Tuesday, June 29, 2010

City of Saints and Madmen

by Jeff Vandermeer

Set in the same universe as Finch, it's a collection of linked short stories that explore a common setting and certain themes. This is even better than Finch, a wonderful array of creative details, intense meta-analysis and complex building of stories. The pieces in this book (the 2002 version of 'City', apparently longer than an earlier version and shorter than a latter with the same title) all always in reflection on something, either other elements in the universe, the stories themselves, or the nature of fiction. Bizarre and metaphysically unlikely as the stories are they show ultimately a level of detail that make the setting credible in a sense that few authros can manage, with a range of detail, variation and self-commentary that promotes it as a truly active cosmos. Put in with that are more than a few unsettling or directly horrific incidents, but on the whole it’s too varied to be horrific or truly depressing. What most distinguishes Vandermeer in talent is his ability to quickly move from one story to antoher and quickly establish different voice, showing that it’s a wholly different person and even literary work than the previous one, and very quickly makes clear the operating baseline in this new assumption.

Very nicely done, and it shows ultimately a fine commitment to fantasy writing. Vandermeer is definitely someone worth reading up on, and I'm quite interested in rounding it out with the final work in the Ambergris universe. One has to give a lot of kudos for an author capable of offering so much creativity as well as such a degree of coherence. Despite a title what the book provides isn’t a picture of one well formed and diverse city--rather it’s a diverse and well formed city with a whole history, shown at different points and with wildly different forms. The specific illustrating components of this community range from more quriky fun than Pratchett to more intense horror than King, and frame an altogether draining but rewarding reading experience.

Similar to and better than: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
Similar to and worse than: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallalce
Roughly equivalent to: Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

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