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Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff Vandermeer(1968- )
Jeff VanderMeer has won the World Fantasy Award. Besides writing novels and story collections, he also produces anthologies with his wife, the editor Ann VanderMeer. Learn more at Jeff VanderMeer’s website.  The Ambergris website.

City of Saints and Madmen: A long strange trip

City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer

What a long strange trip City of Saints and Madmen is! Jeff VanderMeer’s first book about the city of Ambergris is a tour de force of imagination and style.

It’s a hard book to review, though. First of all, what is it? It’s not a novel. Is it a collection of short stories? Maybe, although some of the pieces included in City of Saints and Madmen are not stories, and in some cases, the stories seep in around the edges of the prose. Some of the prose pieces here are straightforward, be they fantasy or outright horror; some of the stories delight by imitating secret manuscripts hidden in other documents.

Swirling through all of this are images of the beautiful and sinister city, Ambergris, built on the shores of the river Moth; Ambergris, with its religious quarter and its battling religions, its large... Read More

Shriek: An Afterword

Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer

Shriek: An Afterword is Jeff VanderMeer's second novel set in his AMBERGRIS cosmology. There are a lot of elements with regards to the book that I want to talk about, so please bear with me.

The first is that this is a sequel, yet it's not. I won't talk about City of Saints and Madmen here, but suffice it to say, Shriek: An Afterword builds on the material presented in that novel. However, it's not necessary to have read the previous book to appreciate this novel. For the uninitiated, it's merely enough to know that the historical artifacts mentioned in the book exist somewhere. Fans of Jeff VanderMeer, on the other hand, will be dazzled by the fact that the author actually wrote a text like "The Hoegbottom Guide to the Early History of Ambergris," the equivalent of Read More

Finch: I may never look at a shitake mushroom the same way again

Finch by Jeff VanderMeer

Finch, by Jeff VanderMeer, is an intricate, immersive fantasy novel with grace notes of detective noir and even espionage thriller. VanderMeer’s setting, the city of Ambergris, is one he is very familiar with and he uses specific detail to paint the city, decaying rapidly under the assault of its fungal overlords, vividly for the reader.

John Finch was not born with that name, nor is he a detective by training. Heretic, the “gray cap” or fungus-based life form to whom Finch reports, has given him the title of detective and, as the book opens, the assignment of solving a locked-room murder mystery. There are two dead victims, one human and one gray cap.

VanderMeer fully embraces the tropes of noir. There is the compromised partner, the corrupt government, the femme fatale, the brutal crime boss who resents the detective’s que... Read More

Veniss Underground: Jeff VanderMeer’s debut novel

Veniss Underground by Jeff VanderMeer

Avoiding the trappings of fragile motifs, Jeff VanderMeer’s debut novella — err, novel — Veniss Underground shows every sign of a writer who is confident in his ability to put a fresh perspective on well-worn tropes. The framework of Veniss Underground is based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, but the setting and imagery remain wholly original. Scenery twisted like cyberpunk on acid, its details macabre to the bone — a surreal dream — VanderMeer seems poised to make a place for himself in fantasy of the 21st century.

Veniss Underground is a window of time in the lives of three characters: the twins Nicholas and Nicola, and Nicola’s ex-boyfriend, Shadrach. A far-future, unnamed city — called Veniss by Nicholas — is the setting, and technology, including genetic and biological engineering, have perm... Read More

The Situation: Surreal and fantastic

The Situation by Jeff Vandermeer

I'm a big fan of both Jeff VanderMeer and PS Publishing, so imagine my surprise when I found a copy of The Situation in my hard drive, a giveaway from Wired that I had downloaded but forgotten, mainly because it wasn't in my immediate must-be-read-for-review-or-else-we'll-send-ninjas queue. The first scene immediately hooked me, evoking a New Weird atmosphere as corporate drones created insects that crawled into your ears and conjured nightmares, all the while being quite readable instead of the overwhelming details that characterize China Mieville's NEW CROBUZON novels.

The fiction is presented in short bursts of scenes, each one as evocative and compelling as the one that prec... Read More

Strange Tales of Secret Lives: Flash fiction from VanderMeer

Strange Tales of Secret Lives by Jeff VanderMeer

I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Strange Tales of Secret Lives and this book certainly did surprise. Jeff VanderMeer explains the origins of Secret Lives in the introduction: this is a collection of various short stories of (hopefully) fictional what-ifs of real people: a researcher is really a king, a pharmacist plans to live the double-life of a detective, etc.

