5.0 out of 5 stars Short But Intense
Although, or better to say because, the book is rather short (I needed about 4 hours to read it) it is intense and grotesque in many aspects.
First, the formal layout of the book is three chapters, written in the first, second and third person perspective. This produces in particular for the two first two chapters a personal almost intimidating experience. This is...
Published on July 7 2004 by Sven Reiche
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unnecessarily Deep
I like VanderMeer, but this was less than I expected of him. It needed some more editing, for starters; the whole thing had an unpolished quality to it. Secondly, it felt rushed. Large portions of what would have been good story were entirely skipped over. Characters who would have been interesting were left by the wayside.
Read CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN instead.
Published on Aug. 27 2003
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unnecessarily Deep,
By A Customer
Read CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN instead.
5.0 out of 5 stars Short But Intense,
First, the formal layout of the book is three chapters, written in the first, second and third person perspective. This produces in particular for the two first two chapters a personal almost intimidating experience. This is emphasized by the rather erratic language, which are more an assembly of half-sentences and second thoughts than well written prose, but it serves its purpose to enhance the claustrophobic, dooms-day feeling of the main characters.
The central part is the last chapter (I regard the first two chapter as a prologue to it) describing the voyage from the surface to the deepest level of the underground. It feels like a modern version of the Dante's Inferno. Vandermeer describes that which the progress in the underground humanity is more and more withdrawn. First it is only reflected in the behavior of people living there in despair. Then even their appearance alters (like the reappearance of the main character of the first chapter). Further down the underground is populated with creatures which only remaining humane character treat is suffering because they recognized the agony to live in that place and the awareness of their own doomed and flawed existence. At the end even that is gone and what remains is a chaotic dog-eats-dog world.
I rarely encountered a book which provoke so much emotion while reading and long after that. The book defies any classification into SF or Mystery and its use of first and second person narrative makes it so distinct to other who tried a similar approach.
5.0 out of 5 stars Plotting Meerkats, Twisted Flesh, Bizarre Underground,
Overall, it is the story of a man seeking to save his lover, and perhaps also his soul, for he blames himself for her circumstances.
On Veniss, the cities are compacted into worlds of their own, each with their own political forces and policing policies; not only above ground, but beneath the world are levels extending far down into the deepest and most despairing depths.
The story picks up with Nicholas and Nicola, brother and sister formed in the same vat, birthed and raised together. Nicholas is an artist and Nicola a civil programmer, so very close when they were young, they were now miles apart both mentally and socially.
Shadrach is friend to Nicholas and former lover of Nicola, a large man who used to run supplies across the wastes in-between cities and now has a deep-rooted fear of the Underground.
When Nicholas goes missing, Shadrach doesn't give it much thought until he finds that not only is Nicola also missing, but pieces of her have turned up at a rich woman's estate.
Shadrach knows that Nicholas was last seen heading for the headquarters of his own mysterious boss, Quinn. Quinn is the ultimate "Living Artist", creating brand new lifeforms both useful and hideous. Nicholas had wanted to purchase a Meerkat from Quinn, in order to protect him from the police who robbed him.
Shadrach vows to find Nicola, and kidnaps the head of her former Meerkat to take into the Underground with him on his quest for Nicola, and his drive to hunt down and kill the enigmatic Quinn.
What makes Jeff Vandermeer's novel so very intriguing is his tri-view approach to telling his tale. The first book, Nicholas, is written in first-person perspective. The second book, Nicola, is written like a dream. That is, the story is told as if someone were telling you what has happened to you and how you felt about it; almost like hypnotism. Extremely unique and surreal angle, Vandermeer manages to pull it off. The third book is told in standard third perspective, as Shadrach descends below Veniss.
The city is fantastic, the underground disturbing and deadly, and the monstrous creations roaming the streets and alleys are truly frightening in their grotesqueries. Mr. Vandermeer's striking vision of the train deep in the depths of the Underworld and the outlandish deeper levels chilled my blood to a comfortably numb state, leaving my eyes widened in shock and my brain reeling with macabre wonder.
I will mention that the book is a bit slow to begin, but I urge you to have patience and stick with it, you will not be disappointed in Veniss. Enjoy!
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than the Rest,
4.0 out of 5 stars Bosch, VanderMeer, and Orpheus on the road to greatness,
4.0 out of 5 stars Shadrach's descent into the underworld,
The core story is that most hackneyed of genre devices - the quest. It traces one Shadrach's descent into the underworld to rescue his beloved, and then (literally) into the belly of the beast to avenge the wrongs that were visited upon her.
That's as far as the cliché goes, though. The setting, to begin with, is not some mediaevalist middle earth analog - it's a grim, intricately nightmarish far-future. The dark underworld is populated with ghastly creatures - all of which are the creations of Quin, an insane, brilliant genetic artist. Shadrach's beloved, Nicola, no longer returns his love. Quin himself is not unambiguously evil - he is cruel, sadistic and supremely twisted in a manner that Salvador Dali would have applauded, but it is hard to tell if his basic motivation - to replace the human race with something new - can be described as intrinsically evil.
The story is superbly constructed - it is divided into three sections, each longer than the previous one. First, we hear from Nicholas, second-rate struggling artist and Nicola's twin, in the first-person. Then we meet Nicola herself, in an unusual and unusually succesful second-person narrative. Finally, Shadrach, yes, the third person and in third-person.
