City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I would love to say this novel defies description, but it doesn't. :) In fact, thanks to the existence of a number of really quite fabulous works that came after it, some from VanderMeer's own hand, we can now properly place this work in its proper context.
Yeah, yeah, but WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
In this case? I'd call this a tightly interwoven series of stories and faux academic papers surrounding the fictional city of Abergris. Expect strange mushrooms that range from hallucinogenic to graphically horrific to a high-grade fever dream of a Lovecraftian occultist.
And let's not forget the squids. Or the squid cults. Or how we have a large portion of the most respected library in Ambergris devoted to books on the squids that range from naturalists to fairy tales to squid cults to conspiracy theories hinting that some of the most troublesome parts of a few popular squid plays were, in fact, written by a certain cephalopod IN HIS OWN INK.
Sound strange? It isn't. Not really. Each tale is a low-grade fever dream couched heavily in the normal, the regular, the banal. Things only get odd at a slow rate, kinda like being boiled alive and not understanding this fact until it is far too late. Of course, that makes us lobsters. Not squid. My metaphor breaks down.
I was honestly driven to real anxiousness and amorphous horror by many of these related tales. Much like his more well-known works in Area X and Borne, he has a wonderful command of the scientific method, an evocative sense of awe, and a well-developed manner of timing his prose to pack a heavy horror punch.
For those of you who are familiar with the general modern fantasy (often SF) field, the closest writers to this wonderful novel would happen to be Christopher Priest's Dream Archipelago sequence. Alan Moore's Jerusalem is also wonderfully close to it. But I won't fail to add, to a lesser degree, China Mieville. :)
New Weird is a genre-bender in all senses, adding heavy fake academics, amazing depth, horror sensibilities, passion, and a dose of THINGS THAT CAN'T BE RIGHT. But are, of course, in the tale. Most of the time, these aspects flabbergast the characters as much as it does us. It's charming and endlessly diverting. :)
Do I recommend?
Oh, yes. For anyone who likes a solid challenge and doesn't mind having their minds blown. Absolutely. :)
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