Shriek: An Afterword

Shriek: An Afterword

4.4 5
by Jeff VanderMeer
     
 

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An epic yet personal look at several decades of life, love, and death in the imaginary city of Ambergris-previously chronicled in Jeff VanderMeer's acclaimed City of Saints&Madmen-Shriek: An Afterword relates the scandalous, heartbreaking, and horrifying secret history of two squabbling siblings and their confidantes, protectors, and enemies.

Overview

An epic yet personal look at several decades of life, love, and death in the imaginary city of Ambergris-previously chronicled in Jeff VanderMeer's acclaimed City of Saints&Madmen-Shriek: An Afterword relates the scandalous, heartbreaking, and horrifying secret history of two squabbling siblings and their confidantes, protectors, and enemies.

Narrated with flamboyant intensity and under increasingly urgent conditions by ex-society figure Janice Shriek, this afterword presents a vivid gallery of characters and events, emphasizing the adventures of Janice's brother Duncan, a historian obsessed with a doomed love affair and a secret that may kill or transform him; a war between rival publishing houses that will change Ambergris forever; and the gray caps, a marginalized people armed with advanced fungal technologies who have been waiting underground for their chance to mold the future of the city.

Part academic treatise, part tell-all biography, after this introduction to the Family Shriek, you'll never look at history in quite the same way again.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com
The Barnes & Noble Review
After numerous short stories and a critically acclaimed collection (City of Saints and Madmen) chronicling the people and history of his signature, fungus-infested metropolis of Ambergris, Jeff VanderMeer has finally released a full-length novel set in the "crazed, beautiful, dirty, sad, glorious" city.

Shriek is structured as an extensive afterword for a book that explores the early history of Ambergris. The book's author, Duncan Shriek, is a disgraced historian who is obsessed with the gray caps, a subterranean race of vaguely humanoid spore people also known as the mushroom dwellers. Janice Shriek, Duncan's older sister and sometime surrogate mother, writes an afterword that offers insights into Duncan's much-misunderstood life, including his ill-fated love affair with a student he mentored, his bizarre fungal disease, and his strange disappearances into the underworld. But although the narrative is a loose mosaic of historically significant events concerning Ambergris (like the War of the Houses) and strange legends involving the gray caps, the story's real power comes from its intimate themes of love, loss, addiction, and redemption.

Renowned for his uniquely twisted and insanely creative speculative fiction stories Secret Life, The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, et al.), VanderMeer should ascend to the exalted and elite pantheon of truly innovative fantasy novelists with the publication of Shriek. Fans of speculative gems like The Troika by Stepan Chapman will cherish this highly intelligent and ingenious novel, which blends soul-searching memoir and historical treatise with a touch of Lovecraftian horror. At times tragic and at times almost comic, Shriek is a one-of-a-kind novel by a one-of-a-kind storyteller. Paul Goat Allen
Paul Di Filippo
Like some delicious, delirious mashup of H.P. Lovecraft, Mervyn Peake and L. Frank Baum, but with his own verbal dexterity and perverse ingenuity, VanderMeer's book is a dual autobiography…Looping back and forth through time, built of small intimate moments and large societal set-pieces (the wartime opera performance is positively Pynchonesque), this novel never allows its elaborate literary apparatus to muffle its affecting narrative about love, art, sibling rivalry, commerce, history and some really nasty 'shrooms.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
World Fantasy Award-winner VanderMeer makes a triumphant return to Ambergris, the fungus-shrouded metropolis he first chronicled in City of Saints and Madmen (2001), in this masterful if difficult fantasy novel. Janice Shriek, a failed gallery owner and journalist, has ostensibly created an afterword to The Early History of Ambergris by her brother, Duncan Shriek, a talented if unconventional historian who finds his career in shambles after his controversial theories concerning Ambergris's founding and the genocide perpetrated against its nonhuman inhabitants gain public disfavor. Worse yet, he's caught in a love affair with one of his students, Mary Sabon. A tragic, brooding figure, Duncan makes repeated journeys underground, into the world of the alien gray caps, and is eventually transformed into something both wonderful and inhuman. Ambergris is a city of magnificent, decaying architecture and multiple baroque religions, where publishers fight wars for control of civilization and authors of obscure historical texts can be major bestsellers at the Borges Bookstore. Fans of Mark Z. Danielewski, Angela Carter and Borges will be well rewarded. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA - Ann Welton
Ambergris, city of artists and powerful merchant clans, is corrupt, violent, beautiful, and edgy. Beneath its fungi-scented brick and wooden buildings are huge caves, home to remnants of the indigenous inhabitants, the mysterious Gray Caps. Brutally slaughtered when Ambergris was founded, they have since lived underground, obscure and mostly ignored. Duncan and Janice come to the city after the sudden death of their beloved father, a double loss because their mother subsequently withdraws into indifference. Duncan becomes a brilliant historian, obsessed with the Gray Caps. Janice establishes an Art Gallery that is wildly successful until she embraces orgies of drugs, alcohol, and casual sex. Duncan's promising career also collapses as his books increasingly challenge accepted religious dogmas. Turning to teaching, he falls madly in love with a student who violently rejects him. When war erupts in Ambergris, the Gray Caps inexplicably enter the fray, demonstrating deadly power before mysteriously withdrawing. Janice feverishly writes Duncan's biography before both of them disappear. Subsequently Ambergris begins to experience bizarre metamorphic "Shifts" that partly rehabilitate Duncan's reputation. Despite flashes of brilliance and some rich and powerfully imaginative writing, the book is not an easy read. Part I of the novel is repetitive and sometimes tedious. Part II moves more decisively but ends with the reader learning not much more about the Gray Caps. Perhaps there are sequels in the offing? VanderMeer is not an author to dismiss, but this book will speak only to sophisticated fantasy aficionados.
From the Publisher

