Veniss Underground by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Here's a fascinating tale. Not perfect by a long shot, but definitely out there, fearless, and lyrical. I've become a fan of VanderMeer for quite some time now. Some of his tales are evocative, full of vitality and the dark atmosphere of the truly strange, others are nicely grounded and only give you grazing shots of the unique and unknowable.
Veniss Underground, on the other hand, gives us a full city that is both remarkably familiar and deeply strange. We're come to understand this is a good 700 hundred years in the future and there are bioengineered freaks, mutants, and enough obsessions to drive anyone nuts. It's a great mix of the usual and the deeply disturbing. Meerkats, for example, are creations that I was fully prepared to be delighted by, but instead I'm reminded of brains in jars and dark incantations.
I like it. When VanderMeer goes all out in with the lyrical grossness, the existential horror with the icing of sheer, screaming, body horror, it's hard not to get sucked right in and remember, fondly of the earlier passages that seemed so light and breezy but have now turned to dread.
I'm not going to say that this was a flawless work, from either the short novel or the handful of short stories capturing more of Veniss, but I can say that I was nicely disturbed and equally impressed with the author. It's challenging, but worth the effort.
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