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[[ Download pdf ]] Shriek: An AfterwordAuthor Jeff VanderMeer –

Tarted up in a fin de siecle gaudiness and moldering crepe, Jeff VanDerMeer s latest tale of the decadent and unusual goings on in the fantastical city of Ambergris promises raised eyebrows and wry humour A few chapters into the book, it seemed as though the affair might collapse in upon itself due to the towering preciousness of it s central conceit that it is in actuality a hideously distended afterword penned by the failed art gallery owner Janice Shriek, to be appended to a travel guide written by her peculiarly transforming brother, Duncan Shriek, a visionary historian who somehow it will eventually be revealed manages to encrust her narrative with asides and contradictions, despite having at least one soft shoe shuffling away his mortal coil The atmosphere reeks of mildew and hallucination, morbid laughter and stark terrors Wars are fought, lives ruined, loves founder, and sentient mushrooms from below the ground make their bids on surface life By the end of the book, the artfulness of the prose and the depth in the portrayal of Janice s character rescue the story from turning into a frothy machination The world of Ambergris is located in the poorly lit and dangerous neighborhood of Mervyn Peake s Gormenghast and China Mieville s New Crobuzon This isn t fantasy that you would wish to retreat into, but perhaps away from, rife with attractive poisons and dazzling decrepitude Congratulations to Mr VanDerMeer for capturing the unreal with extraordinary vividness. He said A machine A glass A mirror A broken machine A cracked glass A shattered mirror I remember now the way he used the phrases at his disposal Clean, fine cuts Great, slashing cuts Fractures in the word and the world Some things should not be articulated Some words should never be used in exact combination with other words My father said that once, while reading a scathing negative review of one of his essays He said it with a tired little sigh, a joke at his expense His whole body slumped from the words Weighed down with words, like stones in his pocket.A machine A glass A mirror Duncan s journal, with the advantage of distance, described his discovery much gracefullyLet s start with some George Orwell, shall we Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.This is, appropriately enough, the opening of a rather savage critique of The Secret Life of Salvador Dal , worth reading in its own right just for sentences like Dali is even by his own diagnosis narcissistic, and his autobiography is simply a strip tease act conducted in pink limelight Warning for homophobia at the link, but few people do scathing like Orwell But I digress And maybe it s rather pompous to pull a real world quote into the review of a fantasy book Even though there is not a single other quote in the world that better captures this book Not even this one You ll doubt me now, dear reader, even if you didn t already, even though this is all true I doubt myself I doubt the evidence of my eyes Doubt was a great friend to my father To Jonathan Shriek, it was the Great Ally Doubt, he would say, raising a finger, is what will see you through It is a great truth Dad doubted every word he d ever written He told me so once, in the living room, at the end of a long, exhausting day Every word I thought he was joking, but now I can see that he wasn t. Let me start over This is a fantasy book Some people read fantasy for escape Nothing wrong with that Most of the time, I read it for what is true All books are ultimately constructs, all books are ultimately fictions sometimes you can get closer to the truth by making a whole world a fiction, by constructing the whole reality from scratch Sometimes you can see clearly who and what we really are if the real world isn t getting in the way The city of Ambergris the real protagonist of this series can tell us the truth better precisely because it is a fantasy We make up stories to understand ourselves and tell ourselves that they are true, when in fact they only represent an individual impression of one individual fingerprint, no matter how universal we attempt to make them.No, that s not right either After all, this is not just a fantasy book It s an afterword to a fantasy history, The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris, written by Duncan Shriek and published in City of Saints and Madmen view spoiler Well, partially published, apparently hide spoiler I ve been waiting for Jeff VanderMeer to write a novel set in Ambergris since City of Saints and Madmen.Thoughts from the halfway mark The first half of the book is Janice Shriek telling the story of her brother Duncan s multiple successes and disgraces, from being a successful historian, to a pariah, to a successful teacher, to his fall from grace for a torrid affair with a student, as well as her own rise to being a player in the art world until her own fall All the while, she alludes to Duncan s travels underground and his study of the Gray Caps, the strange denizens that live beneath Ambergris The account is frequently punctuated by Duncan s own interjections, clarifying or refuting things his sister has written Everything is leading toward something called The Shift No idea what The Shift is at this point in time.The first half of the book is good It has an underlying weirdness that generally gives one the willies Duncan has clearly seen things beneath the ground that continue to obsess him but struggles with living a relatively normal life above ground The writing is good and doesn t have nearly as much of the Look how clever I am vibe I got from certain parts of City of Saints and Madmen.The End The second half of the book deals with Duncan s fall from grace,the war between two merchant houses that eventually involves The Kalif, the aftermath of the war, and Mary Sabon s career More of the secrets of the Gray Caps are revealed Duncan continues his transformation and Janice gets a glimpse of things to come.The second half was as good as the first The only complaint I had was that the Shift was never really explained The ending was open to interpretation, which is appropriate for a book of this kind.I d recommend this any fan of the new weird This is what I wanted City of Saints and Madmen to be. A review on the back