Atlas by Dung Kai-Cheung

Jeff VanderMeer • September 2nd, 2012 • Book Reviews

My google feed brought me this possible gem today: Atlas, by Dung Kai-Cheung. I’m buying it right now.

Here’s a description:

Set in the long-lost City of Victoria (a fictional world similar to Hong Kong), Atlas is written from the unified perspective of future archaeologists struggling to rebuild a thrilling metropolis. Divided into four sections — “Theory,” “The City,” “Streets,” and “Signs” — the novel reimagines Victoria through maps and other historical documents and artifacts, mixing real-world scenarios with purely imaginary people and events while incorporating anecdotes and actual and fictional social commentary and critique.

Much like the quasi-fictional adventures in map-reading and remapping explored by Paul Auster, Jorge Luis Borges, and Italo Calvino, Dung Kai-cheung’s novel challenges the representation of place and history and the limits of technical and scientific media in reconstructing a history. It best exemplifies the author’s versatility and experimentation, along with China’s rapidly evolving literary culture, by blending fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in a story about succeeding and failing to recapture the things we lose. Playing with a variety of styles and subjects, Dung Kai-cheung inventively engages with the fate of Hong Kong since its British “handover” in 1997, which officially marked the end of colonial rule and the beginning of an uncharted future.

Japan Times has this review, which reads in part, “The faux-scholarship in this section is beautifully done and is equaled, though in a different vein, in the next part, where we move from theory to The City, an entity approached not directly, of course, but through maps and documents such as Round the World on the Sunrise by John Smith, a chronicle of, among other things, Smith’s movements on Aug. 9, 1907, the day he spends in Victoria. In Smith’s account, with characteristic subtlety, Dung mocks colonial travelers and the memoirs that reveal their odd interpretations of cultures to which they can only condescend.”

Interview with the author here.

Book Murderer Excerpt for Hal Duncan’s Storybusking

Jeff VanderMeer • August 31st, 2012 • Fiction, News, Uncategorized

Hal Duncan, the juggernaut responsible for Ink and Vellum, is storybusking. Go help him out–he’s a great writer. And in solidarity with him, here’s an excerpt from a novel I’m working on, The Book Murderer. If you like what you read, go donate something to Hal.

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Ann VanderMeer Joins Editorial Staff, Acquiring Short Fiction

Jeff VanderMeer • August 29th, 2012 • News

The news just broke at that my wife, Ann VanderMeer, will be consulting fiction editor for the website. Which I believe is among the highest-paying markets in SF/F. She will be acquiring short fiction for Tor.

“She brings a sharp eye for adventurous fiction to all of her projects, and we look forward to the stories and authors she’ll bring to”

This is richly deserved and only poetic or karmic justice in many ways. I’m really thrilled for her!

Dean Francis Alfar: Read New Fiction, Buy His New Collection

Jeff VanderMeer • August 29th, 2012 • Culture, Fiction, News


Dean Francis Alfar is an excellent short story writer whose second collection How to Traverse Terra Incognitais now available on Amazon and elsewhere in e-book form. The book comes with blurbs from such luminaries as Hugo Award winners Ann VanderMeer and Lynne M. Thomas, among others.

Not familiar with Alfar? Here’s what you need to know.

Alfar is a Filipino playwright, novelist and writer of speculative fiction. His plays have been performed in venues across the country, while his articles and fiction have been published both in his native Philippines and abroad, such as in Strange Horizons, Rabid Transit, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and the Exotic Gothic series. His literary awards include the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature and then Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Award. He is an advocate of the literature of the fantastic, editing the Philippine Speculative Fiction series, as well as a comic book creator and a blogger. Alfar is also an entrepreneur who runs several businesses. He lives in Manila with his wife, fictionist Nikki Alfar and their two daughters.

So here’s a proposition for you, since I’m a big fan of Alfar’s work. Below the cut, Alfar is allowing me to post “Enkantong-bato,” his entry from the bestiary anthology Ann and I are editing—totally new fiction, not found in the collection, free for you to read. Exclusive to this blog post and only available here for the next month. BUT, if you read and enjoy it, please do me favor and go buy How to Traverse Terra Incognita. The fact is, you’ll actually be doing yourself a favor!

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Weird Fiction Review Features Finnish Writer Johanna Sinisalo and Much More!

Jeff VanderMeer • August 28th, 2012 • News

(Art by Jeremy Zerfoss)

It’s been a great few weeks at—we’ve been posting a ton of amazing content. This week we’re featuring the Finnish writer Johanna Sinisalo, but also check out wonderful material by Edward Gauvin, Matthew Pridham, Nancy Hightower, and Rochita Loenin-Ruiz. (Many thanks to our managing editor, Adam Mills, for making this all happen.)

