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The Exchange
Jeff VanderMeer (as Nicholas Sporlender), illustrated by Eric Schaller (as Louis Verden)
Hoegbotton & Sons

The Exchange
Jeff VanderMeer
Jeff VanderMeer was born in Pennsylvania in 1968, but spent much of his childhood in the Fiji Islands, where his parents worked for the Peace Corps. His recent books include The Book of Lost Places (Dark Regions Press), Dradin, In Love (Buzzcity Press), Dradin, In Love & Other Stories (Oxy Publishing, Greece), and The Early History of Ambergris (Necropolitan Press). His publishing house, Ministry of Whimsy, has done a number of titles including The Troika, by Stepan Chapman which won the Philip K. Dick Award. Other work has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the British Fantasy Award. He lives with his fiancée Ann Kennedy, publisher and editor of Buzzcity Press.

The regular edition ($6.99 postpaid USA and $7.99 postpaid abroad) and the deluxe limited signed edition ($20 postpaid USA and $22.99 postpaid abroad) of The Exchange can be ordered from Hoegbotton & Sons

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nick Gevers

Even on the esoteric literary fringe (that is, in SF and Fantasy), it's not often that a critic receives for review an item like The Exchange. The Deluxe Limited Signed Edition of this confection -- the latest installment in Jeff VanderMeer's ongoing series of tales set in the imaginary city of Ambergris -- comes in a small cardboard box; the contents are a publicity sheet, a message of welcome and advice to guests at a Safe House (essentially, a secure hotel) in Ambergris, a wrapped "votive candle", a packet of dried mushrooms, a tiny metallic memory capsule that acts as a sort of low-tech dog tag, and a rather attractive illustrated pamphlet or chapbook that is the core of the whole unhinged exercise. The chapbook (signed by VanderMeer and the artist Eric Schaller under Ambergrisian aliases) features a short story of rare brilliance, spooky drawings of a malicious daft elderly couple and matching pair of squid, and a range of hilariously contradictory mock advertisements... How to explain all this intricate, ingenious, and highly worthwhile nonsense?

The conceit goes that VanderMeer and Schaller have visited Ambergris in person, by some sleight crossing the abyssal gulf between the worlds, and have returned, traumatically bedazed, with souvenirs from the city's deeply perilous Festival of the Freshwater Squid. Each box is a token of their visit: they have resided in the Safe House; the chapbook is an Ambergrisian publication to mark the annual Festival; Nicholas Sporlender and Louis Verden are its purported Ambergrisian authors; the candle helps repel certain predatory nasties, the mushroom blissfully poisons you if the candle has no effect, and the memory capsule subsequently identifies your corpse. All agreeably droll, all stylishly macabre. A gimmick? Well, yes, probably; but if so, a thoroughly collectable gimmick, a fine eccentric curiosity; and if the Deluxe version is beyond a reader's means, there is always the Regular Edition, the central chapbook on its own. And this is superbly done.

The short story "The Exchange", which Schaller craftily accompanies with an eerie insinuating narrative sequence of drawings, is a miniature masterpiece, a dense oblique nightmare in prose. An observer, outside in the haunted night, watches two people reveal their full dark natures, and the rationale for the larger Festival that is beginning, as they sit with superficial casualness at dinner. VanderMeer imparts his subtle menace faultlessly; and the publisher's apparatus at the chapbook's end also communicates much in a few careful words, its ads telling vividly of the strange, even lunatic culture that spawned them. Squid are always about in and around Ambergris; their flavour permeates everything, and they are rendered with a certain frightening affection here...

Later in 2001, Imaginary Worlds Press and Cosmos Books will publish a major compilation from the Ambergris Cycle, titled City of Saints and Madmen; The Exchange is a pungent appetiser.

Copyright © 2001 Nick Gevers

Since completing a Ph.D. on uses of history in SF, Nick Gevers has become a moderately prolific reviewer and interviewer in the field of speculative fiction. He has published in INTERZONE, NOVA EXPRESS, the NEW YORK REVIEW OF SF, and GALAXIES; much of his work is available at INFINITY PLUS, of which he is Associate Editor. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

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