscape. A 2010 study by researcher Joe Heinrich concluded that American children grow up developmentally challenged in their perception of animals and the natural world. Americans also experience accelerated rates of myopia and Vitamin D deficiency due to living so much of our lives inside, glued to screens.

Perhaps as a kind of slurry or run-off from these trends, our online experience is full of animals pushing slogans of universal truth or some humorous saying. Wise owls, “otter nonsense,” smiling dolphins. Because we love animals. We usually love them as long as they’re funny or wise or cute or in some other way reduced down to a meme. We breathe life into them using carelessly corrosive received ideas, each iteration farther from any kind of true seeing.

Even worse are images like a popular “cute” one of an otter in a small glass cage. Holes in the cage allow people to shake hands with the otter. This image is shared and re-shared with seemingly little realization that if the image showed a human being in a glass cage, trained to shake hands with visitors, no one would be calling it “cute.” This is all a wretched lie and we shouldn’t buy into it.

How did we get here? Perhaps if not for the false sense of superiority brought on in part by the comforts and gadgets of our post-Industrial Age, we might have continued to decentralize the role of human beings on Earth. That healthy process started when astronomers first discovered the Sun did not revolve around the Earth, that there were thousands of stars and worlds beyond our own. It never quite went as far as it should have, however.

Despite the many genuinely wonderful things that our modern civilization has accomplished, we have continued to find the most destructive ways to differentiate ourselves from the animals, and in so doing treated the finite as if it were infinite. Today ideas like Manifest Destiny still permeate our society, sublimated in a devotion to unsustainable and endless growth. Continuous clear-cutting and bulldozing. The slaughter of animals for, increasingly, not even the semblance of a purpose.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, however, we seem trapped in the haze of an increasingly chronic state of disconnection, a superiority not supported by the facts: garbage-strewn oceans and studies suggesting saltwater fish may go extinct by 2050.

Perhaps if we paid more attention we would already have cities that take as inspiration the complex ecosystems found at the top of redwoods instead of thoughtless development. Maybe we’d be able to see that a smart phone is fairly crude next to the ways plants communicate with one another, that the symbiotic relationship between the albatross and the sunfish reveals a startling and unexpected complexity. In such a context, I don’t think I’m a luddite to wonder if we’re not often using primitive modern tech like smart phones and GoogleGlass to build an inaccurate prism of the world around us, when we aren’t busy ignoring the world around us entirely. The natural world, at least.

Otherwise, maybe we’d also see less obvious things—like the fact that our TV shows and movies are becoming a record of what we’re losing. Even cop shows from the 1970s document the erosion of wilderness and our fetish with concrete. This surreal record of loss of bio-diversity is matched by the even more surreal lie given to us by almost any historical or period piece: that of our current biosphere being the norm throughout time instead of the depleted, often gutted mono-sphere it is. Only a hundred years ago the skies were dark with passenger pigeons. Only two hundred years ago the average forest was a crowded landscape with animal life far more numerous and vigorous than we can now imagine.

The truth of our essential situation right now is this lack of attention—even as we send out space probes and pride ourselves on the leaps we’ve made in understanding quantum mechanics. Yet we still haven’t discovered every creature that lives on Earth. Nor do we have a clear idea of the most basic relationships between some organisms, nor a sense of the larger picture that develops out of those relationships.

Despite pockets of enlightenment, we often act as if we’re settlers on an alien planet, destroying and changing much that we don’t even recognize as important. But we don’t live on an alien planet. We have no home world to go back to if things fail here. We were born here, and we will die here, no matter how many new planets astronomers discover. This is the place we must pay attention to, and re-learn how to live in—to find a good answer to the question of what we contribute to the global biosphere.

Can we abandon strategies that justify despoilment or enable a “stewardship” that consists of cataloguing an often near-catastrophic decline of habitats and bio-diversity? If we cannot, then efforts to re-tool technology to eliminate carbon emissions only serve to prop up an unsustainable human hegemony.

Bears display, according to researchers, behavior that hints at intentionality and a long-term memory better than that of human beings. Most bears found in urban environments have experienced habitat loss. Most animals in cages don’t enjoy the experience.

But the conflict here isn’t bear versus man. What we continue to ignore is the fact that if the bear is in trouble, we are too. And yet, until the day that we truly feel that in our guts, in our hearts—and that may be a painful day indeed–we won’t truly be paying attention. And we won’t see clearly enough to understand what constitute not mere patches on a failed system but true paradigm changes.

Bear Versus Texting Man: Our Spectacular Disconnection originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on September 17, 2014.

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The Keepers of the Light: St. Marks Lighthouse in the NYT & Reader Response Wed, 17 Sep 2014 21:06:09 +0000 20120406_140720

This past weekend, in addition to a great review of my novel Acceptance and a mention of my next novel in the New York Times Book Review, the New York Times op-ed section ran a piece of mine on lighthouses–including our local lighthouse at the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. (In other exciting news, Acceptance, which features a lighthouse prominently, appears on the NYT bestseller list next week.)

There was a fair amount of material I couldn’t fit into the article, all of it due to the wonderful writer Kati Schardl, who earlier this year had written up a feature on me and the Southern Reach trilogy for the Tallahassee Democrat. It was because of that feature that I got to go inside of the St. Marks lighthouse in the first place. I’ve reproduced some further words from Schardl below, which gives further context about the lighthouse and the lighthouse restoration fund.

