Nonfiction

Bear Versus Texting Man: Our Spectacular Disconnection

Jeff VanderMeer • September 17th, 2014 • Nonfiction


(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

Jeff VanderMeer • September 17th, 2014 • Culture, News

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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

Jeff VanderMeer • September 15th, 2014 • Book Reviews

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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

Jeff VanderMeer • September 13th, 2014 • Book Reviews

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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

Jeff VanderMeer • September 9th, 2014 • News, Nonfiction

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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.

UK Book Tour: The Important Part, the Books Acquired!

Jeff VanderMeer • August 28th, 2014 • Book Reviews

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…

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–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.)

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–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.

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–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.

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–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.

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–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.)

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–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…

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–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….

Books Read and in Progess: Smith Henderson, Evie Wyld, and More

Jeff VanderMeer • July 14th, 2014 • Book Reviews

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So far this year I’ve had a chance to read and review a handful of novels for the NYTBR, LA Times, and the Guardian—here are some links and info, along with, first, my current reading—very excited about everything I’m reading now.

CURRENT READING (in progress)

Right now, I’m on the road and am reading the following, all of which I’m really enjoying thus far. I don’t know why, but I’ve been going back and forth between them without it destroying my immersion in any of them.

–After the Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld (magnificent author—such a sharp, sharp writer)

–McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh (out in October; profane, ‘orrible in the best way, and brilliant style for the protagonist)

–Idiopathy by Sam Byers (so far a spot-on critique of every aspect of our modern post-industrial existence)

–Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words by Boel Westin (most excellent biography of the wonderful writer and artist, lovingly written and with copious illos and photographs)

–The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948—2013 (the best from the Nobel Prize-winner; I’m making this one last, reading a couple of poems every day)

THE BEST

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson: “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.”

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld: “Wyld’s also not afraid to just give the reader the blunt, brutal truth. There are aspects of Whyte’s past—because of what’s been done to her and what she herself has done—that you get full-on, in detail…some level the rest of All the Birds, Singing is nothing but exploration of her character, a kind of clear-seeing that creates empathy even through the most disturbing sequences.” (Granted, this one’s a cheat—I posted this review on my blog, but it’s a favorite read of the year so far and if I’d found it earlier would’ve pitched it for review.)

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.” (Note: I had some negative things to say about this novel, but it’s the kind of book that I think a good many readers will enjoy a lot and a fair number of reviewers may not have the same caveats I did. I’ve now ordered his story collection and awaiting it eagerly.)

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Review: All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

Jeff VanderMeer • July 2nd, 2014 • Book Reviews

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I picked up Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing on a whim, because I liked the cover design and the tone of the review quotes on the back. I didn’t know anything about the author, and it wasn’t until I was about three-fourths of the way through that I discovered she’d won a lot of literary prizes for the novel. All I knew by then is that Wyld deserved all of those prizes.

I can count on one hand the number of novels I’ve read in the last couple of years where the prose is truly exceptional and the author’s vision has both clarity and substance. In All the Birds, Singing Wyld creates an unforgettable character in Jake Whyte, a woman with a troubled past who, in the present, lives on a farm she owns on a remote British island. The story of her encounters with a strange beast and neighbors she wants nothing to do with is interwoven with a narrative about the past that gradually delves farther and farther back in time.

We learn that Whyte knows a lot about how to shear and care for sheep, a job she’s taken up again by choice in her isolation on the island. We learn that she grew up in Australia and in fleeing her past she got a job at a sheep station in Australia. The scenes in which she is navigating a landscape full of men, many of whom don’t trust her, are riveting and contain brilliant moments of character insight. All of the secondary characters come to life with deft, economical precision, and the bustling sheep station provides a great early contrast to the isolation of Whyte’s life on the island.

But the contrast between these scenes and the ones in the present isn’t just expressed through a shift in tense—the past cleverly presented in present tense—it’s also in the atmosphere. Whyte’s subtle but adept in how the island scenes are slowed by cold and mud while those in Australia are alive with heat; the syntax shifts and adjusts to fit the setting. This is in part a function of conscious thought about style by the author and in part due to first-hand knowledge of both landscapes…or at least this is my impression; perhaps Wyld’s just a really good liar about details of setting.

Wyld’s also not afraid to just give the reader the blunt, brutal truth. There are aspects of Whyte’s past—because of what’s been done to her and what she herself has done—that you get full-on, in detail. To describe them here would be spoilery, in that the life of the novel is in the moment and in the particulars of sometimes fairly brief scenes. But my point is that we begin the novel with a mystery about Whyte—who she is and why she’s now on the island— and on some level the rest of All the Birds, Singing is nothing but exploration of her character, a kind of clear-seeing that creates empathy even through the most disturbing sequences.

The writing in the novel is muscular without being lush or overly descriptive; Wyld knows how to pick her spots so that everything we get counts. A bicep on a scrawny man bulges like “a new potato” during an arm-wrestling contest. Recalling a horrible encounter, Whyte feels like “wax is coating me from the inside.” Trees in a moment of tension “appeared to swell and shrink with the rhythm of breath,” which is perfectly placed after a description of birds rising out of the trees and then settling back in that reinforces the illusion.

As All the Birds, Singing progresses, it’s true that the evocations of the past aren’t always as fresh or new as at the novel’s start—and the conclusion feels much more like stopping than ending, perhaps in part because no matter whether a mystery is about a dead body or a living one the reveal can’t be as compelling as the set-up.

But the clear-eyed self-appraisal present throughout, the evocations of island life and Whyte’s interactions with a mysterious man who shows up at her farm, the utterly stunning set-piece involving her home town and a tragedy…all of these elements have softened my slight disappointment at the end to the point where all I remember are the brilliant things about this novel. Especially in a context where Wyld gives the reader such a memorable, unique, strong-yet-flawed woman as her viewpoint character.

In short, All the Birds, Singing now makes me want to read everything Wyld has ever written.

Southern Reach Spanish Book Covers: An Interview with Pablo Delcán

Jeff VanderMeer • June 9th, 2014 • Culture, Uncategorized

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(Finished covers)

One of the great pleasures of seeing the Southern Reach trilogy in print has been the ingenuity and sophistication of the foreign language editions. Among the absolute best of the many versions are Destino’s covers for the Spanish editions. Destino commissioned artist and designer Pablo Delcan to create these covers, which capture the surreal vibe of the novels as well as the theme of transformation running through the narrative.

I caught up with Delcan via email this month to ask him about how he created these striking images, and to share with readers some early versions. You can experience more of his amazing work at his website. Spanish readers can also check out the Destino Southern Reach webpage and also check out updates on twitter @_SouthernReach.

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Finnish Weird: It’s the Hot New Thing from the Cold Place

Jeff VanderMeer • May 28th, 2014 • Book Reviews, Culture

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(Oh–there it is. Finnish Weird. Popping up amongst the ‘shrooms.)

Finnish Weird now has a fruiting body: a one-off magazine that allows you to sample some of the best examples of this delectably strange Nordic truffle. Download these infectious spores or enjoy them right there online.

In addition to iconic Finnish writer Johanna Sinisalo’s editorial, “Rare Exports,” Finnish Weird includes an essay “Finnish Weird From the Land of the North” by Jussi K. Niemela and features Emmi Itaranta, Jenny Kangasvuo, and Tiina Raevaara. Fiction and interviews and essays all come with a great visual presentation, too.

Mentioned in the nonfiction is It Came From the North, an anthology of the Finnish fantastic edited by Desirina Boskovich from our own Cheeky Frawg Books. In honor of Finnish weird, we’ve discounted it for Kindle to $2.99 for one week only. If you’d prefer a different seller, we recommend Weightless (although we can’t discount that version).

So go read Finnish Weird and check out It Came From the North if you’re so inclined.

It Came from the North--Finnish Fiction