“World Fantasy Award-winner VanderMeer makes a triumphant return to Ambergris, the fungus-shrouded metropolis he first chronicled in City of Saints and Madmen, in this masterful if difficult fantasy novel.... Fans of Mark Z. Danielewski, Angela Carter and Borges will be well rewarded.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Certainly Nick Cave would be right at home in Ambergris, the setting of this novel.... less Hitchhiker's Guide than Brazil, but more Requiem for a Dream than anything else.” —Bookslut

“VanderMeer's fantasy vision is a hallucinatory incantation not just of mushrooms but also of literature.” —Peter Bebergal, The Believer

“With literary stylings, a complex, riveting plot, and ideas that lesser writers could not imagine, Shriek: An Afterword further establishes Jeff Vandermeer as the finest fantasist of his generation.” —The Austin Chronicle

“It is, in short, exactly the sort of book which ought to be in contention for major literary prizes--except that it is set in an imaginary city beset by malevolent fungus, and non-genre award panels tend to get scared of such books. In this case, such fears are misplaced; Shriek is a fantastic book, and a fantastical one. For lovers of the uncomfortable and slightly unhealthy work of a Will Self, or the fractured cityscapes of M John Harrison, Shriek is a delight.” —Birmingham Post

“Five stars! A stunning and very different fantasy novel from an author who should be turning heads in the 'serious' literary world. VanderMeer concerns himself with the life of a notorious historian whose investigations into a subterranean race known as 'grey caps' may hold the key to an ancient mystery. In reality, however, the book cleverly plays with the ways in which an author can manipulate an audience. But it's far less heavy and more entertaining than that makes it sound.” —BBC Focus Magazine

“In the telling, Shriek: An Afterword is an exceptional novel, a tapestry of fine writing, deep psychological insight, and acute narrative excitement.... a dark fantasy of tremendous distinction.” —Locus

“An enthralling book which takes you into the vivid and superbly-realized world of Ambergris. It is in turn unsettling, moving and thrilling--with passages of writing that can be dryly funny on one page . . . and beautiful on the next.” —Clare Dudman, author of 98 Reasons for Being

“Bloody brilliant.” —Hal Duncan, author of Vellum

“There's a madness in Jeff VanderMeer's literary eye, and I would be a liar if I didn't admit it seems intimately familiar. VanderMeer envisions an outlaw literature of shrieks and shouts and a screaming across the sky, worth a thousand polite and respectable mutterings. I, for one, am listening.” —Steve Erickson, author of Our Ecstatic Days and editor of Black Clock

“Political, philosophical, many-textured, and multi-layered, the history of fantasy's most intriguing city, Ambergris, is brought vividly to life. The perfect balance of conscientious invention and subtle, comic irony. VanderMeer fearlessly walks a tightrope to deliver an enthralling read.” —Jeff Ford, World Fantasy Award-winning author of The Girl in the Glass

