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Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer's fiction, for my money, is the best value in modern fantasy; his every book is packed with delectable and wicked delights, loads of lush and ominous scenery, taut (bordering on poetic) writing and deep, dark currents of thought - an intense recipe that is sure to invigorate the whole genre of modern fantastic fiction. He has won two World Fantasy Awards, has been a finalist for the Hugo Award, Bram Stoker Award, Philip K. Dick Award, and as you will see below, currently displays no signs of slowing down.

(art courtesy David Fuhrer)

Scroll down for full reviews and ratings:


"Ghost in the Machine"
(Veniss series)
© Fantastic Worlds, vol.1, 1995
--/ fourth place sf story
--/ wonder award
--/ style award
--/ rare find


"The Situation"
© 2008, PS Publishing
--/ third place f novelette
--/ wonder award
--/ idea award
--/ style award
--/ emotion award

Jeff VanderMeer is not a pirate (swashbuckler, filibustier, rogue), nor is he a squid researcher, or a mushroom grower (though some of his writings may suggest all that, given their ferocious weirdness). He is, however, a damn good writer, who can easily cram a juicy epic into a thin sliver of a book: in this case, a 50-page worth Situation.

Somewhat reminiscent of Vernor Vinge's novella "The Monster Cookie", this particularly steamy slice of corporate Gormenghast for economy-haunted America provides plenty of emotional harakiri and gut-spilling visual thrills... it crawls around the astonished reader like a misshapen beetle (complete with the grotesque patterns on its carapace and clockwork-sounding clicks). At any point in time this novella seems to have enough potential to be turned into a full-blown 500-page paperback slab, but Jeff VanderMeer never makes this "Alienation in the Workforce" any longer than it needs to be. He lets it lie where it may (using the long-forgotten art form of understatement) - and boy, does the whole thing curl around your subconscious in deliciously disturbing ways!

Suffice it to say that anybody who's been slighted by the benefits-rich corporate culture, or has ever caught a whiff of something rotten emanating from the CEO's office (the Chairmen of the Board abide in a sort of a metaphysical tower and seem to be of insectoid, slug, or worse nature) - anybody who felt the foreboding of CHANGE ready to percolate down the managerial chain... anybody who was strangled creatively or artistically in the name of Almighty Routine... these readers would really appreciate the bizarre Kafka-esque environment of the "Situation", and may cherish it as a sort of confessional, akin to a conversation with a wise (if somewhat mischievous) priest at an altar. The words of wisdom seem to be "Get Out! While you can, and leave your red stapler behind" - but there is more to the particular kind of doom which Jeff VanderMeer carefully measures out. The unavoidable outcome of being fired seems almost a happy ending to a progression of humiliation and defeat.

So in a way, this is a quest, only in reverse. The happy start of the story occurred somewhere during the peaceful "belonging" stage of being gainfully employed. But when the situation developed, everything turned into a bloody, fleshy, surreal set-up (think of "Existenz" movie, or J. G. Ballard's particularly weird nightmares). With the final page the reader can expect to be emotionally exhausted, greatly desiring more details, and only getting fifty pages worth of text. Kind of like Harlan Ellison's angriest (and most laconic) best. Good things come in small packages, indeed.

Download the full text online here, read about the circumstances of how it was written in Jeff's interview on DRB, or order the book at PS Publishing site.


"Secret Lives" (coll)
© 2008, Prime Books
--/ fourth place f collection
--/ idea award
--/ style award
--/ humour award

Speaking of Harlan Ellison's "angry candies", or his "From A to Z, in the Chocolate Alphabet", here we have a similarly delicious set - a short collection (little more than 100 pages) of themed stories, vignettes of the secret lives of various quite ridiculous, or spectacularly boring characters.

This is a gauntlet thrown in the face of each of us: "Hey there, do YOU have a secret worth of writing about?" My completely uneducated guess would be that most people lead some sort of secret life, even if known only to the powers above. Admit it, or not, this is a voyaristic bliss package, capable to illuminate your boring life with rays of unadulterated lunacy, even if said lunacy is only a product of Jeff VanderMeer's mind.

This book takes my pick as the most intriguing and under-appreciated publishing event of the year (it even has a strange, unaccounted story on the other side of the cover). Don't try to search for it in your cavernous Borders store, and don't confuse this book with Jeff's previously-issued collection "Secret Life". You can order a copy through the Prime Books website.