The reaction to the lighthouse piece was very positive, including a thumbs up from the Lighthouse Directory on twitter. I also received a fair number of emails from lighthouse enthusiasts. In addition to Schardl’s comments I’ve reproduced some of those emails, with permission, below. I think you’ll find them of interest. I should note that the opinions expressed are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect my own. – Jeff

Katie Schardl on plans for the St. Marks lighthouse and its Fresnel lens

The Fresnel lens will be professionally preserved in its current condition and put on display in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center while the building itself is restored. The ultimate goal is to relight the beacon, but the lens will first need to be restored to optical quality, which will be costly–there aren’t a whole lot of artisans out there who have the knowledge and expertise to work on Fresnel lenses.

[As for] restoration bringing in too much tourism. It’s a very delicate balance, isn’t it? The paramount concern is to restore the lighthouse and keeper’s quarters in a way that has the least impact on the surrounding environment, and also work within federal guidelines and requirements, since the refuge is a federal entity. There’s currently a moratorium on expanding structural square footage in federal wildlife refuges, so there is no plan to expand the footprint of the lighthouse/keeper’s house with reconstructed historic out-buildings, etc.

However, there will be site enhancements such as new walkways, refreshing the current historic marker, and an ADA-compliant ramp. There will probably be an extra fee charged to tour the lighthouse, once it’s restored, which will help support expanded staffing and maintenance, etc. The staff at the refuge, and the volunteers as well, are very canny and vigilant stewards and, if it came down to it, I think terroir would trump tourism in the long run.

In the end, yes, we hope more people will want to come learn about the lighthouse and will experience the happy side-effect of falling under the spell of the refuge’s primeval landscapes!

It’s my personal belief, as someone who’s been exploring and loving the refuge for 20-plus years, that the more people make contact with those landscapes—breathe the air, walk the trails, watch the birds and wildlife doing their thing, feel the peace of it all—the more people will want to protect a place where that wild magic seeps into the soul. As a refuge ambassador and volunteer ranger, I’ve seen that magic do its work time after time.


From Mel Kelly, former mayor of Carrabelle, Florida

If you had gone a bit further west from St Mark’s to Carrabelle [you would have seen] ‘our’ beautifully restored lighthouse, wonderful museum, keepers’ house replica, original wash house, and take the historic tour of the setting!
In addition, you could have safely climbed our 120-years-old lighthouse for a wonderful bay view, and watched the beam guide boaters in at night. Our original Fresnel lens is in the Coast Guard building in New Orleans (where they won’t part with it despite our restoration and security) but we have an exact replica.

The Lighthouse and grounds are a wonderful example of what can be done with public support and interest – please come back and check it out when you return to the area

(Mel Kelly was the Carrabelle Mayor when the light was being restored and the park was created, complete with very popular ship replica, the Lady Carrabella. The navigational beacon was re-lit in December, 2007.)

Dr. Ryan K. Smith, Virginia Commonwealth University

I liked your take on entropy/survival of the lighthouses “as is.” My own take is that in the successful lighthouse restorations, we see a too-rare example of local, concerned citizens working with government to actually create solutions to modern problems. (As well as seeing the mysteriously deep-rooted attraction to these iconic structures.)

My father has been in practice for over 40 years, developing a specialty in historic preservation. Early on, in the 1980s, I think, he got some commissions to do work at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and the St. John’s River light, and it just kind of snowballed from there. He is near retirement, and not digitally-savvy, so his firm does not have a website, but luckily he has won lots of awards and gets lots of commissions through the preservation community. He was at St. Marks about a month ago to meet with the Refuge Association and the Fish/Wildlife Service, and to present them with his structural assessment survey of the property and his design work for the proposed restoration.

I have not been to St. Mark’s myself, but the route in sounds appropriately atmospheric. He says, as you likely know, that the group could not do much to raise money or move forward until the property was officially transferred from the Coast Guard to the Fish/Wildlife Service. His firm has also been recognized for its work on the Crooked River Lighthouse, the Anclote Key Lighthouse, the Cape St. George Light, and others. He is currently at work on the Pensacola light. A brief article on him here.

(Dr. Smith teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University and is currently studying the twentieth-century restoration of historic lighthouses in the southeast. He hopes, in book form, to tell the full story of the structures’ decline and then their subsequent adoption by various local groups. His most recent book came out from Yale University Press.)

From a geologist who lives in California

Thank you for writing on this topic. [I once] took a ferry across Pamlico Sound [in North Carolina] and drove north from Ocracoke Island along the barrier island chain. When we arrived at the mother of all U.S. lighthouses, the light at Hatteras, it was closed by the National Park Service because NPS was preparing to move the light inland. I was very disappointed. Given the ephemeral nature of barrier islands I told NPS staff that the lighthouse should have been left to the energies of the Atlantic Ocean, and following collapse the bricks should have been sold for $1 to the all comers of we the people.

I have believed for many years that we Americans are conflicted about out past and the future—we want to preserve some element of the infrastructure past as a durable physical testament and reminder of, the now former, industrial might of our nation. Yet we are quick to demolish our history, as infrastructure, in the mad belief that progress exists and the immediate new is somehow [better] than the durable past.