I'm not a fan of flash fiction and most of the stories here definitely fall under that category yet VanderMeer manages to write it with such imagination and gusto that it becomes palatable, even when reading it all in one sitting. What VanderMeer does differently is that he doesn't stick to a formula even if the premise of the collection seems to require it. He mixes things up, changes the pattern, inter-relates consecutive stories, and adds weird but relevant ... Read More

The Third Bear: Makes you blink, think, and nod

The Third Bear by Jeff Vandermeer

The Third Bear is an excellent collection of Jeff VanderMeer’s category-defying short fiction, filled with stories that are unique, mostly excellent, and often incredibly hard to describe. Asking someone who has read this book (say, a reviewer) what one of the stories is about could well get you a blank stare as a response, or a few mumbled words, or simply “you’ll have to read it for yourself.” Pinning these stories down in a few words is very hard, not to mention a bit unfair to both the stories and the new reader. In that spirit, I’m going to stay as vague as possible in this review, but please, don’t let that stop you from picking up this truly excellent collection.

Jeff VanderMeer has been compared to Kafka, Borges and Nabokov, and the first two of those are definitely ap... Read More

Annihilation: Discussed by Bill, Kat, and Terry

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

So yeah. That was strange. You should read it.
Here endeth the review.

 Uh.... Seriously? Try again, please, Bill.

What? It’s Kat, our managing editor, sticking her bold red italic text into my review! Oh, alright. Start over:

Loren Eiseley, Charlotte Perking Gilman, Sigmund Freud, and Franz Kafka have a literary baby. And it’s adoooorable!

C’mon, Bill....

A biologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a psychologist walk into a bio zone. And the creepy bartender says . . .

Bill. This is getting annoying. Am I going to have to get out the electric cattle prod? It seems like sometimes that’s the only way to keep you in line.
Wait, don’t you want to at leas... Read More

Authority: A must-read and a must-reread

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

I just finished reading Jeff VanderMeer’s Authority, the second book in his SOUTHERN REACH trilogy. When I reviewed the first book, Annihilation, Kat (our tyrannical managing editor, in case you didn’t know) butted into my review because she didn’t like what I originally wrote and she made me change it. I’m expecting her to do the same thing here, so if you see any bold red text, that will be her. She likes to talk in bold red.

Hi Bill.

Ack! See, I knew it!

Well, Bill, I know that if I leave you to yourself, you’re just going to say something vague and unhelpful like “That was strange, you should read it.”

No... I was going to say “That was weird and creepy... Read More

Acceptance: Returns to Area X

Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that Jeff VanderMeer’s first two books in his SOUTHERN REACH series, Annihilation and Authority, end up on my top ten list for the year, so it was with great excitement and high expectations that I opened up Acceptance, the third and final book of the trilogy. Having finished, I can’t honestly say those expectations were wholly met, though my lack of satisfaction has less to do with any real complaints about the novel itself and more about the question I had at the end, which was, if it was still a good novel, was it a necessary one? Thinking about it a day later, I’m still not sure about the answer to that.

While I’m going to try as much as possible to avoid spoilers for Acceptance (which admittedly may make this ... Read More

Borne: A moving and thoughtful work

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Amorphous shapeshifting blobs, winged children, and giant flying bears, oh my. Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne (2017) is a lyrical and lovely novel whose stylistic aplomb, weird inventiveness, and great heart more than compensate for what might have ordinarily been noted as flaws in the book. Sure, there are issues, but I loved nearly every minute of Borne, and if it hadn’t come in the same month I’d finished the exceptional City of Miracles and A Gentleman in Moscow, it would have been my best read of the month.

Borne is told from the first-person perspective of Rachel, a scavenger trying to survive a post-apocalyptic world in the near-ruins of a city ruled over by a Godzilla-sized flying... Read More

Dead Astronauts: A stellar work

Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer

Jeff VanderMeer has been on a hell of a roll lately. His SOUTHERN REACH trilogy is on my personal list of best series in the past quarter-century, Borne (I argued) was both an imperfect book and a great one, and now his newest, Dead Astronauts — set in the same multi-verse of Borne — is quite possibly my favorite book by him yet.

