Current Reading: Group 1

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Having finished co-writing an introduction to our anthology Sisters of the Revolution (May 2015) with Ann and writing an intro to an upcoming Thomas Ligotti reprint (Songs… and Grimscribe) from Penguin Classics, I’m engaged in a lot of reading. A fair amount of this reading is in some way applicable to Borne, the new novel I’m working on, but it’s never really possible to know what a new book will spark.

Currently, I’ve got three groupings of books on the table. Group 2 is current fiction, mostly short story collections, and Group 3 is comprised of reading for The Big Book of SF we’re putting together for Vintage. (One hundred years of science fiction, from roughly 1900 to 2000.)

Group 1, pictured above, could be loosely framed as an exploration of human irrationality and a study of violence. (A kind of Group 1-a subset consists of William Vollman’s seven-volume treatise on violence and a Group 1-b subset consists of his book Imperial.)

The Kills by Richard House is a re-read of selected passages that speaks to my current main focus, The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture. The two books share points of commonality, not least of which is how each, one in fiction and one in horrifying nonfiction, speaks to dys/functional fictional narratives let loose in what we think of as reality. If you’ve read both books, the semi-parallel between the sociopaths SWIGERT & DUNBAR in the committee report and the myth of Mr. Rabbit & Mr. Wolf in “The Kill” section of The Kills is interesting to ponder.

From there it’s a short distance to travel, from The Kills’ depictions of Italy at the end of WWII and the ideas set out in John Gray’s Straw Dogs and especially another book by Gray I’m reading, The Silence of Animals. Gray’s ideas are eye-opening to say the least. I’m still processing them, and vaguely thinking of experimenting with a character whose underlying belief system is informed by those ideas. This is not just good for the fiction in question but for a kind of field-testing of them on a personal level.

Cyclonopedia by Reza Negarestani, with its idea of sentient oil and U.S. “asymmetrical engagement with occultures,” seems even more relevant in the context of the report on torture, or, at least, timeless at this point, and useful. A re-read of Cyclonopedia with selections from John Gray and The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim (another re-read) seems to reveal the outlines of a fictional conspiracy. It is the kind of comprehension that rewires the parts of the brain that seek to tell more unique, or at least different, fictions.

Another current read, Hyperobjects by Timothy Morton, is at the heart of things and at the fringe right now, in terms of how it is messing with my mind. It encompasses everything in the other books, in some sense, and yet is also very specific and tactical in how it seems to apply to thinking about my new novel, Borne. I’m still struck by how elements of the Southern Reach novels mirror the requirements of Morton’s definition of a hyperobject, even though I had not encountered Morton’s work until this year. This is a challenging read for me, and one I’m absorbing slowly.

Meanwhile, the first sixty pages of The Infernal by Mark Doten have been both fascinating and to some extent frustrating. The novel invokes sophisticated uncanny iconography that flows seamlessly from advanced tech and reminds me of an unholy compromise between Michael Cisco’s novel The Narrator and H.R. Geiger (stripped of his fetishism). On the other hand, the design of the book evokes a hokey semi-semblance to the idea of secret files and espionage conspiracy that it would be better off without. In the use of versions of real people like L. Paul Bremer for viewpoint characters the novel’s brazen and bold, but also then makes itself vulnerable to scenes of questionable interior psychodrama that work so hard at the semblance of/adherence to some idea of accuracy of personality that it’s distracting. Even though I admire Doten’s bravery, I don’t know yet if the virtues of this novel will outweigh its liabilities.

One of those liabilities is beyond the author’s control, and it’s rapidly rendering a lot of fiction obsolete. Reality is in some ways usurping fiction’s role, even if the audience and the format seem to us as different from where we expect fiction to reside or project from–would a darkly absurdist view of a day in the life of the real L. Paul Bremer be that far removed from a kind of fiction? As an idea of an objective reality continues to fragment and as hyperobjects like global warming get closer to us–closer in the mental sense–the effect is to eclipse certain narratives or to contaminate them so they become a different story than the one the author meant to tell. It is impossible at the present moment to know what level of distance in what context will preserve “universal resonance” in a given fictional text, but a fair amount of fiction is headed for extinction, in this context.