An essay on Finnish Weird
A significant section of the people who do not read books in these styles have a surprisingly narrow understanding of what these genres entail. For them, the mere mention of the word ‘fantasy’ conjures up visions of a pseudo-Dark Age world inhabited by fairies, spirits, dwarves and dragons and where people used magic swords to fight against the powers of darkness.

An excerpt from her award-winning novel Troll
In the studio I take Pessi in my arms then whisk the Stalkers on to his back legs with a single pull?—?knowing I’d not manage it at a second shot. If Pessi had thought of spreading his hind claws, the jeans wouldn’t have slipped on: the legs would have been torn to shreds. A size to fit a three-foot-six-inch child suits him stunningly. I’ve got the zip and metal button fastened and have twitched his tail through the hole I’ve made in the Stalker backside before he realizes he’s been diddled. Then I throw Pessi?—?now a hissing, whirling ball bristling with razor-sharp claws?—?in front of the backdrop, and I start the automatic camera rolling.

A new, exclusive interview with the author
If I’m brutally honest, I have to mention Carl Barks and his classic Donald Duck comics. Barks had an enormous talent of entertaining with the tools of exaggeration, mystery, bizarre characters and unlimited?–?sometimes very, very weird?–?imagination. In my honest opinion, Carl Barks was one of the greatest writers of 20th century. I have learned to read leafing through Donald Duck comics, and whenever I encounter some of the old stories I first read when I was four or five, I get goosebumps, because I can still recall the excitement and thrill of the first reading in detail.

Also new on the site:

—Nancy Hightower on the art of Chris Mars
—Edward Gauvin on “Echoes”
—Matthew Pridham on the movie The Last Winter

Did you miss it? Rochita Loenin-Ruiz’s fiction and nonfiction:

Hunting for Stories in the Philippines
One thing I immediately learned was this: horror is alive and well in Filipino language publications. I found tales of hauntings and possessions. Murdered spirits come back to avenge their deaths, beautiful white ladies turn into monsters, and creatures of the night feed on innocent flesh. These stories are familiar to every Filipino, for who doesn’t know of the aswang or the tikbalang? What Filipino is unfamiliar with the kapre and the nuno sa punso? Who hasn’t heard of hauntings and blood dripping down the walls?

Of the Liwat’ang Yawa, the Litok-litok and their Prey
In the same year as Dimaano’s book came out, a series of killings took place in the towns of Kalaygo and Layog. The killings resembled those described in Dimaano’s book, and pushed the book further into the spotlight. His thesis was embraced as canon and became the source book for shows like Guni-guni and Mameng Taleng’s Nightside Tales.

Borne: The Balcony Cliffs

Jeff VanderMeer • August 27th, 2012 • Fiction

Another novel I’ve been working on and hope to finish soon is entitled Borne. Here’s an early section, mostly exposition, that I’m not sure will survive intact in the final novel. Borne is set in a kind of post-collapse city.

My relationship with Wick was complicated by more than our sleeping arrangements. It was defined by where we lived, in the ruins of what I had dubbed the Balcony Cliffs. By the time I found the sea anemone, our fates in that place had become intertwined: Wick provided his biotech and chemical deceptions and I provided my talent for building traps both physical and psychological.

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Brit Mandelo’s Beyond Binary Interview

Jeff VanderMeer • August 27th, 2012 • Book Reviews

beyond binary

Over at you’ll find my feature on the excellent anthology Beyond Binary, including quotes from an interview I conducted with editor Brit Mandelo. Go check it out and recommend it to your friends! And below you’ll find Mandelo’s full answers to a couple of the questions; I couldn’t include everything due to length considerations.

What do you think makes SF/F ideal for exploring ideas and issues related to gender and sexual identity?

I think that the astounding range of possibilities speculative fiction offers for asking vital questions, reinterpreting or discarding contemporary mores, and breaking boundaries is what makes it ideal for exploring issues of gender and sexuality. SFF not only allows us to ask “what if?,” it also allows us to make real whatever we can imagine—the very nature of the form, as a literature of extrapolation and invention, opens up a field of discourse where everything has potential and anything is possible. This nearly unlimited ability to explore, expand, and explode definitions makes speculative fiction the only form that can effectively transcend and truly embody an equally vast multitude of potential gender and sexual identities.

In the same vein, Joanna Russ’s argument for speculative fiction is one that resonates with me, too, and I tend to quote it when asked a question like this. She said, “science fiction […] provides myths for dealing with the kind of experiences we are actually having now, instead of the literary myths we have inherited, which only tell us about the kinds of experiences we think we ought to be having.” In SFF, we can deal authentically with issues of identity and self in a way that is often effaced or barred from traditional literary forms; being able to twist and restructure reality in narrative is a powerful tool for social criticism. In fact, I’d say that the tools for social criticism are natural to and almost inseparable from the same narrative machinery that drives speculative fiction to begin with—that willingness to ask questions, to imagine, and to invent worlds that are not quite like our own. Speculative fiction, then, offers a golden opportunity for folks whose stories are often silenced to encompass their narratives, their identities, in a form that is—in a lot of ways, though this is a whole different argument—itself a sort of outsider literature.

