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Posts for January 4, 2009

Veniss Underground, by Jeff Vandermeer (Books 2008, 12)

I bought this in a second-hand bookshop, and tucked into the back there was a cutting from The Guardian of this review by Michael Moorcock. So go and look there if you want a plot summary: he does it much better then I could.

It’s an interesting, dark story, and I’m not totally sure how I feel about it. It straddles the SF/fantasy divide, at least in the sense that it is set in the far future, there are hints of spaceflight being common, and there is much genetic and somatic manipulation; but there are also talking animals.

Of course, the talking animals (mainly meerkats) are enabled by the genetic engineering, so really it’s unabashedly SF. However, Shadrach’s descent into the literal underworld of the levels below the city are straight out of mythology. And the description of the organ bank, while striking, are just fanciful to the point of unbelievability.

It’s the first thing I’ve read by Vandermeer, and while I enjoyed it, it doesn’t immediately make me want to go out and read more. That said, his City of Saints and Madmen does attract me, if only because it’s such a great title. I keep hearing (well, reading) people referring to him recently, so I don’t doubt that he’s got a lot to offer.

Lazarus Churchyard: The Final Cut, by Warren Ellis and D’Israeli (Books 2008, 14)

Hmmm, once again I try a Warren Ellis, and find that it’s not as good as I expected, or hoped. ‘Good’, that is, in the sense of ‘exciting, dramatic, interesting’. I didn’t dislike it, and the story was OK; but it never really caught fire, you know?

Still, it was his debut, so maybe the thing is to try some of his later work (I should also add that, at the time of publishing, if not the time of reading or writing, I am regularly reading and enjoying FreakAngels).

I should probably mention the artwork, not least since I met the artist at Eastercon. It’s similar, actually, in that, while it’s perfectly fine, I kind of hoped it would be better. I couldn’t say that there’s anything wrong with it: you can always tell what’s going on, for example. I think maybe it’s that the style is a bit too cartoonish for the material.

The eponymous Lazarus is four hundred years old, and as far as he knows, immortal and indestructible, by virtue of some large percentage of his body having been replaced with smart plastics. He’s the only one in this condition, though, and he’s not happy about it. The main driver of the plot is his desire to die; or at least, we are led to understand that this will be the main driver. In fact it’s not, and each episode within the overall work has its own antagonism.

There’s a lot of extreme violence and brutality, some interesting ideas, but it’s sadly unmemorable.