| Dispatches From Smaragdine|
|A column by Jeff VanderMeer|
| March 2007 |
[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other Dispatches From Smaragdine columns.]
One of his least inspired inventions, in my opinion, was designating February Backwards Month. Even less inspired? The people of Smaragdine holding onto the idea after the overthrow of Our Beloved Dictator. During Backwards Month, you are legally obligated to, more or less, do the opposite of what you normally would do work-wise. So, for example, if you're a lawyer you become a Franciscan monk giving alms to the poor. If you're a CEO of a major company, you become a garbage collector-and vice versa.
As you can imagine, this causes all kinds of changes. For one thing, garbage collection becomes sporadic and the streets take on a certain smell. Also, many Smaragdine companies tend to do much better in February than other months.
In January, a special February Bureau sends you a letter designating a series of possible positions that you can take during the month. You must then fill out a mountain of paperwork before February 1st and report to your new job. Doctors are exempt from this foolishness. Foreign nationals living in Smaragdine on visas are not.
Thus it was that my punishment to take a day job. As a full-time freelance writer, I was told to report to a software company and take an office position doing technical writing and editing. "The change in atmosphere and social conditions from your normal work month will be sufficient to fulfill the legal requirements of February," the letter read. Even Horia Ursu, who knows people who knows people, couldn't get me out of it.
Still, I entered the corporate workplace with a smile and a gleam in my eye. The people I worked with, Danya (my manager), Kray (fellow editor), and Loopin (fellow editor) seemed nice enough. Of course, like me, they had only just started their jobs and had no idea how to do them. In their cases, they had come from contrary positions not contrary situations. At least I knew how to edit and write, if not in the native language of Smaragdine. Danya had been the person who, at one of Smaragdine's old-fashioned printing companies, pushed bits of type into place on the presses. She had no idea of how to manage anyone, except to try to get them to fit into tiny little roles and to stay put. Kray had been a makeup consultant and Loopin had been what translated unintelligibly as "seed pusher." As one might expect, the whole situation was about as Through the Looking Glass as was possible.
By the tenth day, we had taken the specs from the programmers of some educational software and created a vast gibberish of English and Smaragdine. Sometimes in crayon. By the fifteenth day, Danya had taken to wearing a uniform and doing a variation on the goose-step. Loopin was crying uncontrollable by the twentieth day. Kray was unable to do more than stare at the reflection in the monitor by the twenty-fifth day. Me, I knew it would all be over by the twenty-eighth day and so I began to slip out of my supposed role and get some real writing done.
On the twenty-eighth day, by custom, the manager gathers the employees and ritualistically fires all of them. In my case, I found this oddly cathartic at the same time I experienced an illogical yet simmering resentment. Danya looked me right in the eye and, her voice quivering, said, "We have decided to terminate you from this company."
"Oh good, that's a relief," I replied. "Can I have some pencils from the drawer before I go?"
And that was February in Smaragdine.
Mamatas' latest novel, Under My Roof, was recently published by Soft Skull Press, one of my favorite independent publishers. Under My Roof is completely different in focus and style than Mamatas' last novel Move Under Ground, which could only be described as a Lovecraftian Beat road trip.
Under My Roof, by contrast, is narrated by twelve-year-old Herbert Weinberg, whose father has implanted a nuclear device inside a garden gnome on their front lawn and declared independence from the United States. Satirical and often very funny, Under My Roof recently received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.
I interviewed Mamatas via email in January of this year.
About twelve years later, my then girlfriend, said to me "You should write a kid's book." Also, the YA fantasy bandwagon had started up, to the point where the fellow who ran a local SF con even shut it down with the announcement that he was going to write a YA fantasy novel "while the getting was good." Never heard from him again, but it did remind me that I had a lot more people to make fun of out there, so I decided that I too would write a YA fantasy novel to tweak some noses.
Starting with the next installment of Dispatches, I will be doing something new. In addition to any reviews in the body of the column, I'll be doing a selective Books Received list. This will include capsule reviews of most of them.
On the horizon I can see Elizabeth Hand, Solaris Publishing, and... is that Felix Gilman? Possibly.
If you would like to send me things for review, or even complaints, hints, suggestions, or other feedback, please do so via email at email@example.com or via my U.S. snail mail address:
There will be a delay of about a month from receipt at the post office box to the arrival of your missive in Smaragdine, but to send direct would be folly as my stint at the hostel runs out at the end of the month and I don't know where I will be after that.
Jeff VanderMeer's reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, The New York Review of SF, Bookslut.com, and many others. VanderMeer writes the graphic novel/comics summation for The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (St. Martin's Press) and is a guest editor for Best American Fantasy. Monkey Brain Books published his non-fiction collection Why Should I Cut Your Throat? in 2004.
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