of this book name checks Nick Cave and Hitchhikers Guide please ignore the back of the book I can t imagine anything less like Douglas Adams than this book If I had to write a review of this book based primarily on name checks, my list would include Mervyn Peake, Edward Gorey, H.P Lovecraft, China Mievelle, and Tom Waits VanderMeer s Ambergris setting has echoes of Gormanghast s crumbling antiquity, but with of Amphigories twisted, Gothic humor thrown in think The Insect God The entire wold is spun over a shadow background of an unknown, violent horror lurking beneath the surface of things see Cthulhu , and the Waits I have in mind is less Romeo is Bleeding than The Earth Died Screaming I will admit that the Nick Cave reference is accurate if what the reviewer was thinking of was The Carney I picked this up mainly because I absolutely LOVED City of Saints and Madmen and this is the only other VanderMeer I ve found in my multi stops at BN since finishing that book It was good as well conceived and developed as CoSaM but something about the premise seemed to drag a bit when stretched over the length of an entire novel perhaps had it been 50 to 75 pages shorter it would have carried the same punch to the gut as its surreal predecessor At first I was worried about the premise being too clever the text proports to be an afterward to Ambergris historian Duncan Shriek s History of Ambergris, written by his sister Janice Shriek, but discovered and edited with notes by Duncan himself However, this conceit is very well executed, and the two voices play off one another very nicely without intruding too much into the text the result if very Pale Fire, but successful to an extent that surprised me.The reason I gave it three rather than four stars is simply that something about the book struck me as somewhat false, or distant, as if the book was part of an elaborate in joke that VanderMeer only partially let the reader in on I can t really explain it, as it was just a vague sense of unease or detachment that set in from time to time Whole chapters would be utterly gripping, but then there would be some bizarre detail that left me cold, almost as if he was writing an allegory and I was missing the cultural basis to understand the elaborate symbolism, or that if I was one of his college buddies I d get how he d cast their least favorite professor as the head of a church Think of the wonderful stories you ve told a small child, working their friends and family and neighborhood into the narrative, and later you realize with a slight disappointment that no one other than that child would really appreciate the story I felt like that from time to time if this makes sense to anyone other than me.Still, 90% of the book was great, and the restrained use of senseless and utter violence brings this books an edge of urgency and horror I ve seldom experienced outside of Mieville Well worth reading for those who like weird fiction. I recently went through a harvest of Listmania lists on , from those I found on the page for China Meiville s Perdido Street Station It seemed like a promising way to break into reading the current New Weird fantasy sub genre movement, uh, thing New Weird It s a fairly ambiguous term, but generally, think Fantasy often dark fantasy with a modern viewpoint and usually an urban modern or pseudo steampunk setting, that sidesteps Tolkien s legacy when tracing its lineage which manifests itself, in the books I ve read at least, in attempting to include an element of psychological realism despite the fantastic setting and events, as opposed to the archetypal characterizations one finds in Tolkien and other writers of Epic Fantasy All of the above is true of the first book from the lists that I ve gotten from the library, Shriek An Afterword by Jeff Vandermeer Shriek takes place in the fictional city of Ambergris, in an unnamed fictional world It is ostensibly an Afterword to another work which does not exist in real life , written by the sister of the other work s author who has gone missing The brother and sister duo are named Duncan and Janice Shriek thus the title , and the story involves Duncan s two obsessions first, his obsession with the mysterious fungus filled world of tunnels beneath the city, and second his obsessive love for a girl named Mary Sabon, who is at first his student and, in the end, the person who discredits and ruins his name in the public mind But of course all of these are almost secondary characters compared to the city itself, its history, its current state of politics and turmoil, and the tensions with and fear of the original inhabitants of the area, the Gray Caps beings who live in the world Underground, having been driven there by the first human colonists, who may or may not secretly control the minds of the human populace of the city this is where Mary and Duncan differ in their theories , and who are never given concrete physical description within the course of the novel.One of the critiques leveled at the New Weird from the traditional fantasy is that the New Weird is Ugly This is the same critique that I have heard leveled against the traditional literary genre you know, the one that claims not to be a genre Novels concerned with psychological realism tend to include a lot of psychological baggage, which in turn means not flinching away from the faults and underlying reason for the faults of their characters Which means that essentially a lot of dirty laundry is aired, even on the part of the protagonists This is certainly the case in Shriek, where certainly none of the characters are treated as being blameless in their actions There are no good guys or bad guys in the novel and sometimes just when you expect someone to be a caricature such as the supposedly narrow minded religious leader that tries to ban one of Duncan s early books , Vandermeer surprises you as when the religious leader, himself having suffered a scandal, becomes one of Duncan s closest friends, though no less a religious man I m not going to fall on either side of this argument I can see both sides of the argument, and enjoy books written by those on both sides Which side I would rather write like myself remains to be seen The other ugly aspect of the New Weird is that it often draws on influences from the horror genre There are some disturbing or shocking images in Shriek, which