[The geologist also notes that…] Beginning in 1964, I drove by the Pigeon Point Lighthouse on coastal San Mateo County for decades. In the beginning the light was a Fresnel lens , made in France, and tremendous booming fog horn. In the not too distant past the crew quarters were handed over to an organization as a hostel, the light was replaced with “modern” technology and the horns were turned off. Then the State of California Department of Parks got its greasy incompetent hands on the light and the adjoining property was purchased by the Peninsula Open Space Trust, which installed ugly glitzy terracotta tiles and a big semi-circular bench telling all the reading world the names of the individuals that funded the purchase of the property.

Yet another ugly “thing” grown on a coast that for over a century was an expansive agriculture district—think artichokes, brussle sprouts, pumpkins and cut-flowers, into another novel sensory stimulus for the bored ill-focused majority of Americans that can think of nothing better to do on their time-off work than to drive California 1 all the while emitting climate change gases, incrementally consuming the finite petroleum resource, and trying to connect to a past, or future, that is and was not tenable and hastening the encroachment of eustatic change on the lights they pine to visit. My two cents is keep the lights burning, exclude the public, and roll it back to a point where GPS and sonar are not the only tools used for coastal navigation.

The Keepers of the Light: St. Marks Lighthouse in the NYT & Reader Response originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on September 17, 2014.

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Flowchart of the Damned: Stephen Graham Jones, Jonathan Wood, Stant Litore Mon, 15 Sep 2014 15:43:30 +0000 7171305824_122eaf08eb

Stephen Graham Jones’s Flowchart of the Damned, depicting the gamut of weird fiction, seems like a fitting visual for this short post alerting you to some interesting new releases. Over at Weird Fiction Review, you’ll also find a new feature about Jones’s story in The Weird–great stuff.

First off, Jones has a new story collection out, After the People Lights Go Out. He’s in our The Weird anthology and highly recommended. Just a great writer.

Jonathan Wood’s Yesterday’s Hero came out last week and looks to be an action-packed and entertaining follow up to No Hero. This is weird fiction, but also sends up weird fiction in a way.

Stant Litore, who is featured in Wonderbook, has been doing fascinating phantasmagorical things with zombies in biblical times. He has a new single out on Amazon, I Will Hold My Death Close. Check it out and then his novels if you haven’t yet read his work.

Later this week: A reverie about some Dorothy Project books, among others. Yep, that’s right: keeping it eclectic now and for always.

Flowchart of the Damned: Stephen Graham Jones, Jonathan Wood, Stant Litore originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on September 15, 2014.

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Must Read: The Metanatural Adventures of Dr. Black by Brendan Connell Sat, 13 Sep 2014 16:21:20 +0000 the-metanatural-adventures-of-doctor-black-jhc-brendan-connell-2156-p[ekm]301x403[ekm]

A unique book you definitely should pick up is the rather wonderfully eccentric The Metanatural Adventures of Dr. Black by Brendan Connell. One of these stories appeared in the World Fantasy Award winning Leviathan 3 anthology edited by me and Forrest Aguirre. This is a sumptuous and beautifully designed thick hardcover collecting all of Dr. Black’s many (mis)adventures along with a lot of interstitial material of the meta variety–delightfully cheerful and cheeky. Quirky, weird in a good way, with sublime writing, and often very funny. The image above doesn’t quite give you the true measure of the lovely texture and approach used for the cover. You can order here–paypal accepted.

I wrote the introduction to The Metanatural Adventures of Dr. Black and I’ve posted half of that intro below so you can get a better sense of what this book is up to…


DR. BLACK: A Brief Reverie

What to make of Dr. Black, not particularly the most orthodox of heroes or anti-heroes? As written by Brendan Connell, Dr. Black seems to have always existed and yet be utterly unique. He is simultaneously learned and, in certain environments, a bit of a fool. He has some tastes that are quite normal and others that are outrageous. There is always a bit of comedy as a sting in the tail of the more serious stories, and a seeming encyclopedic knowledge on the author’s part of the comic pratfalls of yesteryear in others.

We encounter Dr. Black at his most vulnerable in the opening story, “A Season with Dr. Black,” and at his quirkiest, too. A kind of stream-of-consciousness patter is interwoven with the events occurring in the foreground. We see the limits of his experience and discover that despite his vast array of eccentricities, which at times seem to have formed a hardened carapace around him, Dr. Black also displays a touching kind of naivety and trust. (It doesn’t hurt that he tends to be surrounded by rogues who are far easier to map with a moral compass…)

One of the doctor’s most endearing qualities is how he continues to offer up the unusual and yet relatable. In “Dr. Black and the Guerillas,” facing a firing squad, he divulges to us, not his interrogators, a collage of experience that showcases Connell’s comfort both with the character and language: “childhood = Alabama (to the sounds of Sweet Nadine: huge. crowned with red hair. her beautiful voice + his own father: a thick and elongated torso; great-great-great-great-grandson of noted physician and chemist Joseph Black = discoverer of carbon dioxide of a gentle and pleasing countenance. performed on the flute with great taste and feeling her voice ringing out inviting his mind inquisitive wanting to acquire feasting always on digits and alphabets small particles and the stars dry-embalm that potato or burn with magnifying glass) + the boy doctor himself making: a diffusion cloud chamber / an electric lemon / a snowstorm in a can; incidents of life = emotions & operations for the purpose of testing certain principles.”

