Prior to this month’s BOTMC selection, my exposure to the literary genre known as New Weird was limited to the works of China Mieville (The Scar being a personal “If I Was To Be Stranded On A Deserted Island And Could Only Bring 25 Books With Me This Is One of the Books I’d Choose“ favorite). While I knew that author Jeff Vandermeer was a pioneer of the avant-garde movement, I’d never had occasion to read any of his work. Until City of Saints and Madmen, a book that, while apparently a fine example of “New Weird”, is, in my mind, an equally fine example of the more traditional definition of the word: weird. And wickedly so.
The City of Saints and Madmen is a collection of short stories, research papers, and historical studies with a common thread: the fantastical city of Ambergris, a magical and mercurial metropolis part Lankhmar, part New Crobuzon, and a whole lot Arkham. It’s a place as corrupt and decadent as some of its curious inhabitants – an obsessed squidanthropist, a mad artist, a scheming dwarf with a map of the world tattooed on his head – who casually go about their business as ancient mysteries stalk the streets and political factions wage open battle against a Rabelasian backdrop rife with love and death in all its forms. It’s Edward Gorey meets H.P. Lovecraft in a Byzantine bazaar.
Author Vandermeer has created a brilliant work of postmodern fantasy in which the different layers of an elaborate narrative tapestry weave in and out of each work, shedding light on future entries, shaping past ones. Puzzles are presented, hints dropped, clues concealed within the text. This is textured, sophisticated storytelling that makes demands of the reader. And those willing to invest the time and the patience will be rewarded with a book that is clever, humorous, and fiercely unique.
The first story, “Dradin in Love”, is the tale of a lovestruck missionary who enlists the help of a suspicious-looking dwarf as matchmaker. Ultimately, he ends up with much more – and much less – than he expected. It sets an ominous tone of what’s to come.
The following entry, ‘The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris”, was, for me, the highlight of this collection – a historical study of the city of Abergris. The dark history of Abergris is fascinating in itself, but the footnotes that accompany the accounts of mushroom people, mass disappearances, and wholesale slaughter offer up some amusing insights into not only the historian himself, but history in general and its intrinsically variable nature. In fact, this idea of the pliability of textual evidence as influenced by the unreliable narrator is something Vandermeer plays without throughout The City of Saints and Madmen, presenting a shifting narrative open to interpretation, misinterpretation, and reinterpretation. In “King Squid”, the enormous glossary that concludes the study in itself presents a telling backstory while the “Strange Case of X” blurs the line between fiction and reality, bringing the reader along for the ride. Hell, even the About the Author bio that caps the book can’t be taken at face value, to say nothing of the Note On Fonts sectionthat offers such gems as:
“Caslon Old Face, used for the body text of “The Book of Ambergris” is artfully structured, with classic textures and aromas. Redolent of fine leather, sandalwood, and cinnamon, Caslon is dry yet velvety, its gossamer qualities offset by enough backbone to satisfy even aficionados of such terse fonts as Nicean Monk Face and Cinsorium Ironic.”
“The font Dr. V uses for his correspondence is known as “Mother’s Typewriter” because it is indeed generated on his mother’s typewriters…”.
The collection shifts effortlessly from humor to horror, licentiousness to inventiveness, often within the individual entries themselves. And, above all else, there’s a caginess in the storytelling that engages the reader beyond the typically passive act of reading.
Moody and melancholy, delusory and deep, City of Saints and Madmen is, without a doubt, one of those 25 books I’d be bringing with me if I was to be stranded on a deserted island.
What did everyone else think? Loved it? Hated it? What were your thoughts on the other stories that made up the collection? Weigh in with your comments, and post your questions for author Jeff Vandermeer.
So what, many of you have been asking, IS happening with the SG-1 and SGA movies? Well, at last report, Carl was about 20 pages away from a first pass of the script which will then find it’s way onto Brad’s laptop where he will do his pass. The Atlantis movie is still an outline but Paul and I will be starting work on the script in the coming weeks and hope to have it completed by April. An official production start date for either movie has yet to be announced. More detailed discussions on both movies will be taking place in the coming weeks and, hopefully, I’ll have more definitive news for you then regarding everything from actor participation to a preliminary schedule.
Shirt ’n Tie writes: “Any bites from the LA Pilot Season trip last year??”
Answer: Alas, no. But looks like we’ll be heading south for another round of feature talks before long.
Theparanoidone writes: “ I am a UK actress (24yrs) currently without representation, how would I get my info on the SG table?”
Answer: The truth is we rarely consider overseas actors unless: a) they are well-established, or b) we are looking for a series regular. When all is said and done, if we have to go outside Vancouver for talent, we look to the very deep pool in L.A. which, quite frankly, is considerably closer and wouldn’t incur the same travel costs as Europe. Sorry about that.
Fargate One writes: “I am still alive and happy to be. Last Thuesday Jan the 24th my heart stopped because of electric mal function ( syncopes in french) While at the emergency in the hospital my heart stopped for more than 15 seconds. Now I lived with a pacemaker!”
Answer: Scary. I’m glad to hear you’re doing alright now.
Platschu writes: “When can we hear some news about the female cast of SG:U?
How many female character will be in the crew of Destiny?
Do you have an exact number of the complete Destiny crew or will you introduce new, ealier unseen people as the story needs them?
When can we expect some official team and set photos?
Did you plan the fate of the main and secondary characters for seasons ahead? Is there any chance to have a flash-forward type episode?
Will every gate system have an own chevron color? Will you keep the old gate size and form? Some fans worried about this after the short teaser trailer.
How long will the team stay in the same galaxy? I ask this, because if they fly only through them, than how will you introduce recurring enemies and allies? Will they follow them through the gate system or by ships?
Will you tell us some new episode names?
Sanctuary season 2 will begin October 9th, than Universe’s double premiere will be aired on October 2th?
Is there any chance that Kari Wuhrer (Nancy Sheppard) will be in SG:U? Maybe the role of Camilla Wray could be re-written to her.
Can you name some popular non-SG actor, who will be guest star for season 1?”
Answers: An official announcement on the female cast will be made whenever we’ve finished casting the roles. It’s hard to say how many female characters will make up part of the crew. We don’t have an exact number of the complete Destiny crew and prefer it to be vague at this point. No idea on the release of official team or set photos. We have a pretty good idea of where we’ll be going with the main characters and a few of our secondaries, but a lot will depend on how things come together onscreen. No plans for a flash-forward type of episode. No official gate info at this point. With regard to ship travel, we’ve discussed the possibility that each season would take place over the course of a voyage through a different galaxy. No new episode names for now. No idea when SciFi plans to air the premiere. As much as we love Kari, there are presently no plans to include her (or any Atlantis characters) in SGU. At this point, it’s too early to be announcing guest stars.