The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture is, in one sense, “merely” confirmation of what we already knew. Torture is immoral. Torture doesn’t work. Torture deforms not just the victim but the torturer. But on another level, this report is a remarkable account of the creation of a vast fictional narrative (in the grotesque sense). It contains no heroes unless there is something heroic in a clear reportage of atrocity that also reads almost like a novel. But it does include two villains, who keep popping up almost like psychotic agents of chaos–disguised in their true nature because they are clothed with logic in the form of bureaucracy and chain-of-command. SWIGERT & DUNBAR, who were contracted to develop the enhanced interrogation techniques. In the course of reading the report on torture, it becomes necessary to ask if they are indeed villains in the personal, acting-alone sense or on some psychological level emissaries of a dark American desire that can’t even really be defined by the word “revenge.”

I read an Ian Rankin Rebus novel about addicts in between some of these readings and it seemed pretty upbeat. I pet our cats and took long walks and went to the gym. I looked at pictures of cute baby animals.

Alfred Kubin at NPR’s To The Best of Our Knowledge and Weirdfictionreview.com

(Note: Today only the U.S. e-books of my novels Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance are deeply discounted everywhere. Also, a reminder that I’ll be participating in this NPR Science Friday book club discussion of The Lost City of Z on February 6.)

Today I was on NPR’s To The Best of Our Knowledge talking about Alfred Kubin’s The Other Side, which was reprinted by Dedalus late last year.

The Other Side (1908) tells the tale of a Dream Kingdom, somewhere in Central Asia. The mysterious and wealthy Patera has had a European city uprooted and brought to its new location, along with sixty-five thousand inhabitants, and named this city Pearl. The narrator, after some hesitation, agrees to visit and travels with there with his wife. Things soon get very strange indeed. The book is a masterpiece of a very precise kind of metaphysical phantasmagoria.

Kubin is a fascinating individual in part due to his amazing art and fiction but also his connections to other well-known creators. He illustrated Edgar Allen Poe’s fiction in its first German edition. He knew Gustav Meyrink and when Meyrink hit a snag in finishing The Golem, Kubin took his preliminary sketches and found ways to use some of them in The Other Side. Kubin also created illustrations for the influential early German SF novel Lesabendio by Paul Scheerbart, among others.

Check back tomorrow at Weirdfictionreview.com for more on Kubin. We’ll be featuring several pieces from the archives.

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Science Friday Book Club–Lost City of Z, Feb. 6

I’ll be on NPR’s Science Friday on February 6 talking about their latest book club selection, The Lost City of Z, along with an Egyptologist! I hope you’ll listen in, but in the meantime, check out the SciFri Book Club page for more information.  That includes a free book giveaway from Powell’s.

When I told my wife Ann I’d be on Science Friday, a squee went up that could be heard around the world. She’s a big fan, apparently, which I did not know.

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The New Yorker on the Southern Reach Trilogy

The New Yorker has weighed in on The Southern Reach Trilogy, and I’m delighted they’ve focused on weird ecologies. I also think this may be the first time they’ve had to explain something like “mushroom dweller” to a general audience. Anyway, it’s heartening to see them differentiate Area X from the post-apocalypse subgenre and to bring up Timothy Morton, whose latest book I’m currently devouring. The first Morton I’ve read, and it’s truly strange the parallels and similarities with some of the subtext of the Southern Reach novels. And this all tends to feed into the next novel I’m working on as well.