This is a rather remarkable re-interpretation of “his life flashed before his eyes,” taking what in the abstract would seem destined for cliché and rendering it fresh and almost startling. Which then, in a lovely demonstration of the way in which Connell manages to shift tone, to pivot without effort, pratfalls into the absurd, and yet no less detailed: “the construction of a massive umbrella with which he was able to jump off the roof of a five-storey doll factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn / if he were killed he would sorely miss the chicken heart back at his laboratory on Long Island which he had kept alive for twenty-seven years pulsating in a solution of sea salt.”

What are we reading here, in these “adventures”? They contain grotesqueries galore, certainly, in the most delicious way. You could say that Huysman and other Decadents exist as amiable ghosts here, along with hints of a more surreal Max Beerbohm. But this is not pastiche, merely an indication of predecessors: Connell presents something fresh, new, and with a more modern outlook. The prose is at times reminiscent of Vladimir Nabokov in its complexity, but a kind of raw earnestness not present in Nabokov manifests here, too. In short, the issue of influence is an elusive one, relegated here to the status of an idle pursuit following immersion in these pages. What is clear is that Dr. Black could not be quite so expressive, nor so learned, nor so assimilated in terms of influence if the author himself was not learned, expressive, assimilated. [continued in the book...]

Buy the book here

Must Read: The Metanatural Adventures of Dr. Black by Brendan Connell originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on September 13, 2014.

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My Year in Nonfiction: With Karen Joy Fowler, Bronson Pinchot, Thomas Ligotti, Lauren Beukes, and Lev Grossman Tue, 09 Sep 2014 13:00:14 +0000 istock-8674833-rainbow-trout-fish_custom-edfcc52e2460e86277f9e72f9ac14cbf6daa2423-s4-c85
(Are trout too smart to eat? Just one topic of discussion with Karen Joy Fowler for’s science blog.)

It’s been a long but amazing year touring behind the Southern Reach trilogy. Last week the final volume, Acceptance, came out. You can find really awesome and humbling coverage at NPR, Entertainment Weekly (multiple times!),, The Guardian, and from just-announced Man Book Prize finalist Neel Mukherjee in The New Statesman, and too many other places to list.

Because I haven’t written any fiction this year due to touring behind the novels, I’ve turned to nonfiction. Below you’ll find links and short excerpts to a fairly eclectic mix of pieces.

In addition, here’re some of the more extensive interviews I gave this year, which often felt like I was writing essays or articles (in a good way!): for FSG Originals, Raw Story, Buzzfeed, NPR’s Bookworm, 4th Estate’s podcast, Rick Kleffel/KUSP, Locus, the Coode Street podcast,, NPR’s Studio 360, and NPR’s To The Best of Our Knowledge. Just today Electric Literature came out with another one.

***’s cosmos and culture blog

Living on an Alien Planet: In Conversation with Karen Joy Fowler

VanderMeer: Dis-empathize, right. If sharks were as smart as chimpanzees — using our conventional definitions of worth — it wouldn’t make a difference, in a sense. So how far do you think “personhood” should go in terms of our thinking of animals? Is there a cut-off point? Or is it simply that we need to rearrange our entire thinking about this?

Fowler: I just think that’s such a hard question. At least, I think it’s a hard question. I can tell you where my thinking is today. But what I’m seeing is that the more we look at animal cognition, the smarter other creatures seem to be. I’m at a point now where I eat fish. I’m sure the day is fast coming when I will learn that fish are creative puzzle solvers.

Vulture (NY Mag online)

This Is the Best 5,453-Word Interview With Bronson Pinchot About Audiobooks You Will Ever Read

I once described [my novel] Authority to a friend as my attempt to show what would happen if Franz Kafka and Dilbert had a love-child that was then raised by John le Carré and Mark Z. Danielewski. How, then, to read something like that aloud? Done the wrong way, it could be a mess. Yet miraculously, when I heard Pinchot’s version, it was exactly as I’d imagined it might turn out if done right — with an understanding of the rhythms of the language and the intent behind them. I felt almost as if Pinchot peered out from between the words on the page, a position perfect for a novel haunted by so many things. So when the opportunity arose to have an in-depth conversation with Pinchot about audiobooks and the decisions you make inhabiting a text, I couldn’t resist the opportunity.

A True Detective Fan’s Guide to Thomas Ligotti

Who the hell is Thomas Ligotti? That’s the question many people were asking after a spate of articles last week speculated on plagiarism charges leveled against True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto on an H.P. Lovecraft website. The media attention spiked sales of the book at the center of the controversy — Ligotti’s nonfiction philosophy tome The Conspiracy Against the Human Race — to the point that it began to outsell Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

New York Times Book Review

Escape from LA: Edan Lepucki’s California

Perhaps the world as we know it will indeed end this way for many Americans: terrified of porcupines, longing for the sound of S.U.V.s, unable to ­distinguish between an artifact and a keepsake, helped to find temporary sanctuary by the last black man on earth. If it does, we won’t be able to say that “California” didn’t warn us.

Los Angeles Times

Sci-fi and Fantasy Authors Reveal the Truth in the Strangest Fictions (with contributions from Nnedi Okorafor, Lauren Beukes, Ann Leckie, Lev Grossman.)

Authors of speculative fiction face a completely opposite expectation, discovering that spectacle comes with the assumption that fantastical characters, dystopian story arcs, even an encounter with an alluring ghost emerged whole from the author’s imagination, without any help from anything as boring as the pesky and unreliable imp known as reality.

(Another piece that ran on the LAT website, a short essay by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the author who wrote the novel that the blockbuster film Edge of Tomorrow was based on, started out as answers intended for this article, but worked better as a stand-alone piece.)

