by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)


This was a brisk and gripping read, the perfect palate cleanser after struggling through Atwood’s interminable The Blind Assassin. I finished it over two days and a total of about five hours. It was basically a contemporary version of Lovecraft’s “ancient alien other,” a welcome effort since Lovecraft’s ingenious ideas got weighed down by archaic and inaccessible prose that was sorely in need of updating.

The writing here was much more engaging. I prefer straightforward prose when the primary objective is a weird story, and VanderMeer delivered, though his simplicity occasionally bordered on amateurism. The tension was good and the climactic encounter was appropriately impressive and inventive, but the story’s overall vagueness bothered me when all was said and done. We never find out exactly what this thing was, where it came from or why, and despite heavy hinting we never find out what truly happened to previous expeditions.

Our protagonist’s last entry is similarly unsatisfying, as her future plans revolve around a personal relationship which VanderMeer never convinced me truly mattered. Actually most of her backstory seemed like little more than a pacing device to break up the tension of the real story, or maybe a transparent attempt to “develop character.” Its effect on me was correspondingly irritating.

Overall it was a nice read and a good way to turn off your brain after taxing it too hard on a previous book. It’s a worthy example sci-fi/horror escapism and I’d recommend it as such. I probably won’t seek out the rest of the trilogy but I also wouldn’t avoid reading it if it fell into my lap.

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