I’m curious as to what kinds of effects stripping out gender referents has on fiction, in your opinion?

When done well, it can destabilize narrative assumptions about gender—and, even more so, reader assumptions. When we begin reading a story, we make assumptions based on hints and clues from the narrative, yes, but also based on our own implicit worldview. I’m as guilty of this as anyone; it’s just a way that we make meaning during the reading process. But, when a story manages to sidestep gender referents and craft a narrative not mediated by explicit gender, that’s something special: it forces the reader to step back and check their own assumptions about character gender, and destabilizes the assumption that everyone presents a specific gender. The thematic force of a narrative that rests on an agendered, neutrois or un-gendered person can also be pretty stellar, challenging mythologies of gender performance and the binary of male/female that the English language so commonly subscribes to. (And, on a craft level, writing without gendering a character is a pretty thrilling display of technical mastery. It’s hard to overstate the control and precision required to write, and write well, without pronouns or gendered language.)

Shriek: We Are Lost–The Church Soundtrack

Jeff VanderMeer • August 25th, 2012 • Audio, News

My 2006 novel Shriek: An Afterword had a soundtrack by the Australian band The Church, and now three of the tracks are on YouTube. I really love what they did with the novel, and the Bannerville one…well, Steve Kilbey did a great job conveying the emotion of that scene—he’s reading from the novel directly. You can buy the CD direct from The Church here.

I’ve got some hardcovers of the novel I need to get out of the house—we’re getting rid of some clutter—so email me at [email protected] if you want one signed with an illustration. $6 plus $3 shipping anywhere in the US. Anywhere else, query first. This is still the novel I’m most proud of, and the one I keep getting emails about. In fact, one couple told me part of their marriage vows came from Shriek.


An epic yet personal look at several decades of life, love, and death in the imaginary city of Ambergris–previously chronicled in Jeff VanderMeer’s acclaimed City of Saints & Madmen–Shriek: An Afterword relates the scandalous, heartbreaking, and horrifying secret history of two squabbling siblings and their confidantes, protectors, and enemies.

Narrated with flamboyant intensity and under increasingly urgent conditions by ex-society figure Janice Shriek, this afterword presents a vivid gallery of characters and events, emphasizing the adventures of Janice’s brother Duncan, a historian obsessed with a doomed love affair and a secret that may kill or transform him; a war between rival publishing houses that will change Ambergris forever; and the gray caps, a marginalized people armed with advanced fungal technologies who have been waiting underground for their chance to mold the future of the city.

Part academic treatise, part tell-all biography, after this introduction to the Family Shriek, you’ll never look at history in quite the same way again.

The Book Murderer (excerpt)

Jeff VanderMeer • August 25th, 2012 • Fiction

For awhile now I’ve been working on a novel entitled The Book Murderer. It’s a strange hybrid in that it has satirical elements (sending up all aspects of book culture) but becomes more and more psychologically three-dimensional as it goes along and you come to know the main character’s background. It probably has a little bit of something to offend everyone. And it’s incredibly sweary, for those who don’t like the sweary… (As readers should know by now, I often write characters I don’t agree with or don’t agree with in all particulars…)

Here’re the opening sections…

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Photos from Fiji, Romania, and the Backyard…

Jeff VanderMeer • August 25th, 2012 • Photos

(Part of the Suva market.)

I posted some photo sets on facebook this past week, which you can access through the following links, I believe:

Fiji photo set—Our parents were in the Peace Corps and my sister and I spent a substantial portion of our childhood in Fiji. My dad taught chemistry at the University of the South Pacific and my mom did biological illustrations of endangered sea turtles and other flora and fauna. My dad also studied the rhinoceros beetle, which was a danger to coconut trees. Although I lived in Fiji, I’ve never really been able to write about it in fiction to any great extent. I think it’s mostly likely a subject for nonfiction for me, for whatever reason. (I recently bought a slide converter, so will have other photo sets from our other travels as a kid soonish. The photos are all from the 1970s)

Romania photo set—We were lucky enough to go to Romania for a book tour, along with six other countries, back in 2006. Our hosts, including Bogdan Hrib and Horia Ursu took us all over the place, including to the north and then down the Danube. It was a real bonding experience and by the time we left we knew we’d made lifelong friends.

“Backyard” photo set—Images from the hill trail I walk regularly at San Luis Park, which is about five minutes from where we live, here in Tallahassee.

Some sample photos beneath the cut.

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