On Birds: Owl Eyes, Acceptance, and the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia

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Some of my most pleasurable experiences have been while birding and I love seeing birds on book covers, so you can imagine how happy I was to see this feature on birds on book covers–some stunning designs, including my own Acceptance. Even just in the context of book design you can see how various and interesting birds can be.

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Admittedly, I’m a rank amateur as a birder—sans scope, for example, and also sans the patience to stand for hours in a blind. But I kept a birding journal until I was about 14 years old and have always bought and used birding guides. I’ve also always admired the intensity and devotion of birders and the ambition behind the idea of doing a Big Year. For a period of a few years as an adult I hung out with birders and shared their enthusiasms. But our paths diverged when it became clear that I was someone with an abiding love of hiking who just enjoyed bird watching on the side. The two types are not always compatible.

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(Two of the Academy’s owls, from the behind-the-scenes tour.)

This year, though, has brought birds back to me in a big way—first because they form an important part of my novel Acceptance, but also because touring behind the novels has led me to birds. Especially owls, and especially the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia. There, I was fortunate enough to have a behind-the-scenes tour led by Jill Sybesma and documented by photographer Kyle Cassidy. Chris Urie from Geekadelphia was kind enough to set it up.

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Oculus Rift For Reality: Under the Surface

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First, They come to your neighborhood with a horde of biologists and chemists and environmental scientists and a host of other experts in various fields, to pre-map things. Afterward, you’d put on the device and walk down your street. Everything would be identical to what you’d see with your own eyes…except you’d also see the chemical signals in the air from beetles and plants, pheromone trails laid down by ants, and every other bit of the natural world’s communications hidden from us by our primitive five senses. You’d also see every trace of pesticide and traces in puddles of water of run-off and invisible carcinogens and other human-made intercession on the landscape. It would be overwhelming at first, especially since this would come with simulated approximations of how you might experience these things, still bound by your own puny senses, so you’d have to get over cognitive dissonance.

Once you got used to it, maybe you’d go with more advanced settings. Like, you’d look at the ground and it’d open up its layers, past topsoil and earthworms down into the deeper epidermis, so to speak, until you’re overcoming a sense of vertigo, because even though you’re standing right there, not falling at all, below you everything is revealing itself to you superfast. And maybe then, while still staring at the ground, you’d have an option to regress to simulations of the same spot five years, ten years, fifty years, two hundred years ago…until when you look up again there’s no street at all and you’re in the middle of a forest and there are more birds and animals than you could ever imagine because you’ve never seen that many in one place. You’ve never even seen this many old-growth trees before. You’ve never known that the world was once like this except in the abstract.

When you come back, the game’s over. The initial experience would only last 10 or 15 minutes because we’re talking about a real onslaught of sensory information that requires time to process, followed by longer and more complex sessions. A basic initial session might strip away certain layers of experience for a more gradual immersion over a period of six sessions. By that time, there may be enough of an overlay through the user’s imagination that walking through the same area evokes a simulation of the experience without the equipment: sensory pop-ups in the brain based on the prior immersions.

If enough people play the game right and understand what it means, you, your children, your grandchildren, and your great grandchildren live long lives and everybody continues to be able to have things like electricity, which makes using devices like a future Oculus a lot easier.

Otherwise, it’s just a dead helmet sitting atop of a head full of rotted meat.

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[Reddit username JeffVanderMeer; I am that dude.]

The Steampunk User’s Manual–It’s Release Week!

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This is the release week for the follow-up to The Steampunk Bible: The Steampunk User’s Manual, written by Desirina Boskovich and me–along with a ton of other contributors of images and text. What’s different this time around? Well, the emphasis is on the act of creation. Through examples, instructions for projects both small and large, and interviews with top creators, you get an inside look at how to get started creating your own Steampunk visions. But if you’re not into creating the book’s also full of amazing finished shots of current Steampunk works–along with their tips and insights into their work habits.