“Jeff VanderMeer is a realist of the surreal, a chronicler and bibliographer of the impossible city of Ambergris, which could only have been constructed in a collaborative dream between Charles Dickens and E.T.A Hoffman. It is a city of Dickensian scope and intricacy whose inhabitants are the lovers, the artists, the grotesques of German romanticism, and I sometimes suspect that VanderMeer himself is a fragment of the same dream. Shriek is a beautiful and maddening, and beautifully maddening, book. Go to Ambergris: lose yourself among its labyrinthine streets and the fabulous, deadly secrets that lie beneath them.” —Theodora Goss, author of In the Forest of Forgetting

“Jeff VanderMeer's work opens a trapdoor in the world we think we know, into a realm as unforgettable and compelling as an opium dream, and as seductive. Shriek: An Afterword is a sinister and bewitching tour-de-force.” —Elizabeth Hand, bestselling author of Mortal Love

“Here is a desert island book, a tale you can lose yourself in for days, a novel of character in which the setting--the magnificently gritty city-state named Ambergris--proves as the light fails to be the finest character of all.” —Gene Wolfe, author of The Wizard

“Jeff VanderMeer is an extraordinary writer. His vision of Ambergris is passionate, beautiful, complex, terrifying. What is remarkable about Shriek: An Afterword is the way it combines such surreal imagery with intensely human feeling. He writes about real people--about the real world.” —Tamar Yellin, author of The Genizah at the House of Shepher

Shriek: An Afterword is the first authentic 21st Century fantastical writing. A masterpiece by any standard.” —Zoran Zivkovic, author of Hidden Camera

“VanderMeer explores brilliantly, penetratingly, the frail, evanescent intersection of human understanding and historical actuality.... In the telling, Shriek: An Afterword is an exceptional novel, a tapestry of fine writing, deep psychological insight, and acute narrative excitement. Never forget the excitement: quests after cryptic clues in antique manuscripts; forays into the alien territories below ground; heartbreak and breakdown; the War of the Houses, with one publishing company assailing the other with murderous fungal mines and bombs; an opera performance that becomes a literal, three-cornered battlefield; the gray caps surfacing in massacre; injuries, insults, the inexplicable and the horrifying. And enigmas at the end. Shriek: An Afterword is a dark fantasy of tremendous distinction, and more is to come, as the story of Ambergris is still far from concluded.” —Nick Gevers, Locus

“Jeff VanderMeer's latest is as complicated, impressive and exasperating as anything he has written....VanderMeer makes no compromises with his readers, but Shriek is twisted, darkly funny and ultimately rewarding.” —Jon Courtenay Grimwood, The Guardian

“Maybe it's because Jeff VanderMeer looks so normal when you see him at cons or talking panels that his fiction comes as such a huge shock. Is this fetid hothouse world really the subconscious of that smartly dressed American writer?... A typical VanderMeer novel: clever, intense, and multi-layered. Four stars.” —SFX

author of Our Ecstatic Days and editor of Black Cl Steve Erickson
There's a madness in Jeff VanderMeer's literary eye, and I would be a liar if I didn't admit it seems intimately familiar. VanderMeer envisions an outlaw literature of shrieks and shouts and a screaming across the sky, worth a thousand polite and respectable mutterings. I, for one, am listening.
World Fantasy Award-winning author of The Girl in Jeff Ford
Political, philosophical, many-textured, and multi-layered, the history of fantasy's most intriguing city, Ambergris, is brought vividly to life. The perfect balance of conscientious invention and subtle, comic irony. VanderMeer fearlessly walks a tightrope to deliver an enthralling read.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429951470
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
07/10/2007
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
980,527
File size:
673 KB

Read an Excerpt

Shriek

An Afterword


By Jeff Vandermeer, Liz Gorinsky

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2006 Jeff VanderMeer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-5147-0


CHAPTER 1

Mary Sabon once said of my brother Duncan Shriek that "He is not a human being at all, but composed entirely of digressions and transgressions." I am not sure what she hoped to gain by making this comment, but she said it nonetheless. I know she said it, because I happened to overhear it three weeks ago at a party for Martin Lake. It was a party I had helped put together, to celebrate the artist's latest act of genius: a series of etchings that illustrated The Journal of Samuel Tonsure. {One of many parties I have missed over the years. Maybe if I'd been there, everything would have turned out differently. Maybe it even would have affected the past portrayed in Mary's books.}

Sabon arrived long after Lake, a reticent and not entirely undamaged man, had left for the Café of the Ruby-Throated Calf. I had not invited her, but the other guests must have taken her invitation for granted: they clustered around her like beads in a stunning but ultimately fake necklace. The couples on the dance floor displayed such ambition that Sabon's necklace seemed to move around her, although she and her admirers stood perfectly still.