you may want to watch out for if you re not a fan of being disturbed or shocked Mostly it is dark than gruesome, though there are a couple violent images at certain points.Literarily, Shriek exists in that lovely world of suggesting meaning, where the metaphorical or mythopoeic elements are there to wake a meaning rather than to convey a meaning, as George MacDonald once said Shriek is an excellent example of this The Underground, perhaps the most powerful metaphoric image in the novel, can be seen from any number of potent angles It s exactly the sort of technique that I want my own work to employ.In all, then, I would heartily recommend the book to anyone interested in works of the fantastical, but who aren t necessarily looking for mere escapism This is a tough, complex, and ultimately rewarding book, and one that I devoured with much excitement I ll be reading of Vandermeer in the future. I find myself thinking about Shriek in the same way I thought about its predecessor, City of Saints and Madmen In other words, I m not sure quite what to think about it It has all the things that made City good lots of atmosphere, a city so well constructed and populated that it feels like I was immersed in it, the feeling that this place existed before VanderMeer put his pen to paper However, like City, Shriek doesn t really work well as a whole Despite the richness of the setting, which is what motivated me to give is three stars, the story itself just feels empty.The narrator is Janice Shriek, an art gallery owner who is writing something of a memoir about her and her brother Duncan, a controversial historian Duncan often inserts his own thoughts about what his sister has written, the concept being that he came across her manuscript after she was done and wrote his comments in the margins VanderMeer s comments at the end of the book say that he spent 7 years writing this book, and in all honesty, I m not sure what he spent those 7 years doing I didn t end the book feeling like I d started in one place and ended further down the path Substantively, there s just not much there.I think that what might be holding VanderMeer back is wanting to keep things mysterious Of course, it s usually good to hold things back and not spell everything out for the reader, but in this case, I think that there are so many secrets and questions about the history of the city of Ambergris that refusing to answer any prevents any true storytelling. From ISawLightningFall.comDuring my misspent youth and a fair bit of my adulthood, I steeped myself in fantastic fiction that I care to admit As one book rolled into another and another, a pattern began to emerge When authors crafted their imaginary worlds, they tended to take one of two tacks The first exhibited to great effect by C.S Lewis Till We Have Faces and his Narnia series borrowed tropes from ancient mythologies The second involved expanding some extant reality until it became fantastic, such as transmuting ordinary winter frost into a frozen world of deadly ice magic la Fritz Leiber s The Snow Women It s this latter approach that Jeff VanderMeer employs in Shriek An Afterword, the second installment in his Ambergris trilogy, and the element he expands upon sounds impossibly bizarre on paper the subterranean workings of fungi, mold and rot.Ambergrisians don t like to talk about the Silence, that period when 25,000 citizens of their city simply vanished General consensus holds that the gray caps the fungus people who have always dwelled in the labyrinthine tunnels beneath the metropolis were responsible Beyond that, any accord evaporates That s why failed art promoter Janice Shriek has written this afterward to a travel guide penned by her brother, failed and also missing historian Duncan Shriek He never held with the opinion that the gray caps were barely smarter than animals, an inferior life form meant to be mastered Risking his reputation, health and the love of his life, Duncan dedicated himself to searching out the truth about Ambergris original inhabitants, even if it meant travelling deep into their world, where strange spores and fruiting fungal bodies invaded his frame, granting him unheard of abilities even as they subsume him Now Duncan is gone forever or is he Because, reader, as you page through Janice s account you begin to notice marginal notes penned in his own hand Admittedly, much of Shriek sounds as though it shouldn t work Take its odd dual narration, Duncan s bracketed addenda inserted willy nilly in Janice s original text In truth, though, the two voices nearly always strike a harmonious tone, no doubt the result of careful composition on VanderMeer s part And fungus as a fantasy element Undeniably weird, but much like the gray caps growths miraculously ravage Duncan s body, such speculation so suffuses the novel than its own internal logic emerges Floating spores become multi sensory surveillance systems for the gray caps A quasi biological machine, an abomination of metal and flesh strung together with mycological polyps, nearly drives Duncan mad when he beholds it underground And molds visible only under certain spectrums of light reveal Ambergrisian buildings and byways tagged with countless cabalistic codes, glowing and bold, in phosphorescent greens, yellows, reds, purples, blues Add in subplots on the transience of artistic fame, the politics of publishing, the nature of religious belief, a humorously awful war, and the lasting impact of a parent s death, and you have a good book on your hands.A good book, but not an easy one Exposure to the trilogy s compendium like first installment, City of Saints and Madmen, is almost a prerequisite However, readers looking beyond the run of the mill will likely find the extra effort worth it Shriek is truly the product of a fecund imagination. I don t know, clever, but it just didn t do it I think VanderMeer might be too fundamentally sane to accomplish the decadent style that he aspires to here Get insane, do drugs, or be French, Jeff Otherwise you re S.O.L Don t get me wrong, I think he can write, but I think he s not writing what he s suited for. 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 Mi ville, 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 , so much 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. 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