Matthew Revert PR for the Southern Reach social media

The Kills: An Interview with Richard House at The Millions

Over at The Millions, I’ve interviewed the author Richard House–some fascinating answers. Anyone who read my year’s best list over at Electric Literature or my pick of the year for The Globe & Mail knows I loved Richard House’s The Kills–my favorite fiction read of 2014. I also included it in my list of daring books over at FSG’s site, where I wrote:

Richard House’s The Kills approximates the general idea of a thriller but the structure of four interlocking short novels makes the reader work to put the story together. (in a good way) The fact that one of the four novels is primarily thematically linked to the other three creates a unique kind of connectivity, and a situation where the entire shape of the story only locks into place on the very last page of the book. It’s not that The Kills just subverts genre tropes-—it’s not actually operating via those tropes, even in how characters enter and leave the narrative, and yet the ghostly outline of thriller expectations still do intercede on the reader’s behalf.  The exquisite tension caused by this ghostly outline, brought to the text by the reader, held me transfixed and admiring as The Kills keeps becoming something different, and something different again.

There are few novels these days that read to me as if the writer understands some of the unique aspects of our modern condition. The Kills is one, Ledgard’s Submergence was another, and The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim (translated by Jonathan Wright) a third. I believe we’re in an era where a lot of what we’ve held to be universal or relevant in literature will begin to seem dated and nostalgic. But not these books.

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The Morning News Tournament of Books, Current Reading, Odds ‘n’ Ends

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If you came here via facebook or twitter, please note that while I won’t be on social media much this year, I will be blogging–and those posts should auto-populate to my fb and twitter accounts.

Last week, the Morning News announced the 16 titles for its 2015 Tournament of Books. Annihilation is one of them and, as my editor said, it would be only appropriate for Annie to be knocked out in the first round and come back as a zombie. But we’ll see. It’s one of those situations where you say it’s an honor to be nominated…and you actually mean it. In non-morning news, thanks to Joe at Book People for choosing Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy as his book of the year. Thanks also to The Stake for making the publication of the trilogy it’s pop-culture event of the year. You can find highlights of Area X best-of-year honors here.

Since the Southern Reach tour ended, I’ve been spending time at home relaxing and reading–and thinking a lot about the next novel, Borne. I tend to take a fair amount of time living with the characters in my mind before writing a rough draft. But I’ve also made good progress on a draft. Part of that progress is always about what you surround yourself with reading-wise. In this case, Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects, which Matthew Cheney talked about here. I’m also slowly savoring William Vollman’s rather brilliant Imperial before tackling his 7-volume work on violence–meanwhile devouring Zizek’s much smaller tome on violence, Violence.

Some of this feeds into what I will talk about at the Sonic Acts 2015 Geological Imagination Festival in Amsterdam next month. Ostensibly I’m reading from the Southern Reach trilogy and participating in a Q&A, but I’ve decided to preface that with some comments on the ways in which fiction has failed to keep current with what is happening to the world–as well as delineating those pathways and approaches that seem to hold promise.

Speaking of the former, I have to say my most depressing current fiction reading has been in the post-Collapse or mid-Collapse genre–which most commonly now takes the form of a novel in which some virus wipes out all but X percent of the population. Never all but 1 percent, though, since no doubt that would be confused by reader with The One Percent. Almost inevitably, these novels reduce down their character lists to a pretty generic and non-representative core sample of the population and proceed to get on with the Nostalgia Show, the longing for the life before–i.e., the unsustainable one we’re living now, which is also a misery for so many–whilst discreetly hiding the bodies of millions and millions somewhere offstage. Incredibly, in most of these books global warming is just a kind of nebulous thing, no hyperobject or true catastrophe but perhaps responsible for some storms and such off in the distance. In any event, real life–and the future we live in right now–is much more effective a critique of this approach than anything I could say here.

On a more pleasant note, there are some books I read over the holidays that I liked quite a bit and I’ll blog about them soon. As Ann and I read and research more for The Big Book of SF (Vintage), I’ll talk about that as well.