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(An example of a “finding inspiration” section, with quotes from top creators.)

Some of the exclusive highlights only available in the book include:

–A Steam-powered mecha-penguin created by Thomas Willeford (you can get a sense of how to build your own 100-foot-tall one based on the conversations between engineers in the book)
–A two-page spread of original artwork by Ivica Stevanovic, the artist whose Wonderbook art appeared in the Spectrum award anthology
–A two-page spread by Wonderbook genius Jeremy Zerfoss based on Richard Ellis Preston, Jr’s Steampunk novels
–Wonderful new extended “alternative history” Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana entries by Jess Nevins, in unique and beautiful layouts by the amazing John Coulthart.
–Steamarama Retrofuture Home diagrams and descriptions by Bruce and Melanie Rosenbaum
–Tor art director Irene Gallo providing an overview of the creation of classic Tor Steampunk book covers
–Original Steampunk fashion sketch by Molly Crabapple
–Nancy Hightower’s feature on the Swedish puppet theater production of award-winning author Karin Tidbeck’s Steampunk story “Beatrice,” complete with behind-the-scenes photographs.
–A feature on Anna Chen’s Steampunk Opium Wars
–Images from the Irish theatre production of my novella “Dradin, In Love”
–Essays and articles by Diana M. Pho, Katherine Gleason, Matthew Cheney, and more
–Projects by a wide variety of steampunk creators, including fashion, collage, making musical instruments, and much more.

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(John Coulthart layout for Jess Nevins’ encyclo entry.)

If you want to support the book, here are some of the things you can do to help.

–Walk into your local bookstore and buy a copy.

—Buy Acceptance now from your preferred online bookseller, and recommend your preferred sales link to friends on social media. Direct links include Indiebound, Powell’s, Amazon, B&N, and Book Depository–or order direct from the publisher.

—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.

—Request it from your local library.

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

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Southern Reach: On the Road with Acceptance–DC, Baltimore, Richmond, Austin To Go

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(This amazing photo by Kyle Cassidy.)

The release of the final book in the Southern Reach trilogy, Acceptance, has been a wild, great ride. In addition to the great reviews from Slate, NPR, Entertainment Weekly, the NYT Book Review, and many more, I’ve been gratified that readers have followed along for this last adventure. Acceptance made the NYT bestseller list at #16 and has popped up on several indie and regional bestseller lists as well. More importantly, readers have been emailing and face-booking and tweeting about how much they’ve enjoyed the entire trilogy. I’m really thrilled about that–thank you.

The book tour has been a blast–with these events still to come, with further details in this post:

–Saturday, Sept. 27, 6pm: Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington DC
–Sunday, Sept. 28, 12pm: Baltimore Book Festival reading
–Tuesday, Sept. 30, 7pm: Fountain Bookstore reading in Richmond Virginia
–Oct. 25-26: Texas Book Festival in Austin, for which I’ll have an event and also participate in a Jeopardy competition during their Litcrawl

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Bear Versus Texting Man: Our Spectacular Disconnection


(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.

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The Keepers of the Light: St. Marks Lighthouse in the NYT & Reader Response

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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.

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Flowchart of the Damned: Stephen Graham Jones, Jonathan Wood, Stant Litore

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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.

Must Read: The Metanatural Adventures of Dr. Black by Brendan Connell

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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…

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My Year in Nonfiction: With Karen Joy Fowler, Bronson Pinchot, Thomas Ligotti, Lauren Beukes, and Lev Grossman

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(Are trout too smart to eat? Just one topic of discussion with Karen Joy Fowler for NPR.org’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!), Slate.com, 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, Wired.com, NPR’s Studio 360, and NPR’s To The Best of Our Knowledge. Just today Electric Literature came out with another one.

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NPR.org’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.

Bookanista

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.

Southern Reach: Jeff VanderMeer Sept.-Nov. Acceptance Tour

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(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 Hotmail.com

–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.

Brooklyn

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.

Manhattan

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)

Philadelphia

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

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