That said, there’s no doubt that Dead Astronauts is not going to be to everyone’s liking thanks to its elliptical, impressionistic, poetic style. But I highly urge everyone to try it, and also recommend that even if it seems not your cup of... Read More

Hummingbird Salamander: VanderMeer’s unique take on the eco-thriller

Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer

Hummingbird Salamander
(2021) is Jeff VanderMeer’s newest work, and it may also be his most accessible. Certainly it’s his least strange, though admittedly with VanderMeer that’s not saying much. Though if he’s working in more familiarly popular territory — the thriller novel — there’s no doubt VanderMeer puts his own stamp on the genre, whether he’s working within its tropes or subverting them.

Chapter One opens ominously enough, as any good thriller should — “Assume I’m dead by the time you read this” — and ends even more so — “I’m here to show you how the world ends.” The stakes have clearly been set. Our narrator, who won’t tell us her real name, offering up “Jane Smith” as her none-too-imaginative alternative, is seemingly set in... Read More

Magazine Monday: Weird Tales Is Weird

I am happy to report that Weird Tales has grown weirder since Ann VanderMeer has taken the helm as Editor-in-Chief. This is to be expected of the co-anthologist (with her husband, Jeff VanderMeer) of The New Weird, an collection of tales essential to the library of everyone who loves the truly strange; and the co-anthologist of an enormous a... Read More

SHORTS: Delany, Liu, VanderMeer, Robinson

There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about.

“Aye, and Gomorrah” by Samuel R. Delany (1967, free at Strange Horizons)

“Aye, and Gomorrah” was first published as the final story in the ground-breaking anthology Dangerous Visions (1967), edited by Harlan Ellison. It was also included in Samuel Delany's only major short-story collection Driftglass (1971) and an expanded edition titled Aye, and Gomorrah, and Other Stories (2003). Delany wa... Read More

SHORTS: Roanhorse, VanderMeer, Theodoridou, Moore & Kuttner, Divya

Our exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“Welcome to Your Authentic Indian ExperienceTM” by Rebecca Roanhorse (2017, free at Apex Magazine, $2.99 Kindle magazine issue)

Accolades have been pouring down on this 2017 SF short story, which won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and is also a Sturgeon Award nominee, a Locus Recommended Short Story, a Apex Magazine Reader’s Choice Winner. Additionally, Rebecca Roanhorse... Read More

SHORTS: Carroll, Newitz, Clark, Andrews, VanderMeer

SHORTS is a column exploring some of the free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read that we wanted you to know about.

“For He Can Creep” by Siobhan Carroll (2019, free at, 99c on Kindle)

This short story, told entirely from a cat’s point of view, is a must-read for feline fans! Jeoffry the cat belongs to a mad poet who is confined to an insane asylum in 18th century Great Britain. Jeoffry regularly battles the imps and demons who torment the inmates at the asylum. But when Satan himself enters the picture, planning to use the poet’s abilities to bring about the end of the world, Jeoffry just might be overmatched.

Siobhan Carroll drew me in with this whimsical and insightful tale. She tells this story from Jeoffry’s point of view, capturing the ... Read More

Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology

Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology  edited by James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel

Is there really any difference between post-modernism, interstitial fiction, slipstream and New Weird? Does anyone know? James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel try to outline the boundaries of slipstream with their anthology, Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology, particularly by including a learned introduction and excerpts from a discussion that took place on the subject on a blog a few years ago. Ultimately, like so many things literary, from science fiction to erotica, it comes down to this: slipstream is what I’m pointing to when I say “slipstream.” Yes, there are a few defining features. It’s fant... Read More

Best American Fantasy: Literary and adventurous fantasy stories

Best American Fantasy by Jeff VanderMeer (ed.)

The first thing that stands out is that if I merely stuck to looking for fantasy stories from the usual sources, I probably wouldn't have come across many of the short stories in this anthology. And that I think is the strength of Best American Fantasy — that it reprints stories some genre readers were never aware of. That's not to say this doesn't have its fair share of "expected" stories but for the most part, it's been a real treat. The editors also reveal their favored style as the fiction not only leans towards the literary but to the adventurous side as well.

I did enjoy most of these stories and a few were challenging reads for me. There were three stories that really stood out. "Origin Story" by Kelly Link is a fantastic read. She takes on the tropes of comic bo... Read More

The Solaris Book of New Fantasy: Celebrates the rich diversity of the genre

The Solaris Book of New Fantasy by George Mann (ed.)