In addition to the Amsterdam conference, this spring I’ll be appearing at the University of Buffalo, Tallahassee’s Word of South lit-music festival (with Vernon Reid!), and at MIT. Over the summer Ann and I will teach at the Yale Writers’ Conference and at the Shared Worlds teen writing camp. I’ll post a full schedule sometime in the next week.

Outside of that, it appears I’ll probably be on NPR’s Science Friday (February 6) if all goes well and The Atlantic online will be publishing a long tell-all about the story behind the Southern Reach. My interview with Richard House, author of the fantastic novel The Kills, will post at The Millions next week. I’ve also turned in an introduction for Melville House’s edition of the Strugatsky Brothers Dead Mountaineer’s Inn, am working on another intro for a Ligotti reprint from Penguin Classics, and will complete an intro for PM Press’s reprint of Moorcock’s Breakfast in the Ruins later this year as well.

In blurbing news, I’ve been happy to blurb Kelly Link’s forthcoming story collection, Leah Thomas’ first novel, and Rikki Ducornet’s latest nonfiction collection.

And, I’ve not really had time to blog about it, but Italian editions of the Southern Reach Trilogy will come out this year. Indonesia, Finnish, and Czech Republic rights recently sold, too–meaning Area X will appear in a total of 22 countries.

And, also, happy to see Jenn Brissett’s Elysium made the PKD Award finalist list. Congrats, Jenn!

Finally, why is there a photo of our cat Neo at the top of this post? Just because.

Books: Best of 2014 Lists Galore

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(Thanks to WORD bookstore for this wonderful photo–and support all year.)

It’s been a ridiculously amazing year for the Southern Reach Trilogy, which included making the New York Times bestseller list and nonstop touring. Now, at year’s end, the trilogy has made over 35 year’s best lists. In addition, Annihilation is a nominee for the Folio Prize, was a finalist for the Goodreads Choice Awards, and is on the long list for the Morning News’ tournament of books. I also made Waterstones Booksellers’ list of the authors of the year and the cover of the Area X omnibus from FSG was selected by the New York Times as one of the best book covers of 2014.

Perhaps the most exciting best-of list to make was Entertainment Weekly’s Top 10, along with Esquire’s holiday gift guide, Amazon’s top 100, Buzzfeed’s Top 24, NPR.org’s favorites, Gawker’s best reads, HuffPo’s best, Globe & Mail, and the Los Angeles Times’ 2014 recommended reading. But you’ll find a selection of those year’s best lists below—in case you’re looking to spend some post-holidays gift-card money on books. You’ll find some great stuff on these lists. (Perhaps the most perplexing to me: making Slate’s list of the most overlooked books. I’m grateful, but it seemed to me you could hardly walk a block through the book culture this year without tripping over the Southern Reach.)

My own year’s best lists can be found over at Electric Literature—fiction and nonfiction. I also contributed to Globe & Mail’s list and to FSG’s survey about unusual or daring books. In addition, I wrote about My Life in Indie Bookstores this year. (You can find the rest of my nonfiction for the year, give or take a couple, at this link and this Area X omnibus link. Also check out this flipbook of links and images and my essay on Weird fiction at the Atlantic and my opinion piece on lighthouses in the NYT.)

Amazon’s Top 100

Barnes & Noble’s Best-of 2014 Guest Lists

Book Riot’s Best of the Year 

Buzzfeed’s Top 24 Books 

Electric Literature’s Top 24 Books

Entertainment Weekly’s Top 10 Best Fiction

Entropy’s Best Fiction

Fiction Advocate’s Top 10 Books of the Year

Gawker Review of Books—Best of 2014

The Globe & Mail 100: The Best Books of 2014

Huffington Post

Kirkus Reviews Best of Year

Library Journal’s Best SF/Fantasy of 2014

LitReactor Best of Year

Los Angeles Times Holiday Fiction Guide

McNally Jackson Best of 2014 

NPR.org’s Best Books of 2014

Scholastic Library Journal’s Best 2014 Adult Books for Teens 

 

Happy Holidays!

