Sunday, April 20, 2008

Jeff VanderMeer's Veniss Underground (2004)



I first came across Jeff VanderMeer's writings when we were published together in the Swami issue (#8) of formerly known as l'bourgeiozine. A founder of the zine and fan of the experimental writings collected in it, I decided to seek out one of his novels and picked up a copy of Veniss Underground (Prime Books, 2004).

Veniss Underground is narrated in three increasingly-longer parts, by three different characters. For me, each part as it depicts more of the increasingly surreal, environmentally wasted, drastically altered landscape and peoples of Veniss, is saved from complete nightmarishness, by the increasing emotional complexity and passion of each of the succeeding characters. This description is a poor substitute for Jeff VanderMeer's beautiful tale... it has a wonderful sense of the effect of environment on characters and some of the most realistic, impossible creatures (the leviathan is to incredible to believe, yet Jeff's descriptions made it real for me--completely blowing me away in the third part of the book) . The novel also provides intellectual stimulus around the issue of bio-genetics, responsibility of the artist/scientist, and includes engaging depictions of bio-constructs, such as genetically enhanced meerkats and ganeshas.

I'm looking forward to reading my copy of his earlier book City of Saints and Madmen: The Book of Ambergris.

VanderMeer is also the Founder and Creative Director of The Ministry of Whimsy Press.

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