Tag Archives: Jeff VanderMeer


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews AcceptanceVanderMeer Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer.

The first book of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy is a first-person journal written by the biologist. The second book is a not-so-omniscient third person narrative centered on the actions and perceptions of the character Control. In this final book, the protagonist function is distributed across an assortment of characters at different points in the overall timeline, including Control, the lighthouse keeper Saul Evans, Ghost Bird (the clone of the biologist), and the penultimate Director of the Southern Reach (a.k.a. the psychologist of the twelfth expedition). The last of these characters is addressed in the second person, i.e. the reader is made to identify with her by a narrator who tells “you” what “you” are doing and thinking in her role.

This narrative fragmentation and mixing allows VanderMeer to answer many of the questions raised in the previous books, while raising a few more. The expanded perspective of Acceptance accounts for both the origins of Area X and the fates of the principal characters already introduced, so it serves as both sequel and “prequel.” Much of the story consists of episodes on the “Forgotten Coast” prior to the advent of Area X, and these are mixed in with the history of the development of the Southern Reach, along with stories of the survivors of its destruction.

In each of these books there is a singular epiphanic confrontation that rises in sublime intensity above the surrounding events. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . This third book, although it has a few episodes that are in their own way more conventionally frightening, has less of an overall trajectory of genre horror than the ones that have come before. The title is accurate — I don’t know that it would be fair to call this book’s resolution a “happy ending,” but it wasn’t horrific to me. Veteran readers of Lovecraft might consider a comparison to the coda of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”: shudderingly scary to some, inspirational to others.

I think this third volume had the most far-reaching ideas of the three, and it was in a position to make some impressive gestures on the basis of what had already been established in the prior books. But I suspect that a typical reader will be most impressed by the innovations of the first volume, and I really enjoyed the pacing and riddles of the second. For all the diversity of approach across the individual books, they are definitely pieces of a whole worth reading. [via]


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Authority by Jeff VanderMeer.

VanderMeer Authority

This second volume of VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy starts in media res and ends with a cliffhanger. It displaces the focus to a new character and out of Area X proper to the Southern Reach facility where the investigations are based. The new protagonist is referenced mostly by the nickname “Control,” and he is in a nominally executive position, but the story has him constantly at the mercy of greater and more obscure forces.

Compared to Annihilation, this sequel emphasizes the espionage dimension more. It reminds me somewhat of a grimmer Laundry Files–not for the yog-sothothery, but for the Kafkaesque intelligence bureaucracy with degraded resources, hidden factions and compromised leadership. Like Annihilation, it’s very character-driven, with some clever ideas and limpid, evocative prose. It also has some startling and horrific surprises.

A physical feature of the book I read was at the start of each of the four major sections, where the text-free facing pages were progressively darkening shades of gray. It suited the theme nicely. [via]


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.

VanderMeer Annihilation

Annihilation is the first book in a trilogy about agents of a clandestine government agency exploring a forbidden territory.

Annihilation is a parable about personal identity, epistemological frustration, and the elastic boundaries of human consciousness.

Annihilation is a short novel structured around themes of exploration, control, and survival. The principal character and narrator, identified only as “the biologist,” is simultaneously de-personalized and carrying out a deeply personal agenda regarding her lost husband. She is part of a small team which experiences catastrophic internal conflict, and she encounters phenomena of evidently non-human origin that are overwhelmingly exotic. The book defies genre, but I might class it as mystical horror, with some science fiction and espionage tropes.

Despite the obvious differences, Jeff VanderMeer’s “Area X” and the “Kefahuchi Tract” of M. John Harrison’s novels (Light, etc.) have more than a little in common. The infection/mutation of characters and their ambivalent encounters with transcendent power are in both cases oriented toward a mysterious region of putatively non-human influence. Protagonists have all-too-human motives working themselves out in shockingly inhuman contexts. VanderMeer’s prose is less writerly than Harrison’s, but it is efficient and engaging, and both manage the sort of impressionistic feat of bringing the reader to identify with the crucial ignorance of the characters, who are themselves not terribly sympathetic in their traits and histories.

I enjoyed this book and intend to read its two sequels. [via]

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe by Thomas Ligotti, foreword by Jeff VanderMeer.

Thomas Ligotti Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe

This volume collects Thomas Ligotti’s first two books of short fiction: Songs of a Dead Dreamer (1985) and Grimscribe: His Life and Works (1991), with a new introduction by Jeff VanderMeer. These stories are all in the vein of supernatural horror, but with a distinctive tenor of pessimistic surrealism. VanderMeer notably compares Ligotti to Franz Kafka, Angela Carter, and David Lynch.

Songs of a Dead Dreamer is divided into three sections: “Dreams for Sleepwalkers,” “Dreams for Insomniacs,” and “Dreams for the Dead.” Each of these ends with a story which involves critical reflexivity regarding the horror genre: “Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story,” “Professor Nobody’s Little Lectures on Horror,” and “Vastarien,” respectively. This first collection shows many of the tropes that Ligotti uses to communicate disquiet and the uncanny: puppets, masks, vegetable growth, insects, and others. The central section “Dreams for Insomniacs” has a few tales that work in well-defined weird subgenres, such as the Christmas ghost story of “The Christmas Eves of Aunt Elise,” the vampire story in “The Lost Art of Twilight,” and sword & sorcery in “Masquerade of a Dead Sword.”

“The Sect of the Idiot,” opening with a quote from The Necronomicon, shows Ligotti’s familiarity with the Lovecraftian corpus and its virtues, but is neither a pastiche nor an instance of Yog-Sothothery per se. More Lovecraftian in its overall texture is the longest Grimscribe story “The Feast of Harlequin,” which is overtly dedicated to HPL. The things that most tie Ligotti’s work to this predecessor are a preoccupation with dreams, a philosophical pessimism, and a general effort to portray the violation of metaphysical norms.

Ligotti’s occasional representations of contemporary occultism and secret societies are highly credible, despite the anti-naturalism of his style. He affords addictive tomes, obscure ceremony, and exotic drugs, often with libidinal contexts/subtexts. Like Lovecraft, he prefers his grimoires to be as invented as his characters, but he does show a familiarity with actual occult tradition by invoking Austin Osman Spare (in “In the Shadow of Another World”). The magic employed by sorcerers in these stories is sometimes grounded in powerful hypnotic suggestion.

The stories of Grimscribe are all told in the first person by unnamed narrators, and an introduction establishes the conceit that these are received texts, drawn from a pool of consciousness through an authorial function personified by Ligotti as “Grimscribe.” These are then grouped into “Voices” characterizing the specific narrators, such as “The Voice of the Demon” (culpable narrators) and “The Voice of the Child” (juvenile narrators). The final section “The Voice of Our Name” contains only the single story “The Shadow at the Bottom of the World.” This last tale seems especially suited to seasonal reading, for those who want an elegant text to instill horror into Hallowe’en observances.

I would be hard-pressed to select a favorite from this book. There is not a dud among the 33 stories assembled here. [via]