Insomnia Takes Over the World: Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun

Writing about sleeplessness and dreams is ambitious. Cramming so many viewpoint characters into a relatively short novel is also ambitious. Like a half-formed dream, the novel aspires to encompass both the detached compassion of Ben Marcus’ “Flame Alphabet” and some atonal mix of Bret Easton Ellis and Stephen King-style Americana.

An Epic Fantasy of Brotherly Bonds: The Great Glass Sea by Josh Weil

Yet Weil’s earnest, deep commitment to a portrait of brothers in crisis means that these issues recede into the backdrop. There’s pathos and tension in how Yarik becomes trapped in his relationship with Bazarov. There’s breathtaking brilliance in Weil’s portrayal of Dima as an outcast estranged from society, especially in one astonishing scene in which Dima walks around in a reverie of dissolution.

The Guardian

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson: Book Review

Early in the story, Pete observes that “We’re all animals. Just dancing bears in tutus and monkeys with cigarettes. Painted up and stuffed into clown cars.” Henderson is committed to showing us unhappy and unstable people existing at the edges of any safety net. But they’re also people struggling to find a kind of truth, and they’re portrayed with compassion and humanity, in a voice that crackles and lurches with the intensity of a Tom Waits song. Here, at the beginning of his career, Henderson has come within shouting distance of writing a great American novel.

Huffington Post

The Nature of Reading: 10 Influences on the Southern Reach

The series might be a mix of science fiction and conspiracy/spy fiction, but the underlying concepts come out of an intense awareness of our natural landscapes and of our current predicament with regard to global warming. I wanted for any details about the natural world in my series to be based on direct observation, rather than received second- or third-hand. For the real research involved, I have been grateful for ideas encountered in a number of texts, most of them directly rooted in some aspect of the natural world. Here are the top 10.


My Wilderness Year

My R&R right after was to plunge right into what we’d been talking about: the wilderness. I drove up the coast to Morro Bay and spent a couple of days at the Blue Sail Inn. Morro Bay, dominated by a giant rock in the harbor, is a great base from which to explore the coast – walk along the beaches, hike the seaside cliffs, and go up into the foothills leading into the mountains.

Largehearted Boy

Music Influences on the Southern Reach Trilogy

Much of this music documents a measure of the beautiful strangeness of our world and juxtaposes against that backdrop the lives of people who are flawed, sometimes struggling, but always trying. Most of them just want to do the right thing, even if they keep doing the wrong thing. Some of this is momentous and stirring and desperate. Much of it is also by turns mysterious, absurd, funny, or wonderfully creepy. Hopefully the novels are too.

My Year in Nonfiction: With Karen Joy Fowler, Bronson Pinchot, Thomas Ligotti, Lauren Beukes, and Lev Grossman originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on September 9, 2014.

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Southern Reach: Jeff VanderMeer Sept.-Nov. Acceptance Tour Sun, 07 Sep 2014 15:36:40 +0000 BwiErmYCQAAce4N
(Owl from the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia)

NOTE: Coming here because of the lighthouse article in the NYT? To contact me email vanderworld at

“I’m loving the Southern Reach trilogy…Creepy and fascinating.” – Stephen King

“[A] masterpiece.” – The Guardian

“An instant SF classic.” – The New Statesman

–Featured in Entertainment Weekly’s Summer Binge recommendations, along with an A- for Acceptance

Acceptance came out September 2–the concluding volume of my trilogy about the increasingly urgent search for answers about the mysterious Area X. I’ll be touring behind the novel’s release, with some expectation that copies may be available in time for the Decatur Book Festival, too. Here’s the general information so you have it early, with specifics and possible additional events to follow.

Most of these events are some combination of reading and Q&A, with anecdotes about writing the books that range from strange wilderness experiences to weird workplace experiences. With slideshow where possible. If you need more information on the series, this lovely roundup gives you maximum information.


September 21, Sunday, 4pm panel with signing to follow–Brooklyn Book Festival

4:00 P.M. Fantastical Thrillers: Face Your Fears, or Else… Confronting the evils of the past, deliberately pushing into the unknown, and even stealing the moon. Join NYT bestselling author Lev Grossman (Magicians Trilogy: The Magician’s Land), Jeff VanderMeer (The Southern Reach Trilogy: Acceptance) and debut novelist Deji Olukotun (Nigerians in Space) in a conversation about traveling to the brink and back, and what redemption means in magical worlds. Moderated by Noreen Tomassi, Center for Fiction.


September 22, Mon., 7pm – Housing Works event with fellow NYT bestsellers Lev Grossman & Laura Beukes in New York, NY (short readings, slide show, discussion, signing)


September 25, Thurs, 7:30pm–Free Library in Philadelphia, PA Reading, Q&A, and slideshow, with live owl; additional event partners Geekadelphia and The Academy of Natural Sciences

Washington D.C.

September 27, Sat., 6pm–Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, DC (reading, discussion); I won’t be at the World Fantasy Convention in DC in November, so this is my only DC appearance.


September 28, Sunday, 12pm (noon)–Baltimore Book Festival reading and signing

Richmond, VA

September 30, 6:30pm–Fountain Bookstore –reading, anecdote, Q&A, and will also answer writing questions at the end based on Wonderbook

Austin, TX

October 25–26–Texas Book Festival in Austin, TX


November 14, 5pm, Inkwood Books in Tampa, FL, reading, signing.