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Happy Holidays, everyone! I’m going to hibernate for a little while, but I wanted to thank all of the readers, booksellers, reviewers, and publishers (here and abroad) who have helped make this year so special for me, and made the Southern Reach Trilogy one of the most talked-about series of 2014.

Highlights lately have included making Entertainment Weekly’s Top 10 and the LA Times Gift Guide, as well as Buzzfeed’s favorite books of the year.

Special thanks to my wife Ann, agent Sally Harding, and Sean McDonald and everyone at FSG.

Enjoy the season!

The Southern Reach Trilogy: My Year in Indie Book Stores

Jeff VanderMeer reading at Elliott Bay--Annihilation tour

(The start of it all: At Elliot Bay in Seattle, this February; photo by Todd Vandemark.)

Over on Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s Housekeeping site, they’ve posted my year in indie bookstores. I was fortunate enough to spend much of 2015 on the road in support of the Southern Reach Trilogy, and a big part of that was reading at or signing in independent bookstores.

Head on over and check out my notes on Bookmark It, Book Passage, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Booksmith, Book Soup, Chop Suey, City Lights, Elliott Bay, Fountain, Kramers, Green Apple, Housing Works, Hub City, Inkwood, Malaprops, McNally Jackson, Mysterious Galaxy, Politics & Prose, Powell’s, Quail Ridge, WORD, and more.

A special shout-out here to Kathmandu Books for handling the limited edition S.R. chapbook, Subterranean for various kindnesses, and for Borderlands for providing books for the Writers With Drinks event I did in San Fran–one of the best events ever.

How to Gift-Wrap a Book So It Doesn’t Look Like a Book

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 (Thanks, Matthew Revert, for the great info-graphic.)

It’s a perennial problem, isn’t it? How to make that dang-blasted book look like something else when you wrap it, because otherwise what’s the point? It can be slathered in wrapping paper that’s covered in three-dimensional rainbow-colored topographical anomalies interspersed amongst Satanic dog-headed kittens and the person receiving the gift will still figure it out.

But don’t despair! As a public service, you can find my preferred method above. I finally admitted to this approach when NYT bestselling author Lois H. Gresh asked the question on her facebook page. Matthew Revert was then kind enough to provide an illustrated version as a holiday season mitzvah.

Of course, Gresh then had to raise some issues that point to a possible need for refinements in this approach. Specifically:

So let me get this straight. I use the Fishomatic to pulverize 12 dead fish. I dump the fish pulp into a 12″-diameter sphere-shaped ice tray (and good luck finding one of those). Then I push the book into the fish pulp. Clearly, a pulp title is best. I freeze. Carefully, I pop the frozen sphere from the “tray” and arrange it in a nest of fish scales. Then I put it under the recipient’s pillow in his/her bed. Oh, wait. That’s The Godfather Method of Wrapping a Gift Book.

This interpretation is a little time-intensive and perhaps limiting in terms of the type of book. And, granted, sometimes I will just strap the dead fish to the book and cover both with wrapping paper and hand that to the lucky recipient–especially if there’s no convenient sea nearby. Her next suggestion, however, may further streamline the whole process…

If I hide the book or toss it into the sea, and hence, the supposed recipient doesn’t know that he has this wonderful gift… then I can save my book money and give him something much smaller and cheaper, such as a pea. Yes, I can hide a pea and feel good, knowing that I intended to give him a book. After all, it’s the thought that counts!

I have no suggestions on how to hide a pea. Nor for wrapping an e-book. But for less avant garde suggestions on book-wrapping, here are a few links.

5 Creative Techniques to Wrap a Book

Google Image Search (less terrifying than you might expect)

Pinterest, suggesting disguises that will fool no one (like if you put a fake moustache on)

Of course, you could always just wrap the damn book using time-proven and careful techniques.

Or share your own secret ways in the comments below…