Rain fell on the skylight above with a sound like lacquered fingernails tapping on a jewelry box. Through the open balcony doors came the fresh smell of rain, mingled — as always in Ambergris — with a green dankness. As I hobbled down the wide marble staircase, into their clutches, I could pick out each individual laugh, each flaw, each fault line, shining through their beaded faces. There were names in that flesh necklace — names that should someday be ticked off a list, names that deserve to be more public.

At ground level, I could no longer see anything but patches of Sabon — a glimpse of red hair, of sallow cheek, the pink allure clumping, a flash of eye, the eyelashes overweighed with liner. The absurd pout of a lip. The crushing smell of a perfume more common to a funeral parlor. She looked so different from the first time I had met her — lithe, fresh student — that I thought for a moment she had put on a disguise. Was she in hiding? From what?

"He is not a human being at all, but composed entirely of digressions and transgressions."

I admit I laughed at Sabon's comment, but I laughed out of affectionate recognition, not cruelty. Because Duncan did digress. He did transgress. He might well have dashed Sabon's living necklace to bead pieces with just as amusing a phrase to describe Sabon, had he not disappeared, possibly forever, a few days before the party. That was another thing — Duncan was always disappearing, even as a child.

Sabon's comment was amusing, but not, as one gentleman misidentified it, "the definitive statement." A shame, because my brother loved definitive statements. He used to leap up from his chair at definitive statements and prick the air out of them, deflate them with his barbed wit, his truculent genius for argument, his infinite appreciation of irony. {I think you both mock me here. Whatever I might have been in my youth — and I can't remember ever having been a witty conversationalist — I'm long past any such trickery. Let the spores be tricky. Let those who ignore them — from the Nativists on down — expend their energy in fanciful phrasings, for all the good it will do them.}


* * *

I really ought to start again, though. Begin afresh. Leave Sabon to her admirers for now. There will be time to return to her later.

Duncan often started over — he loved nothing better than to start again in the middle of a book, like a magician appearing to disappear — to leave the reader hanging precariously over an abyss while building up some other story line, only to bring it all back together seamlessly in the end, averting disaster. I would be a fool to promise to duplicate such a feat.

For a time, Duncan sat next to the desk in my apartment — in an old comfortable yellow chair our parents had bought in Stockton many years before. There he would sit, illumined by a single lamp in a twilight broken only by calls to prayer from the Religious Quarter, and chuckle as he read over the transcript of his latest chapter. He loved his own jokes as if they were his children, worthy of affection no matter how slack-jawed, limb-lacking, or broken-spined.

But I best remember Duncan at his favorite haunt, The Spore of the Gray Cap, a place as close as the tapping of these keys. {Favorite? Perhaps, but it was the only one that would have me, at times. At the more respectable establishments, I would walk in and be greeted with a silence more appropriate to the sudden appearance of some mythical beast.} Sober or drunk, Duncan found the Spore perfect for his work. Within its dark and smoky back chambers, sequestered from the outer world by myopic, seaweed-green glass, my brother felt invisible and invincible. Through a strange synchronicity of the establishment's passageways out of keeping with its usual labyrinthine aura, those who congregated at the altar of the bar could, glancing sideways down the glazed oak counter, see Duncan illuminated by a splinter of common space — at times scribbling inspired on his old-fashioned writing pad, at times staring with a lazy eye out of a window that revealed nothing of the outer world, but which may, reflecting back with a green wink, have revealed to him much of the inner world. {The outer world came to me — at various times I entertained Mary, Sirin, Sybel, and, yes, even Bonmot, pillar of the community, in that place.}

He had become a big man by then, with a graying beard, prone to wearing a gray jacket or overcoat that hid his ever-evolving physical peculiarities. Sometimes he would indulge in a cigar — a habit newly acquired from his association with the fringe historian James Lacond — and sit back in his chair and smoke, and I would find him there, gazing off into a memory I might or might not be able to share. His troubles, his disease, could not touch him in those moments.

I much prefer to remember my brother in that space, calm and at the center of himself. While he was there, many regular taverngoers referred to him as the God of the Green Light, looking as he did both timeless and timeworn. Now that he is gone, I imagine he has become the Ghost of the Green Light, and will enter the annals of the Spore as a quiet, luminescent legend. Duncan would have liked that idea: let it be so.


* * *

But I do choose to begin again — Duncan, after all, often did. Like the shaft of green light shooting down the maze of passageways at the Spore, each new shift of attention and each new perspective will provide only a fraction or fracture of the man I knew, in several senses, not at all.

If there is a starting point in Duncan's life, it would have to be the day that our father, Jonathan Shriek, a minor historian, died at our house in Stockton, a town some hundred miles south of Ambergris, on the other side of the River Moth. Unexpected reversal ripped through Dad and destroyed his heart when I was thirteen and Duncan only ten. I remember because I was seated at the kitchen table doing my homework when the mailman came to the door. Dad heard the bell and hopped up to answer it. "Hopped" is no exaggeration — Dad was a defiantly ugly man, built like a toad, with wattles and stocky legs.

I heard him in the hall, talking about the weather with the mailman. The door shut. The crinkle of paper as my father opened the envelope. A moment of silence, as of breath being sucked in. Then a horribly huge laugh, a cry of joy or triumph, or both. He came into the kitchen and barreled past me to the open hallway that led to the back door.

"Gale," he was shouting. "Gale," my mother's name. Out into the backyard he stumbled, me right behind him, my homework forgotten, beside myself with suspense. Something marvelous had happened and I wanted to know what it was.

At the far end of the lawn, Duncan, ten and still sandy-haired, was helping our mother with the small herb garden. My father ran toward them, into the heart of the summer day. The trees were lazy in the breeze. Bees clustered around yellow flowers. He was waving the letter over his head and yelling, "Gale! Duncan! Gale! Duncan!" His back to me. Me running after him, asking, "What, Dad? What is it?" {I remember this with the same kind of focused intensity as you, Janice. Dad was running toward us. I was smiling because I loved seeing Dad's enthusiasm. I loved seeing him so euphoric, so unselfconscious for once.}

He was almost there. He was going to make it. There is no doubt in my mind, even today, that he was going to make it. But he didn't. He stumbled. He fell into the sweet, strange grass. {"Mottled with shadows from the trees," I wrote in my journal later. It is those shadows I remember most from that day — the dappling and contrast of light and dark.} The hand with the letter the last to fall, his other hand clutching at his chest.

I stopped running when I saw him fall, thought he had tripped. Looked up across the lawn at my mother and brother. Mom was rolling her eyes at her husband's clumsiness, but Duncan's face was pale with horror. Duncan knew our father hadn't fallen, but had been made to fall. {I don't know how I knew, just remember the way Dad's smile flattened and his face took on a sudden pallor and sadness as he fell, and know he knew what was happening to him.} A moment later, Mom realized this, too, and all three of us ran-to-him converged-on-him held-him searched-for-a-pulse called-for-the-doctor, and sat there crying when he did not move, get up, say it had all been a joke or accident. {Even now, the smell of fresh grass is the smell of death to me. Was there, even then, a sentinel in the shadows, peering out at us?}

It was Duncan who took the letter from Dad's hand and, after the doctor had gone and the mortician had removed the body, sat down at the kitchen table to read it. First, he read it to himself. Then, he read it to us, Mom staring vacant-eyed from the living room couch, not hearing a word of it.

The letter confused Duncan in ways that did not occur to my mother, to me. It bent the surface of his world and let in a black vein of the irrational, the illogical, the nonsensical. To me, my father was dead, and it didn't matter how or why, because he was dead regardless. But to Duncan, it made all the difference. Safely anchored in place and family, he had been a madly fearless child — an explorer of tunnels and dank, dark places. He had never encountered the brutal dislocation of chance and irony. Until now. {Did it make a difference? I don't know. My resolve has always seemed something fiercely internal.}

For our father, Jonathan Shriek, minor historian, had died in the grasp of a great and terrible joy. The letter, which bore the seal of the Kalif himself, congratulated him "for having won that most Magnificent Award, the Laskian Historical Prize," for a paper published in the Ambergrisian Historical Society Newsletter. The letter asked my father to accept an all-expenses paid trip to the Court of the Kalif, and there study books unread for five centuries, including the holiest-of-holies, The Journal of Samuel Tonsure.