November 15, 7pm Functionally Literate reading series (with Usman Tanveer Malik) in Orlando

November 19-21–The Center for Literature, Wonderbook workshop (cosponsored by the Miami International Book Fair) in Miami – must sign up for the workshop

November 22–Miami Book Fair International – Event TBD


Southern Reach: Jeff VanderMeer Sept.-Nov. Acceptance Tour originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on September 7, 2014.

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The Southern Reach: Acceptance Acknowledgments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 16:44:28 +0000 DSCN2688
(Some of the bunnies from Authority…)

Since this is Acceptance’s release day, I’m posting the acknowledgments from the back of the novel below. It’s been a somewhat ridiculously herculean undertaking, and a lot of people have helped along the way. Thanks again to all of you. You can find more information on some of the books mentioned below in this HuffPo feature I wrote a few months back. Finally, a few additional thanks that should’ve gone in the book, to: Scott Eagle, Ed Morris, Melanie Meadors, Nikki Guerlain, Kari Wolfe, Adam Morgan, and to all of the reviewers, who have been very kind both in their appraisal of the trilogy but also in not sharing spoilers (which would’ve been very easy).


Many thanks to my patient and brilliant editor, Sean McDonald, who made it possible for me to write the second two books knowing someone really truly had my back. Thanks to everyone at FSG for making the experience of publishing this trilogy so wonderful: Taylor Sperry, Charlotte Strick, Devon Mazonne, Amber Hoover, Izabela Wojciechowska, and Lenni Wolff. Thanks as well to Alyson Sinclair for her excellent work on the publicity side and to Eric Nyquist for great cover art.

Thanks again to my stalwart agent, Sally Harding, and the Cooke Agency. I’m also indebted to my publishers in Canada, the U.K., and in other countries for showing such imagination and energy in publishing the Southern Reach trilogy. Blackstone Audio has also been a delight to work with, and in particular Ryan Bradley.

Additional thanks to first readers Clubber Ace, Greg Bossert, Eric Schaller, Matthew Cheney, Tessa Kum, Berit Ellingsen, Alistair Rennie, Brian Evenson, Karin Tidbeck, Ashley Davis, and Craig L. Gitney. Additional thanks to Kati Schardl, Mark Mustian, Denise Roberts, and the Fermentation Lounge.

In thinking about and writing these books I’ve been grateful for ideas encountered in the Semiotexte series; the works of Rachel Carson and Jean Baudrillard; Taschen’s The Book of Miracles; Philip Hoare’s The Sea Inside; David Toomey’s Weird Life; Iris Murdoch’s novel The Sea, The Sea; the works of Tove Jansson (especially The Summer Book and Moominland Midwinter); Tainaron, by Leena Krohn; the nature poetry of Pattiann Rogers; The Derrick Jensen Reader, edited by Lierre Keith; Richard Jefferies’s After London; and Elinor De Wire’s Guardians of the Light.

Finally, The Seasons of Apalachicola Bay, by John B. Spohrer, Jr., was like a revelation to me while writing Acceptance— a heartfelt, gorgeous, and wise book that kept me grounded in the places that made the Southern Reach trilogy personal for me.

Other research meant visiting, revisiting, or remembering landscapes that spoke to me in a way useful for the fiction: St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Apalachicola, rural Florida and Georgia, Botanical Beach Provincial Park on Vancouver Island, the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Vancouver Island, the coast of Northern California, and the Fiji Islands, which gave me a certain starfish.

I should also like to thank the many wonderful and creative booksellers I’ve met while on tour this year— you’ve been inspiring and energizing— as well as the enthusiastic readers willing to follow me on this somewhat strange journey. I really appreciate it.

Finally, I’m humbled and my heart made glad by my wife, Ann VanderMeer, who was my partner in all of this. She encouraged me, listened to me, helped me work out knots in drafts in progress, took other work off of my desk, went well beyond the call of duty or anything in the marriage vows to allow me the time and space to write these novels. It wouldn’t have been possible without her.

The Southern Reach: Acceptance Acknowledgments originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on September 2, 2014.

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The Southern Reach Trilogy: Acceptance Release Week! Tue, 02 Sep 2014 00:46:07 +0000 This is the release week for my novel Acceptance, the last installment in the NYT bestselling Southern Reach trilogy. The novel received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews as well as a rave in The Guardian and an A- from Entertainment Weekly–which also put the series on their Binges for Summer list. Stephen King said of the trilogy “I’m loving the Southern Reach trilogy…Creepy and fascinating.”

You can read an excerpt here, and also find an interactive map there among other content. That page also has a whole list of bookseller links if you scroll down.

Also do not forget the amazing audiobook, narrated brilliantly ! I can’t recommend it enough.

Here’s more about the novel:

It is winter in Area X, the mysterious wilderness that has defied explanation for thirty years, rebuffing expedition after expedition, refusing to reveal its secrets. As Area X expands, the agency tasked with investigating and overseeing it—the Southern Reach—has collapsed in on itself in confusion. Now one last, desperate team crosses the border, determined to reach a remote island that may hold the answers they’ve been seeking. If they fail, the outer world is in peril.

Meanwhile, Acceptance tunnels ever deeper into the circumstances surrounding the creation of Area X—what initiated this unnatural upheaval? Among the many who have tried, who has gotten close to understanding Area X—and who may have been corrupted by it? In this last installment of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, the mysteries of Area X may be solved, but their consequences and implications are no less profound—or terrifying.

