Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer (NetGalley review). Visionary Weirdness.

I suspect that a great many readers will not appreciate the dense language and the non-linear structure a this loose prequel to Borne. Borne, for all of its hallucinogenic qualities, has a fairly straight forward plot that could be turned into a film, albeit one by Jodorowsky. Dead Astronauts, though, revels in its textuality. It can’t be filmed. Though it’s an ecological science fiction novel that plays with theoretical concepts like Time Travel and parallel Earths, it operates with dream logic. Vandermeer plays games with typography (though not in a House of Leaves way; it’s more like the beginning of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye with its use of repetition and claustrophobic line spacing) that underscore the surrealistic nature of book. The novel—prose poem?— is closer tone to Delany’s DHALGREN or even Lautremont’s Le Chants de Maldoror. This kind of visionary writing—full of beautiful nightmarish imagery—is one of my favorite forms of fiction. I hope it finds the right audience. 

Interstitial Fiction: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell & Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer

The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell

Bone Clocks

Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks tells the story of warring immortals through several different perspectives. On one side, the Horologists, are immortal mind forces, (not unlike Doro in Octavia Butler’s Patternmaster series) that are continuously reborn in various bodies. A nemesis group, Atemporals, live forever by vampiristically ‘decanting’ the life forces of random victims. But if you’re expecting a straightforward fantasy adventure, you will be surprised. Mitchell’s novel is concerned with an ordinary teenage girl in 1980s England and the people she comes across. Holly Sykes is a rebellious girl growing up in Thatcher’s Britain, and her concerns are her boyfriend; her over-protective Irish mum; her weird brother Jacko; and the Talking Heads’ Fear of Music. The story gets in motion when a betrayal by her boyfriend and her best friend spurs her to run away from.  Sykes’ life has intersected with with the Horologist/Atemporal in enigmatic episodes that she puts down to dreams or hallucinations. Sykes narrates the story in the breathless present tense of a self-absorbed teenage girl. The fantastic takes a back seat to the High Drama of teen angst. Then, abruptly, her story ends on a suspenseful note. Then we are thrown into the mind-space and narrative of the narcissistic, sociopathic Cambridge student Hugo Lamb. It takes a while before the significance of the character-and-scenery change to take shape, but along way, we get a realistic character study of a privileged cretin. The next character hops are: a war reporter in Iraq, a bad boy British novelist (a kind of roman a clef), and the narrative of one of the Horologists. These different stories, all monologues, operate as linked novellas. Some are more fantastic than others. The war reporter’s piece, for instance, is a journalistic current event reportage. The novelist’s piece is satirical romp of the British literary life, while the Horologist’s tale is pure speculative fiction. Sometimes, The Bone Clocks gets mired down in the mingle-mangle minutiae of its characters life, and the plot comes to a stand still. But there are sparkling scenes and strong characters to pull you through the draggy bits. It might be my favorite Mitchell novel.

Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer

Acceptance

The Southern Reach Trilogy (comprising of the alliterative titles Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance) tells the story of a ‘soft’ apocalypse and/or an enigmatic invasion using a variety of narrative techniques that give the work deeply personal feel. The opening Annihilation is a first person account of an expedition into a transformed landscape.  It’s psychedelic/trippy nature reads more Leary than Lovecraft. It’s a kind of speculative guidebook, filtered through a biologist’s awe (in both the spooky and the amazed connotations) at Nature. Authority takes the third person-limited perspective of an interim director, sent to clean up an off-the-rails organization. It’s a kind of Kafka-esque workplace drama, full of alienation, anomie, and paranoia. The tone in Authority expands to (dark) comedy to fill out the otherworldly ambience. The concluding novel, Acceptance, ends the trilogy on a haunting note, rather than a pat and dry Hollywood ending. It’s the most character driven novel of the three, and the sections, both within and outside of Area X, are underscored with an elegiac quality. The result is speculative fiction that has real emotional resonance.