Category Archives: Geek

Jeff VanderMeer at FLP

Area X penetrated Philadelphia on the evening of Thursday, September 25. Author Jeff VanderMeer ushered in a night of the uncanny at the Free Library of Philadelphia, abetted by Geekadelphia, and an owl (the latter provided courtesy of the Academy of Natural Sciences).

The slideshow included photographs taken by VanderMeer, as well as promotional and fan art.

The slideshow included photographs taken by VanderMeer, as well as promotional and fan art.

I’ve gushed at length about VanderMeer’s recent novels, Annihilation and Authority, going to far as to collect links related to the former. (As of this writing, I’m one-third of the way through the last novel in the trilogy, Acceptance.) I was pleased to have the opportunity to hear VanderMeer speak in person. (And he signed my copy of Annihilation.)

VanderMeer did a short reading from Acceptance, from a portion I have not yet read. I considered bumrushing the podium and knocking the book from his hands, but decided that would be impolite. Fortunately, he read a few pages that weren’t too spoilery (confirmed for me by a friend who was also in attendance). VanderMeer’s tone and the pacing of his speech was flat, without inflection, hypnotic. Combined with his style, heavy with clauses, it reminded me of the surge and retreat of surf beating upon a shore. Hearing VanderMeer read from Acceptance was helpful for me; I’ve been having difficulty “getting into” this last book, and his reading made his style more accessible to me.

Chris Urie and VanderMeer discussed the novels.

Chris Urie and VanderMeer discussed the novels.

VanderMeer noted that the Southern Reach trilogy is his second attempt to write about Florida. He first wrote about the “Sebring Squid Festival,” a faux-journalistic account of a fictional festival set in a real Florida town. This story caused him no end of headaches: Packages of dried squid sent to him in the mail; notes from angry marine biologists; an offer from a BBC representative to talk about the squid for a documentary; and a voicemail from a fisherman who claimed to have caught one of the squid in Louisiana. After that call, unsure how the fisherman got his number, and given that the squid he describes is not real, VanderMeer decided to pursue a more fantastical approach.

VanderMeer discussed the novels at length with a representative from Geekadelphia. It’s clear that nature, and humanity’s relationship to it, is one of VanderMeer’s concerns. He lamented the state of environmental education (in the United States), noting that American children are “developmentally challenged” in regards to their connection with nature. He pointed to his essay “Bear versus Texting Man: Our Spectacular Disconnection,” in which no publisher showed any interest; it was “too depressing.” Much of the novels were informed by his hikes throughout northern Florida, where he encountered the boar (noted in Annihilation). A slideshow running in the background included pictures VanderMeer took during his hikes.

Arizona & I.

Arizona & I.

One of the major themes of the novels is the encounter of individuals with institutions, and the conflict that ensues, “Lord of the Flies with middle management,” he called it. VanderMeer, in his previous work, which he can’t discuss (creepy), actually found a dead mouse and dead plant in a desk drawer, wondering if they were left as some kind of message. Likewise, the smashed mosquito that Control encounters in Authority was drawn from VanderMeer’s own experiences. So, too, was the character of Whitby. One of VanderMeer’s colleagues would, from time to time, approach him and ask, “Do you want to see a strange room?” His answer was always “no,” both because he wanted to continue to be employed, but also because his “writer’s brain” didn’t want to know what was in the room–he wanted to fill it in later. Edit: VanderMeer memorably described the character Whitby as “the Smeagol of the Southern Reach.”

She was spooked, and kept trying to fly away, so I was a *little* nervous.

She was spooked, and kept trying to fly away, so I was a *little* nervous.

Afterwards, there was a question and answer period with the audience. We then headed upstairs to get pictures with the owl! Why the owl, you might wonder. Its presence was informed by the character of the Biologist (“Ghost Bird”), who has an attachment to the creature. Given the novels’ focus on nature, it made sense, once it was suggested, to have the owl (“Arizona”) present. (FYI: Barn owls can live up to 15 years.)

A good evening with an author who is having great success this year.


Annihilation Link Roundup

If you have any interest at all in weird fiction, you’re probably aware of Jeff VanderMeer’s new novel, Annihilation (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, February 4). Annihilation is one of the best novels I’ve read in recent years. (My review here.) I admit I’ve been geeking out over it. Rather than terrifying the author, though, I’ll channel my enthusiasm into creating a link package (admittedly incomplete) with the intention of promoting Annihilation to fellow readers of speculative fiction. Please feel free to leave additional links in the comments; I’ll add them to the body of the post as time permits.

Annihilation, Jeff Vandermeer

Annihilation, Jeff Vandermeer


“In other words, the power went out in my apartment and I was so consumed with reading Annihilation that I sat with a small flashlight gripped between my teeth so I could continue reading.” Chris Urie at Geekadelphia.

“One thing I am confident of is that Annihilation will be the most groundbreaking book published this year.” The Little Red Reviewer.