How You Can Help!

If you like my fiction and want to support Acceptance and The Southern Reach trilogy, here are some of the things you can do to help.

–Walk into your local independent bookstore and buy a copy. Indie booksellers have hand-sold thousands of copies of this trilogy and I can’t thank them enough.

—Buy Acceptance now from your preferred online bookseller, and recommend your preferred sales link to friends on social media. You can find direct sales links here if you scroll down. Online sellers have been hugely enthusiastic about the trilogy and deserve your support as well.

—Review the book. Blog, review site, or on social media. Any mention, especially noting whatever you really liked about the book, helps immensely.

—Review it on sales site you bought it from. Tell other readers what you liked about it. A quick and easy way to help get the word out and create interest. Online reviews at B&N, Amazon, and elsewhere do help.

—Buy the discounted Annihilation Kindle or Epub version and spread the word. Both Amazon and B&N (will update to discount shortly) are discounting the first novel’s ebook to $2.99. This is a great way for readers new to the series to sample it.

—Request it from your local library. Making sure your local library knows about Acceptance, and the prior two novels (Annihilation and Authority), which noto nly increases library orders but allows multiple people to enjoy the book.

—Spread the word through twitter and facebook. Tell people about the novel through social media, using your favorite link about the book.


The Southern Reach Trilogy: Acceptance Release Week! originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on September 1, 2014.

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The Southern Reach Trilogy at the Decatur Book Festival: This Sunday! Fri, 29 Aug 2014 13:33:46 +0000 Southern Reach--looping backdrop [Compatibility Mode] - Microsoft PowerPoint_2014-08-29_09-25-51
(Sneak peek at the slideshow for Sunday’s event)

“I’m loving the Southern Reach trilogy…Creepy and fascinating.” – Stephen King

“A masterpiece.” – The Guardian, on Acceptance

I’ll be appearing Sunday, August 31, 1:15 at the Decatur Recreation Center Gym, with my wife, Ann, for a Decatur Book Festival event. Afterwards, I’ll be signing books. Acceptance *will* be available there, two days early.

Touching on ecological themes and set in a transformed South, the Southern Reach trilogy chronicles the attempts of a secret government agency to discovery the mystery behind Area X, a pristine wilderness suddenly closed off from the rest of civilization by a strange event 30 years before. Award-winning editor Ann VanderMeer will interview Jeff VanderMeer after a brief reading from the third novel in the series, Acceptance. A Southern Reach slideshow will feature the real-life wilderness places that inspired the trilogy and show off the amazing variety of cover designs for the foreign language editions. (As featured in Entertainment Weekly).

The Southern Reach Trilogy at the Decatur Book Festival: This Sunday! originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on August 29, 2014.

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UK Book Tour: The Important Part, the Books Acquired! Thu, 28 Aug 2014 20:19:26 +0000 I’ll do a blog post about two weeks spent on the road in the UK doing book and book-like events. But for now, the important thing: The report on the books bought while over there! I think you’ll find some intriguing titles here…


–The new Murakami novel is written in a plain style probably reflecting the kind of everyman main character. I’m about seventy pages in and enjoying it for the unfolding story rather than any particular element of the prose.

–Philippe Claudel’s The Investigation I discovered at the very dangerous bookstore at the Edinburgh book festival, and the cover alone was enough to make me buy the novel. But the Kafkaesque situation of an Investigator sent to a provincial town to report on a series of mysterious deaths at The Firm certainly didn’t hurt!

–Antwerp by Robert Bolaño, discovered in a discount bookstore on the fringe of Dublin’s Temple Bar. It’s got the concision of prose poetry and that dreamy quality, too. The last Bolaño to be acquired.

–David Vann’s Caribou Island was pretty exceptional, so I didn’t hesitate to pick up his Legend of a Suicide at Mr. B’s Book Emporium in Bath. The novel’s about a man still struggling with the death of his father, but as with all of Vann’s work the unique qualities are in his characterization, situations, and prose more than the over-arching story being told.

–Picked up at the Blackwell’s in Edinburgh, Murakami’s Hard-Boiled Wonderland and End of the World is one of two novels by this likely Nobel Prize winner I haven’t yet read. Blackwell’s in Edinburgh, btw, is a wonderful place to shop, with a collection of books in part curated by the awesome Ellie Wixon.

–My wife Ann selected The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson, also at Blackwell’s. A ruthless secret service. A woman run over by a drunken engineer. All of it apparently hilarious. (Speaking of novels with Girl in the title, Ann read The Girl With All the Gifts and liked it, although she said it started strong and got a bit weak by the end.)


–Our friend Neil Williamson bought Kirsty Logan’s short story collection The Rental Heart for us, and, man, am I glad he did. I’m about half-way through and I love the stories. Quirky, sometimes fantastical. Strong, strong stuff–definitely seek it out.

–Since the Southern Reach trilogy started to come out, many readers have been recommending Jim Crace to me, so I finally picked up a couple of his early titles while on the road.

–Pascal Garnier is a dark, dark writer of gritty pseudo-noir and creepy kind of Decadent but realistic tales of down-and-out and downright strange people. Reminds me a little bit of the work of Derek Raymond, although in a slightly different register. All of these were picked up at Mr. B’s Book Emporium, recommended by the staff and by Peter Sutton and his wife Claire, who were our gracious hosts while in that part of the country. Mr B’s is a rather remarkable bookstore that I highly recommend. Lovely people work there, too.