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Enchanting Victorian Fairy Tale Art

"Then world behind and home ahead..."

Exceptional British Scifi Artwork from the 1950s

Space Pulp Art by Ron Turner and other British artists

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Part 2 of our "Best Classic Fantasy" series
incl. works by Henry Kuttner, Tolkien, etc.

Strange Shadows: Best Classic Fantasy

Fantasy "glitches in the matrix",
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Going beyond the obvious "Dances with Smurfs"...
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"Steampunk" Anthology: Full Review

some truly crazed stories in there...
(plus artwork by John Coulthart)

"Dune", Plus Often-Neglected
Other Novels by Frank Herbert

"Dune", plus some overlooked gems:
"The Santaroga Barrier" and "The Green Brain"

Universe at Play:
Two Must-Read Novels of the Fantastic

"The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon...
and David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas"

Two of the Most Entertaining SF Novels from the 1980s

"Vacuum Flowers" by Michael Swanwick...
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"The Body Snatchers" and Other Alien Pods

Fiction by Jack Finney, Vance, Simak and Bloch
mind impostors and emotion imitators

Exploring the Noir and the Grotesque

Jack O'Connell "The Resurrectionist"
and other newest examples of the bizarre

Overpopulation, Sex and Sensibility

Robert Silverberg's "The World Inside"
and other classic sf blasts

H. P. Lovecraft "At the Mountains of Madness"

and other masterpieces of terror
including original illustrations

"Constellations", edited by Peter Crowther

original anthology, 2005
full review: mind-bending stories

The Ultimate Guide to New Writers of SF&F

more than 2,000 writers, 1990-2009
Ratings, awards, web links

The Surreal Office

"The Situation", "The Cookie Monster"
Weird fiction by Jeff VanderMeer and Vernor Vinge

Mind-shattering Novels of Philip K. Dick

"UBIK", "Now Wait for Last Year", etc.

Theodore Sturgeon's "More Than Human"

There’s a problem with this new gestalt being: needs a conscience.

Jack Williamson's "Legion of Space" Series

Classic Space Opera
The ultimate weapon, controlled by a gorgeous woman

Astounding Stories, August 1934

Jack Williamson, Nat Schachner, "Doc" Smith
Epic space opera gems and horror surprises

Rare Pulp SF&F, Issue 3

Leigh Brackett, Fritz Leiber, Vic Phillips
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"Bester was the mountain, all the rest of us..."
Pyrokinetic writing in one neat package

Two Novels by Samuel R. Delany

"Nova" and "Babel-17"
New Wave Milestones, and then some.

Theodore Sturgeon's "The Cosmic Rape"

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Vintage Space Travel Posters, and more.
Part 3 of Pulp Sf art series...

Alastair Reynolds' Epic Novels

"Chasm City" and "Revelation Space"
And it's only the beginning...

Rare Fantasy Gems by C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner

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When two star writers become husband and wife

Grand Old Times... in the Future

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Exclusive: Interview with Nancy Kress

From High Fantasy to Hard Science Fiction
A Spectrum of Wonder

Jack Vance

"To Live Forever"
and other Vance extravaganzas

Alastair Reynolds

"Pushing Ice"
Cosmological "noir" chase across space

Charles Stross

"Missile Gap"
Mind-bending Cold War world-building

Hidden Gems of Pulp SF, Part 2

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Ultra-Rare Serials from "Fantasy Magazine"

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incredible line-up of writers

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Neat & Rare Stories
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Full Issue Review
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Astounding Stories, May 1941

Full Issue Review
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"Inflexure" and "Spawn": guilty pleasure

Interview with John C. Wright

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Adventures in Space & Magic

Frank Belknap Long

"The Horror from the Hills"
Great Lovecraftian Weird Novella

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"Galactic North"
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Warning: Gross Subject Matter

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"The Stars My Destination"
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"Neutron Star"
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"The Squirrel Cage"
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"SF&F Reading Experience" is part of "Dark Roasted Blend / Thrilling Wonder" family of sites. We try to highlight the most entertaining and rewarding science fiction and fantasy, with emphasis on memorable reader experience, not necessarily general acceptance by the critics. Have fun, and delve into our extensive ratings and reviews!

Most reviews are written by Avi Abrams, unless otherwise noted. Reviews also appear on our unique historical retrospective page Wonder Timeline of Science Fiction. Feel free to submit your own review, if a particular story is not listed here.

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