“And immersion really is the appropriate word in this case. VanderMeer has crafted a deeply compelling, immersive, and satisfying narrative.” Michael Matheson at

“Using evocative descriptions of the biologist’s outer and inner worlds, masterful psychological insight, and intellectual observations both profound and disturbing—calling Lovecraft to mind and Borges—Vandermeer unfolds a tale as satisfying as it is richly imagined.” Publishers Weekly.

“I hated it from the start. Didn’t come up for air again for three hours, and finished the entire thing in less than a day, knowing it finally for the strange, clever, off-putting, maddening, claustrophobic, occasionally beautiful, occasionally disturbing and altogether fantastic book that it is. Annihilation is a book meant for gulping — for going in head-first and not coming up for air until you hit the back cover.” Jason Sheehan at NPR.

Best Books of February pick, Amazon.

Interviews with/essays from VanderMeer

“For me the books are a fascinating look at what I used to call ‘omenology,’ a sort of reading of the landscape for presences that are not apparent, for meanings that are not deliberate.” Rick Kleffel interviews VanderMeer at The Agony Column.

“It’s really peculiar — Annihilation is, on an autobiographical level, a love song to a place I know so well, and thus nothing in it really scared me, except the initial vision of what was in the tunnel. But I will tell you that while writing Authority, I continually felt as if things were peering out at me from the text, and more than once I had to step away and stop writing.” Barnes & Noble Review.

“VanderMeer dreamed he was descending into a subterranean tower, following along behind a monster that was writing eerie sermons on the wall in bioluminescent fungus. He used the monster’s words in his novel.” Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy at Wired.

“On the other hand, this was a pretty weird dream — and one of those dreams that’s extremely detailed to the point of not realizing that you’re in a dream at all. I can’t lie — I was scared while dreaming this dream, frightened out of my mind. (If I hadn’t gotten a story out of it, I suppose I’d be calling it a “nightmare” or, more accurately, a “nightfreakout.”)” Jeff VanderMeer at Powells Books.

“The exact location of Area X is left vague, but it’s based in part on my hiking in North Florida’s Panhandle region, much of which contains a rich ecosystem of swamp, marsh, pine forest, lakes, and coastal habitats. It’s a place you can get lost in, which is rare these days, and it’s unbelievably beautiful as well.” Photoessay by VanderMeer at Omnivoracious.

Weird Fiction Review

Readers will find a number of articles about Annihilation at Weird Fiction Review, of which VanderMeer is an editor.

Essay: “Annihilation,” Part One, Eric Basso.

Essay: “Annihilation,” Part Two, Eric Basso.

Annihilation Gallery, art associated with the book, Jeff VanderMeer.

Annihilation: Visionary, Surreal, and Satisfying Cover Art, Jeff VanderMeer.

Annihilation: “Weird” Nature, Jeff VanderMeer.


VanderMeer’s Annihilation book tour.

Movie deal for Southern Reach trilogy.

Join a Southern Reach Expedition to Area X

Southern Reach: Training and Recruitment.

If you’re still on the fence…

Read the first chapter at io9.

Read an excerpt at Weird Fiction Review.

Look! A review of Authority (Southern Reach #2)

At Raging Biblioholism.

Brief Quote: Wolfhound Century, Peter Higgins

I’m closing in on finishing Peter Higgins’ Wolfhound Century (Orbit, February 4). As I near the end, I wanted to share a quote that, I think, illustrates why I’ve enjoyed the book.

Wolfhound Century, Peter Higgins

Wolfhound Century, Peter Higgins

Inspector Vissarion Lom, the protagonist, is caught in a flood:

“Almost human. It was the almost-humanness of the face that made it so shocking, because it wasn’t human at all. It was a soft chalky white, the white of human flesh too long in the water, with hollow eye-sockets and deep dark eyes, the nose set higher and sharper than a human nose, the mouth a straight, lipless gash. The creature raised its torso higher and higher out of the water, showing an underbelly of the same subaqueous white as the face, and heavy white breasts, with nipples like a woman’s but larger and bruise-coloured, bluish black. Below the almost-human torso, the dark tube of fluke-tailed muscle was working away. The creature’s face was watching him continuously. It knew he was there. It knew it was being watched. There was no expression on its face at all. None whatsoever….”

Can you see it? Higgins draws on Russian folklore here; do you recognize the monster?

Judging Books by Their Covers, Part III

I previously shared some interesting book covers here and here.

Whilst browsing a Philly bookstore (in order to contribute to my documentation of such locales as The Book Corner and The Next Page), I encountered some additional treasures:

Don't be fooled into buying the unofficial handbook.

Don’t be fooled into buying the unofficial handbook.

I was going to say something snarky, but then I saw Gaiman and Oates on the cover.

I was going to say something snarky, but then I saw Gaiman and Oates on the cover.

This isn't a book, but...I just...I don't even know.

This isn’t a book, but…I just…I don’t even know.