The letter had become a weapon. It had rescued our father from obscurity, and then it had killed him, his blood cavorting through his arteries at a fatal speed. {I couldn't get it out of my head that he had died due to something in his research, as irrational as that might seem. It instilled in me a kind of paranoia. For a while, I even thought it possible that the letter had been poisoned in some way by the Kalif's men, that Dad had been too close to the solving of some historical mystery the Kalif would prefer remain unsolved.}

The funeral that followed was farce and tragedy. We attended the wrong casket and were shocked to be confronted by the visage of a young man, as if death had done my father good. Meanwhile, another family with a closed casket had buried our father.

"Death suited him." It didn't matter that it wasn't true — it seemed true. That he had gone into death old and come back young. And more comforting still — the idea that there had been a mistake and he was alive somewhere.

Of us all, Duncan stared the longest at that young man who was not our father, as if he sought the answer to a mystery for which there could be no solution.


* * *

Four years later, we moved from Stockton to Ambergris, there to live with our mother's side of the family in a rheumy old mansion with a flooded basement. Set against the banks of the River Moth, remote from much of Ambergris, the place could hardly be called an improvement over the house we had grown up in, but it was less expensive, and our mother had come to realize that with her husband dead nothing much remained to keep her in Stockton. Thus, we shared space with an ever-changing mob of aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, and friends of the family. {Although, over the years, this cacophony of distant relations reduced itself to just our mother, which is probably how she would have preferred it from the beginning.}

We came to Ambergris across the thick sprawl of the muddy River Moth, by ferry. I remember that during the journey I noticed Duncan had a piece of paper in his shirt pocket. When I asked him what it was, he pulled it out and showed it to me. He had kept the letter from the Kalif to our father; as far as I know, he has it still, tattered and brittle. {I do have it — or the remains of it, anyhow. I don't dare open it anymore, for fear it will turn to dust.}

"I don't want to forget," he said, with a look that dared me to doubt his loyalty to our father.

I said nothing, but the thought occurred to me that although we might be traveling to a new place, we were still bringing the past with us.

Not that Ambergris didn't have a rich past of its own — just that we knew much less about it. We knew only that Ambergris played host to some of the world's greatest artists; that it was home to the mysterious gray caps; that a merchant clan, Hoegbotton & Sons, had wrested control of the city from a long line of kings; that the Kalif and his great Western Empire had thrice tried to invade Ambergris; that, once upon a time, some centuries ago, a catastrophe called the Silence had taken place there; and that the annual Festival of the Freshwater Squid often erupted into violence, an edgy lawlessness that some said was connected to the gray caps. The gray caps, we learned from helpful relatives seeking to reassure us, had long since retreated to the underground caverns and catacombs of Ambergris, first driven there by the founder of the city, a whaler despot named Manzikert I. Manzikert I had razed the gray caps' city of Cinsorium, massacred as many of them as he could, and built Ambergris on the smoldering ruins. {It all sounded incredibly exciting and exotic to us at that age, rather than horrifying.}

Of artists, we found ample evidence as soon as we arrived — huge murals painted onto the sides of storehouses — and also of the Hoegbotton clan, since we had to pay their tariffs to leave the docks and enter the city proper.

As for the gray caps, as our relatives had promised, we discovered scant initial trace of this "old, short, indigenous race," as the guidebooks called them. They were rarely seen aboveground during the day, although they could be glimpsed in back alleys and graveyards at dusk and during the night. We knew only what we had gleaned from Mom's rare but unsettling bedtime stories about the "mushroom dwellers of Ambergris," and a brief description from a book for children that had delighted and unnerved us simultaneously:

Fifty mushroom dwellers now spilled out from the alcove gateway, macabre in their very peacefulness and the even hum-thrum of their breath: stunted in growth, wrapped in robes the pale gray-green of a frog's underbelly, their heads hidden by wide-brimmed gray felt hats that, like the hooded tops of their namesakes, covered them to the neck. Their necks were the only exposed part of them — incredibly long, pale necks; at rest, they did indeed resemble mushrooms.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Shriek by Jeff Vandermeer, Liz Gorinsky. Copyright © 2006 Jeff VanderMeer. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Jeff VanderMeer is a two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award, as well as a past finalist for the Hugo Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, the International Horror Guild Award, the British Fantasy Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. His books have made the best-of lists of Publishers Weekly, Publishers News, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Weekly, Locus, SF Site, and many others. His short fiction has appeared in several year's best anthologies. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida.