It may all seem very clever-clever, but it in fact works quite seamlessly.
The book is quite nerve- wracking at times - certain scenes are not for the weak of stomach - and yet, capable of oddly whimsical invention at others. There are scenes of utter horror and moments of total brutality (Shadrach discovers that Nicola has been captured by Quin when he visits an elderly client of Quin who is wearing Nicola's transplanted eye and hand). And yet, the prose is so smooth and compelling, you have to read it all.
In fact, this was the first book in a long time that I stayed up all night to finish. It was also my biggest lit-kick since Eco's Baudolino.
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not classic,
However, this is by no means a perfect book. Though Vandermeer is in his element when depicting the grotesque and surrealistic, he often fails in his depiction of the human. The characters are quite two-dimensional, which is more forgivable in a work that is not explicitly character focused, but in a novel such as this one where a large portion of the narrative is devoted to interactions between the three main characters it is a major failing. Also, Vandermeer's prose, while serviceable, is not the kind that, upon finishing a sentence, makes you sit back and say, "My, that was an original/beautiful application of the English language." In the end however, these are minor quibbles. Veniss Underground is an absorbing, thought-provoking read that manages to pack quite an emotional punch. Good stuff.
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, modern myth,
This review is from: Veniss Underground (Hardcover)In "Veniss Underground" Jeff VanderMeer has produced a fascinating retelling of the underworld mythology that so riddles our collective subconscious. Although clearly inspired by Dante and the myth of Orpheus and Euridcye, there is also a more primal, basic undercurrent that infuses his work. Specifically, it is the divine, yet flawed spark that inhabits each human being; the desire to exercise god-like powers even though we must inevitably pass our own shortcomings into any creation.
Set in the future, one's instinct is to read "Veniss Underground" as science fiction, but to do so would mean missing something very fundamental at work. In reality, the novel is set in the future because it allows VanderMeer the freedom to use certain plot devices to propel his story forward. However, the real power of the novel comes from its exploration of our humanity.
That said, his future is a fascinating construct: set in a world where each city has become a power unto itself, surrounded by impassable wastelands of human creation. In this regard, VanderMeer again harkens back to mythology, as Athens and the like were beacons in a strange, dangerous world. Veniss is a city where genetically engineered meerkats talk and act as servants, and where walking, breathing Ganesha's provide security and courier services. Moreover, the city itself is a marvel, a world unto itself. However, Veniss is coming unglued, and it is all its fragmented leadership can do to keep it together. Moreover, Veniss survives because of the Underground, a sort of slum where untold thousands live out their lives in a kind of indentured servitude, hoping only to escape their all to literal hell. To say more, would give away too much, but the resonances VanderMeer has created with our shared histories should be somewhat clear from this overview.
Stylistically, "Veniss Underground" is arranged in a manner that seems almost pretentious at first, but actually proves to be quite effective. The novel is divided into three sections, each devoted to three of the main characters. The first is told in the first person by Nicholas, the instigator of the book's plot, but perhaps the least important character. His voice is that of our most base instincts as humans; he is selfish, utterly self absorbed, and short sighted. As such, the first person is the perfect choice, as we can all see ourselves reflected in his failures.
The second section is to told in the second person, which was difficult to adapt to, but nonetheless perfectly chosen. The reason for this is that Nicola, Nicholas' sister, is the purest aspect of a horribly twisted world. While she is ultimately no better than anyone else, she is placed on a pedestal by the use of the second person, and thus becomes objectified as what one aspires to be, or to posses. Nicola's voice is both the most enigmatic and the most effective because she is held above and apart from the fray, even as it swirls around her.
Finally, there is the third section which uses the conventional third person to narrate the events of Shadrach, Nicola's one time lover. His is a section of action, of deeds, and as such he is almost outside his own control (certainly his normal behavior) and is therefore the perfect vehicle for third person narration. As Shadrach descends into ever greater horror, his humanity is stripped away and he becomes literally an avatar for the progression of the story. It is only when he returns to the surface that he regains some semblance of self control.
What then of the true protagonist, the "bioneer" Quin, who created those remarkable meerkats and much darker things? He is barely glimpsed in person, but VanderMeer lets Quin's creatures tell his story for him. In much the same way that one could say a human's love is a reflection of God, even as his failings are a reflection of his humanity, so too are Quin's creatures' capriciousness and aloofness a reflection of their creator, even as their pathos is a reflection of something beyond Quin's control. Ultimately, Quin aspires to be godhead, but is brought low by the fundamental tendency to entropy that must remain forever outside his control. In this aspect he is less reminiscent of a mythological figure than he is of Kurtz of "Heart of Darkness"/"Apocalypse Now" fame.
Jeff VanderMeer has created a novel that plums the depth of depravity and horror in a way that neither Dante nor Conrad could ever have conceived. Unlike them however, he finds redemption and beauty at the very nadir of human endeavor. While the fate and purpose of Quin's creations is at best an enigma, the conclusion can only be seen as one of hope; that there is something fundamentally good in our species that will hold back, and eventually triumph over, our own worst creations. Brilliantly conceived and superbly executed, this is a novel that represents the best in writing today and is not to be missed.
5.0 out of 5 stars Dante's Inferno of the Far Future,
By A Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Holy homicidal meerkats!,
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Veniss Underground by Jeff Vandermeer (Paperback - Sept. 27 2005)
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