Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Jeff Vandermeer - The Situation (Novelette Review)

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---At lunch, we would sneak out behind the company building with a blanket and sit on the little hill there, looking out onto a ravaged landfill full of the bright skeletons of vultures and then, beyond that, the city in all its strange mix of menace and vulnerability. The grass was yellowing rather than dead. A wiry tree stood on the hill at that time. We would ear crackers and old cans of shredded meat, the smell in that context almost unbearably tantalizing.
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---After lunch, we would unlock the glass cases containing our beetles. Their shining green-and-crimson carapaces would open like the lids of eccentric jewelry boxes to reveal their golden wings, and we would release them into the world.
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---Those beetles contained every joyous thing we had ever known, and we loved to watch them fly out into the distance.
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---I can remember Leer saying once, "This hill makes me happy."
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"The Situation” is my first foray into the writing of Jeff Vandermeer, a multiple award-winning author and one of the progenitors of the New Weird avant-garde literary movement. Vandermeer’s own definition of the subgenre from the introduction to the New Weird anthology (Tachyon Publications, 2008) exposes as crucial some of the following elements: (1) urban, secondary-world fiction based on the complex real-world models; (2) subversion of the romanticism usually found in traditional fantasy; (3) may have elements of both sf&f; (4) acute awareness of the modern world and (5) the writing style and writing techniques may include elements of surreal, postmodern and transgressive horror for the tone, style and effect. I found all this to be blatantly true concerning this novelette.
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The Situation’s intent is straightforward enough and revealed by the author in the acknowledgements: “I dedicate The Situation to all the passive-aggressive emotional vampires,…and incompetent power-abusing managers currently lurking among unsuspecting office workers everywhere.” We follow an anonymous corporate worker in his everyday life in a weird company that has a big all-kinds-of-weapons-proof beetle on top where the godlike owners reside. The company itself dabbles with what we would label as biotechnology – producing all kinds of beetles, worms, grubs, man-sized fish and other distorted fauna that serve all kinds of purposes (usually analogous to this world’s computer technologies and pharmaceutics). It is a story about modern workplace relations – as flawed and dysfunctional as they are. The company’s interior is the one and only safe-haven that the employees know. Hope is buried in the past along with all the happy memories and family photos. Our worker’s days revolve around pleasing his superiors and finding himself exceedingly outcasted from the people he works with, facing growing hostility and isolation.
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This novelette reminds me uncannily of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” with an added pinch of Marvyn Peake’s “Gormenghast”. Vandermeer has a lyrical approach to writing, using a lot of metaphors and allegories, and sure knows how to make you sympathize with the main protagonist. His ideas are just twisted enough for me to like and to remind me to read some of his other works – I’ve heard a lot of good things about his collection of short stories gathered in “City of Saints and Madmen”.
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To conclude, this is a kind of story that I'd recommend to grown-ups or those remotely familiar with office work...for those under 25 (this age limit is highly arbitrary!) I would say to wait a few years so you can full appreciate Vandermeer's allegory of the office life.
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And the best thing is that you can read this novelette for free as a free e-book here, thanks to PS Publishing.
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~ ThRiNiDiR ~
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1 Comment:

Dark Wolf said...

Very nice review. I have on my pile read "Veniss Underground" but I still don't know when I will read it.

 

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