Jeff VanderMeer is an award-winning novelist and editor. His fiction has been translated into twenty languages and has appeared in the Library of America’s American Fantastic Tales and multiple year’s best anthologies. He writes nonfiction for The Washington Post, The New York Times Book Review, the Los Angeles Times, and The Guardian, among others. He grew up in the Fiji Islands and now lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with his wife.

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Shriek: An Afterword 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I¿ve read and greatly enjoyed all Vandermeer¿s previous books, and so was eagerly looking forward to Shriek. However, I spent about half my time reading it feeling that something was seriously wrong with it, and trying to figure out exactly what. The conceit of the novel is that once-celebrity-but-now-failed art gallery owner Janice Shriek has written a memoir, which was later copiously annotated with his own additions and alternative views by her brother, the talented but failed historian and author Duncan Shriek. The third major character is Mary Sabon, a talented and highly successful historian-author, and former lover of Duncan¿s, who following their breakup has devoted her career to refuting Duncan¿s discoveries and theories about the gray-caps (or mushroom people) of Ambergris, the subject he has obsessively researched for most of his life. (Mary is not one of the narrators, but both of them refer to her constantly, Janice with loathing and Duncan with longing.) One weakness of Shriek is that although the book contains much colorful imagery¿particularly the second half of it¿Ambergris is not a fully-thought-out fantasy world. It¿s got an entire realm of sinister mushroom people living underneath it. It has continuous covert feuding between the two most powerful businesses of Ambergris, which at times erupts into violent confrontation. But otherwise its culture seems much like that of any modern US city. Judging by the appearance and business operations of Janice¿s gallery, it could be any gallery devoted to modern art. The university where Duncan teaches for a time could be any modern Catholic university. The editorial office of the publishing house that has published some of Duncan¿s books could (except for the substitution of typewriters for computers) be any editorial office a modern reader might wander into. Ambergris is also not a fully-thought-out social culture. The personalities of Janice, Duncan, Mary, and the minor characters seem ordinary and familiar. A few have exotic physical characteristics, but aside from that, readers would not be surprised to meet any of them (even the maladjusted and depressive Janice and Duncan). The dark references to fortified buildings, ¿bad Festivals,¿ and dangers walking the streets after dark, could easily be transposed to any inner city in the US. The third weakness of Shriek is that it is a long novel with little plot. It tries to create a feeling of suspense, but this generally does not succeed well. Its nature as a ¿memoir,¿ where the narrators themselves cannot be surprised by events that have already happened to them, inherently works against suspense. Janice and Duncan are also both obsessives, who repeatedly refer to the same events to figure out why they happened. Janice, in particular, casts the memoir as an attempt to explain why, at a recent party, she walked down a flight of stairs to exchange catty remarks with Mary Sabon and slap her in the face. For a while Janice begins every chapter by referring to this incident. But this is not a good ¿mystery¿ to hang the novel on, since the reader quickly discovers that the two women have loathed and fought with each other ever since they met. Duncan¿s annotations make for even more repetition, over-dissection, and wordiness. Part 1 of the novel would have been considerably improved by significant deletion and condensation. Part 2 of the novel picks up. First there¿s more action (a war and job changes for Janice and Duncan). The war is accompanied by a good deal more of the baroque imagery that tends to ¿carry¿ Vandermeer¿s works, with bombs and mines operating in much the usual way (though, come to think of it, with no mention of aircraft delivering the bombs) but with a weirdly different appearance. There¿s a ghastly night at a hastily organized opera, complete with handbill. And the imagery makes the weaknesses of plot, character, and world-building more forgivable it is the author¿s primary
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Ranks with KJ Bishop. One of the greatest novels of fantasy of this century
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