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Shriek: An Afterword
Jeff VanderMeer
Tor, 352 pages

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 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). He began the publishing house, Ministry of Whimsy, which 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 wife Ann Kennedy, publisher and editor of Buzzcity Press.

Jeff VanderMeer Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: City of Saints and Madmen
SF Site Excerpt: Shriek: An Afterword
SF Site Interview: Jeff VanderMeer
SF Site Review: Secret Life
SF Site Review: City of Saints and Madmen
SF Site Excerpt: The Mansions of the Moon
SF Site Excerpt: The Mimic
SF Site Interview: Jeff VanderMeer
SF Site Review: The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases
SF Site Review: Veniss Underground
SF Site Review: Leviathan Three
SF Site Review: City of Saints and Madmen
SF Site Interview: Jeff VanderMeer
SF Site Excerpt: City of Saints and Madmen
SF Site Review: City of Saints and Madmen
SF Site Review: The Exchange

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Neil Walsh

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Shriek: An Afterword The full title of the current novel is Shriek: An Afterword to The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris by Janice Shriek (and Duncan Shriek) . It is, of course, a sequel to "The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris by Duncan Shriek" from City of Saints and Madmen, Jeff VanderMeer's magnificent collection of stories about the City of Ambergris, a fictional place made by the author more tangibly real than the mundane reality of probably a great many readers. In this collection, "The Early History of Ambergris" is a terrifically funny story, if you read all the footnotes, as well as being more than a little creepy. Plus it explains a great deal about Ambergris and how it got that way. It's done as a tourist pamphlet written by the disgruntled historian Duncan Shriek, with scores of his sarcastic footnotes, many of which deliver scathing attacks on fellow historians, particularly his former colleague Mary Sabon.

The conceit for the present work is that Janice Shriek, sister to Duncan, has left a manuscript of a "belated afterword" to her brother's famous Guide. She wrote this afterword shortly after the Guide was published and Duncan disappeared under mysterious circumstances. However, Duncan has returned and discovered the manuscript of his sister's commentary on his work, only now she, Janice, has disappeared. Duncan, true to character, cannot resist inserting his own comments throughout his sister's commentary, which, by the way, isn't an afterword on the "Guide to Ambergris" at all; it is rather a retrospective on the lives of the Shrieks and a commentary on some of Duncan's journal writings that Janice had discovered. Duncan finds plenty to say on his missing sister's commentary on their lives and his work.

VanderMeer has an uncanny ability to paint vividly with his words, which enables him to quickly bring a reader into his creation. He also has a knack for writing stories that are outrageously funny and at the same time extremely disquieting. Shriek is no exception. There are passages that are utterly chilling (I'm thinking of Duncan's first nightmarish journal entry about the machine), scenes that are vividly haunting (such as two characters sitting at an outdoor cafe watching as the bloody carnage of an ongoing civil war is inflicted just across the street), and other passages (more than a few) that are laugh-out-loud funny.

So much is explained here that was only hinted at in City of Saints and Madmen -- the real relationship between Duncan Shriek and Mary Sabon; the true reason why Duncan is reduced to writing a mere tourist guide book; Janice Shriek's real role in the Ambergris art scene; the truth about publishing in Ambergris; the real (further?) truth about the gray caps -- and so much more is hinted at that may never be explained. Ambergris grows more solid with each word VanderMeer writes about the place.

It's easy to get swept up into the story, and it's difficult not to appreciate the artistry of the work. If you haven't yet been initiated into the astonishing world of Ambergris, you could certainly immerse yourself in Shriek and forever after look askance at every fungus you meet. On the other hand, if you're already familiar with, for example, the "Guide to the Early History of Ambergris" you will find Shriek even more satisfying -- in fact, you will likely consider reading it to be an agreeable necessity. Either way, it's a book that deserves your immediate attention.

Copyright © 2006 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh has several great passions in his life: reading, and...uh, some other things that are, no doubt, equally interesting.


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