I’m pretty much a novice when it comes to short fiction. Because of my lack of experience in this area, I hope that you will bear with me as I try to provide a thoughtful and comprehensive analysis of The Solaris Book of New Fantasy, even if I don’t always succeed. The plan is to first look at each short story individually providing synopses and commentary, followed by my evaluation of the compilation as a whole. So, let’s look at the stories:

1) “Who Slays the Gyant, Wounds the Beast” by Mark Chadbourn. On Christmas Eve in the year 1598 in a world where England is at war against the Faerie, England’s greatest spy Will Swyfte is on a mission of the greatest import — he has until dawn to prevent the Faerie Queen from crossing over to the other side. If he doesn’t, then the Unseelie Court will... Read More

Fast Ships, Black Sails: Pirates and adventure!

Fast Ships, Black Sails edited by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer

I was never a big fan of pirates (ninjas, on the other hand...) but nonetheless, the very word evokes adventure and the high seas. Fast Ships, Black Sails doesn't really stray far from that expectation and delivers eighteen stories marked with action, treachery, and a sense of wonder.

A good chunk of the stories revolve around traditional concepts of a pirate, with only a few exceptions, such as "Boojum" by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette, which takes place in space. The rest take place on stormy waters with sea-worthy vessels manned by rascally crews. Surprisingly, many of the stories are ... Read More

Steampunk: Quick entertaining education on the subgenre du jour

Steampunk edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer

Steampunk is an anthology of, well, steampunk stories, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. If you hurry, you can still get to this first anthology before the second one, Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded, appears in mid November. Based on the quality of the stories in this collection, I heartily recommend checking it out, especially if you’ve been a bit bemused (or possibly amused) by all the people wearing odd Victorian costumes at SFF conventions nowadays, or if you have at best a vague idea of what steampunk exactly entails. If you’re one of those people who’s interested in, but not entirely sure about, the new hot subgenre du jour (like me, prior to reading Steampunk), this anthology is here to take you by the hand and give you a quick, entertaining education. And oh, it also contains some truly excel... Read More

The New Weird: As terrifying as Kafka on LSD

The New Weird by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

It’s easy to imagine two different readers reacting in opposite ways to The New Weird. One might find it delightfully odd; the other might find it as terrifying as Kafka on LSD. And a third might find it delightfully odd because it’s as terrifying as Kafka on LSD. Certainly, no one is likely to find it boring.

The New Weird is a well-organized anthology, with a short, useful introduction; a section entitled “Stimuli,” containing older selections (though not very old; the oldest piece, by Michael Moorcock, has an original copyright date of 1979, while the Thomas Ligotti selection was published only in 1997); “Evidence,” stories published mostly in this mill... Read More

Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance

Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance is the best anthology I’ve ever read. These stories will be enjoyed by any SFF reader, but they’ll be ten times more fun if you’ve read Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, because they are all written in honor of that fantastic work. Each tale is written in the style of Vance, which is quite amusing in itself, and each takes place on the Dying Earth, that far-future wasteland in which natural selection means survival of the cleverest, nastiest, sneakiest, and most self-serving.

Songs of the Dying Earth was written by “many high-echelon, top-drawer writers” (as Mr.... Read More

Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded

Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded is the second steampunk anthology edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, following 2008’s first installment. It contains about twice as many stories as its predecessor, but unlike the first collection the quality is more uneven here, resulting in a less impressive but still fascinating anthology that should please fans of the genre.

While the first anthology only contained one story I was less than happy with, there are at least four or five in Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded that I could have done without. There are also a few stories here that are at best marginally connected to steampunk, although that probably depends more on how you define steampunk. After all, there are probably as many definitions of steampunk as there are readers. Maybe the best way to defin... Read More

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

I haven’t actually read every page of The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, yet I’m giving it my highest recommendation. Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, Master and Mistress of Weird, The Weird is 1126 pages long and should really be considered a textbook of weird fiction. It contains 110 carefully chosen stories spanning more than 100 years of weird fiction. Here’s what you can expect to find in this massive volume:

A “Forweird” by Michael Moorcock gives us a brief history of the weird tale, discusses how it has defied publishers’ attempts to categorize it into neatly-bordered genres, and gives examples of writers who are revered by modern readers but whose weird fiction caused them to be ma... Read More

Mixed Up: Stories and cocktail recipes; both are intoxicating

Mixed Up edited by Nick Mamatas & Molly Tanzer

Mixed Up (2017) is an anthology of cocktail-themed flash fiction and cocktail recipes, edited by Nick Mamatas and Molly Tanzer. The stories, like the drink recipes, are grouped by type and theme. I thought the editors took the most liberal view of “flash” here, because I think some of these works might run to 1200 words or slightly over, and I think of flash as topping out at 1,000 words. I don’t think there is a hard and fast threshold, and certainly the spirit of flash fiction (see what I did there?) is met.

