Brad's Reviews > Shriek: An Afterword

Shriek by Jeff VanderMeer
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's review
May 03, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: about-imagination, exceeded-my-expectations, fantasy-urban-fantasy, fantasy, fascinating, in-the-shower, one-of-the-greats, pb-and-j-dipped-in-hot-chocolate
Recommended for: Kim
Read from August 01 to December 11, 2011 , read count: 1

We book lovers can’t help speaking of authors as “the next ....” We’re always keeping our eyes open for the next Jane Austen or the next Ernest Hemingway or the next Salman Rushdie or the next Ursula K. LeGuin, and we gleefully trumpet their arrival in our reviews. Of course, what we really ought to be looking for is the first China Miéville, the first Lisa Moore, the first Neal Stephenson, the first Iain Banks, the first whomever. When we find those authors who are truly themselves, we’ve really uncovered gold.

There is a comparison that is valuable, however. It doesn’t place impossible expectations on burgeoning authors; it doesn’t reduce the work they are doing; it simply places them in the context of literary history and points us in the direction of their progenitors. What I am talking about is authorial inheritance. There are some authors who, for whatever reason or in whatever way, have “inherited” a technique or a focus or an obsession from an established author and somehow built upon what came before.

In this case, I am thinking of Jeff Vandermeer and how he is the truest descendant of JRR Tolkien.

Tolkien’s world building, especially linguistically, is legendary. He knew everything there was to know about the races, religions, languages and histories of Middle Earth. It remains a world of immense richness, and Fantasy authors of every generation have aspired to create worlds that match Tolkien’s genius.

I don’t think Vandermeer is one of those authors, at least not consciously. I don’t think he’s sitting down with his scribbled maps and booklets of backstories and rules of behaviour, aspiring to be the next Tolkien.

Yet what Vandermeer has done is create a world every bit as alive and teeming as Tolkien’s, and he has done it in a way that is unique to his time and personal experience and place in the world (a Pannsylvanian born, Fiji raised, Floridian).

Can you imagine a world where the grey skinned alien invaders people fear come from below, not from above, and are living, breathing fungus beings? Jeff Vandermeer can. Can you imagine a world where historians and artists are the venerated celebrities of the day, rather than actors and athletes? Vandermeer can. Can you imagine a world where weapons of mass destruction are fungal weapons that alter the world in a fearful burst of steampunky modernity? Vandermeer can.

But Vandermeer doesn’t stop at these peculiarities. He produces artifacts for reproduction, like a fungus rotted page from Janice Shriek’s Afterword, complete with Duncan Shriek’s annotations, and reproduces it in Sirin’s Afterword to her Afterword. He offers us photos of Janice’s mushroom overrun typewriter, the key artefact of her writing process, the green, glowing keys she writes about as she writes about her brother and Mary Sabon and Ambergris and herself.

And Vandermeer doesn’t stop there either. He invites bands into his world to write soundtracks for the works he’s writing. He hints at characters whose roots might be our world, madmen trapped in Ambergrisian madhouses. He offers histories of commerce and religion every bit as alive as the creations of any other world builder. And there’s more, so much more. It's in City of Saints and Madmen. It's in Finch. It's in Vandermeer's mind.

Vandermeer lives and breathes Ambergris and cities and nations it competes with, and all its environs, and his world is always expanding, always becoming. In its own way, Vandermeer’s world is as alive and important as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and he has one leg up on the old master. He’s still alive, still working, and Vandermeer’s world can continue to grow.

Read Shriek: An Afterword, and you will discover the first Jeff Vandermeer. He's worth the time and the effort.
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Reading Progress

09/27 page 150
38.0% "Savouring."
10/17 page 200
50.0% "Taking forever, but I only read it in the muggy heat of the shower, sometimes while shaving or brushing my teeth. It's the correct way to read it. I am convinced."
11/05 page 240
60.0% "I am convinced the only way to read this is in the shower or a musty old cellar."
03/21 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by David (new)

David Katzman Nice.

message 2: by mark (new)

mark monday In this case, I am thinking of Jeff Vandermeer and how he is the truest descendant of JRR Tolkien.

wow! that's a new one, haven't seen that comparison before. will have to read this Vandermeer sometime soon.

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