–Off the Map by Alastair Bonnett, picked up by Ann at the Edinburgh Book Festival bookstore, is an astonishing book. I’m about half-way through this collection of essays about lost spaces, invisible cities, forgotten islands, and feral places. Just stunning. The author is incredibly compelling in the tales he tells, and his central thesis about how the human imagination needs places off the map. Even just the bit about the US Navy sending out military vessels to expunge an imaginary island is surreal and fascinating. Other books on this theme have been published, but this is my favorite thus far. A 2014 release.

–It was my pleasure to blurb The Moon King, a first novel by Neil Williamson, and also a pleasure to receive a copy from him while in Glasgow. It’s a lovely hardcover edition.

–Owls by Mike Toms is one in a series of naturalist volumes by the imprint William Collins and it’s a fascinating book. A guide to owls, very comprehensive and well-structured. I picked it up in a lovely Waterstones store near Covent Garden.


–I’ve heard good things about Ali Smith and this collection, Shire, with images by Sarah Wood, just begged to be bought. Stylish, nicely designed. I bought it at Topping & Company in Bath, along with the other books in that row. Topping, like Mr. B’s, is a rather amazing bookstore and I was delighted to be able to drop by and talk to their staff.

–Robin Sloan has a prequel to his famous Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and it’s rather smartly designed too, so I couldn’t not pick it up.

–I hadn’t encountered Bloomsbury Classics before, in these miniature editions. A tiny collection of Will Self fiction? Sign me up! Now I’m in danger of wanting the entire series.

–To my abiding shame, I had fallen behind on my Margaret Atwood reading and hadn’t yet gotten around to reading her MaddAddam trilogy, although I’ve read most everything else. Then I encountered these amazing trade paperback versions in Blackwell’s and I just had to have them. I read Oryx & Crake on the plane home and thought it was brilliant and sad and awful and tragic and wonderful and all of those things that a great novel should be.


–I know absolutely nothing about Eduardo Belgrano Rawson or his book Washing Dishes in Hotel Paradise but when I saw the following quote on the back of the book I had to buy it: “Suddenly he spotted Borges waiting to cross the road…” Another Mr B’s purchase.

–Another Pascal Garnier, The Panda Theory, which I also read on the plane back. I loved the first three-fourths and then felt it fell apart. But I loved that three-fourths enough to recommend the novel. Some amazing turns of phrase and observations about the human condition.

–The Slynx by Tatyana Tolstaya is just barking mad in the best possible way, a future dystopia that reads in part like fairy tale, full of towering feats of the imagination. An untamed whirlwind of a novel–and that’s just the first ten pages! Can’t wait to dive into more of it. Thanks again to Mr. B’s for this recommendation.

–The Murakami with the, ahem, stickers inside. (Yes, it is being sent to you, Mr. DB, very soon.)


–Fat Years by Chan Koonchung was an impulse buy by Ann that looks very interesting. About a month that goes missing in the near future. Another Mr. B’s rec.

–Lee Rourke’s Vulgar Things was gifted to me by The Fourth Estate while I was signing over at HarperCollins UK’s central offices. The novel just looked fascinating. A quixotic week on an island after the death of a relative of the main character. With some linguistic trickeration, among other things.

–I couldn’t resist The Exploits of Moominpapa by Tove Jansson in a beautiful hardcover, found in the Moomin Shop in Covent Garden, London.

–Technically, I received the Bolano Last Interview book from Melville right before I left, but I read it on the plane over to the UK. Really a great book about a brilliant writer’s work. Well worth checking out.

–Independence An Argument for Home Rule I bought not just because I support Scotland achieving home rule, but also because I cannot resist, ever, any book that has art from Alasdair Gray on the cover.

–Ann finally picked up The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, a novel we’ve both wanted to read for a long time…but I think you all know what it’s about, so I won’t tarry here…


–Two John Wyndham novels, Trouble with Lichen and The Day of the Triffids, bookend this photo. Again, readers have told me to check these out ever since the Southern Reach novels started being published in February. Ann picked them up in a cool used bookstore on the edge of the Trinity College area in Dublin.

–In Bath, Tom Abba was kind enough to gift us with an amazing hand-made book with two chapbooks saddle-stapled to the interior of the amazingly supple single piece of worked wood that folds across both as a kind of hard dustjacket. It’s difficult to describe the intricacies of this project, so I’ll just guide you over here for more information. Just a stunning piece of conceptual art and also concrete book-making.

–Having just been brutally disappointed by Edward St. Aubyn’s lackluster Lost For Words (tip: if you’re going to do book culture satire, go for the jugular vein unless you want to up in some lukewarm purgatory of not-interesting-enough), it’s brave of me (yay me?) to dip back into another satire, but this title by Filippo Bologna looked very interesting. Another Blackwell’s purchase, Bologna’s The Parrots concerns three men preparing to do battle over a prestigious literary prize.

–Finally, another Philippe Claudel title, Brodeck’s Report. I’m a sucker for novels about reports, apparently. A stranger is murdered. The title character then files a report. Honestly, I think this will be great. Your mileage may vary depending on your love of reports in fiction….

UK Book Tour: The Important Part, the Books Acquired! originally appeared on Ecstatic Days on August 28, 2014.

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