Nick Mamatas says in his introduction to the stories that this is conceived as an old-fashioned “all-stories” magazine. The tales in the book include literary stylings, horror, science fiction, fan... Read More

International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, Part Three

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Lunch on Friday included a presentation by the scholar guest of honor, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. His talk was entitled “Undead,” and was a meditation on the meaning of that word -- or, in other words, on zombies. Undead does not, Cohen noted, mean that the undead thing is alive; it is a restless state from which monsters arise. What is behind the shift in our literature from ghosts to zombies? Zombies pose no challenge to our minds, as ghosts do, but just want to eat our brains, the physical repositories of our minds. We don’t love zombies the way we might love some ghosts, but think of them as only bodies, things, a collective, a form. If horror is made for mapping what we fear, ou... Read More

Other books by Jeff Vandermeer

Jeff VanderMeer Veniss Underground, Strange Tales of Secret Lives, Predator fantasy book reviewPredator: South China Sea — (2008) Young Adult. Publisher: On a remote South China Sea island, a deadly hunt is underway… but not the kind of expedition the participants expected. In this remote, jungle-covered island somewhere between Thailand and Indonesia some of the most exotic animals in the world have been gathered as the prizes in a challenge of human against nature. The hunters come from all walks of life. Each has come to the island for personal reasons, some secret, some deadly. But when the encampment’s owner, ex-Khmer Rouge Colonel Rath Preap, finds the fences cut and his security men missing, it’s clear that the game has turned. And as the hunters battle for survival, they discover there is another creature out for blood… an adversary that has faced death on a thousand worlds — a Predator with an unstoppable lust for conquest!

Jeff VanderMeer Mapping the Beast: The Best of LeviathanMapping the Beast: The Best of Leviathan — (2009) Publisher: Mapping the Beast collects the best fiction from the landmark anthology series Leviathan and its sister publication Album Zutique. From the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, Leviathan provided confrontational, sometimes controversial surreal short stories, and helped chart the limits of fantasy fiction. Contributors to Mapping the Beast include Edgar Award winner Jeffrey Ford, Crawford Award winner K.J. Bishop, NEA Fellow Brian Evenson, Philip K. Dick Award winner Stepan Chapman, World Fantasy Award winner Zoran Zivkovic and many others. Editor and founder Jeff VanderMeer provides an indepth introduction and story notes to a collection sure to appeal to readers and academics alike.

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories from Top Authors and ArtistsThe Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities: Exhibits, Oddities, Images, and Stories from Top Authors and Artists — (2011) Publisher: All-new stories and art from the doctor’s wondrous collection. After the death of Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead at his house in Wimpering-on-the-Brook, England, a remarkable discovery was unearthed: the remains of an astonishing cabinet of curiosities. Many of these artifacts, curios, and wonders related to anecdotes and stories in the doctor’s personal journals. Others, when shown to the doctor’s friends, elicited further tales from a life like no other. Thus, in keeping with the bold spirit exemplified by Dr. Lambs­head and his exploits, we now proudly present highlights from the doctor’s cabinet, reconstructed not only through visual representations but also through exciting stories of intrigue and adventure. A carefully selected group of popular artists and acclaimed, bestselling authors has been assembled to bring this cabinet of curiosities to life.fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews

Greensleeves: A Modern Fairy-tale Romance — (2011) Publisher: The story of a resigned librarian who can see shades of silence and talks to portraits. A fairy tale romance with a strong sense of fantastic. A story with a big frog.  “A big one — five feet long and four wide. Stands three feet at the shoulder. Found him myself in the South American rainforest. Very rare. And smart, devious — even Machiavellian — in his intrigues.”

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Compass of His Bones and Other Stories — (2011) Publisher: This e-book contains World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer’s novella “Ghost Dancing with Manco Tupac” and four related short stories: “The Emperor’s Reply,” “The Compass of His Bones,” “La Siesta Del Muerte,” and “Flight Is For Those Who Have Not Yet Crossed Over.” Together, these stand-alone stories set in Latin America were to have formed the backbone of a never-completed mosaic novel addressing issues of colonialism, storytelling, appropriation, and myth. The author’s interest in Latin America derived from trips there as a child, including a visit to Machu Picchu in the 1970s. Subsequently he studied Latin American history as a minor at the University of Florida.

More by Jeff VanderMeer:

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews