Saturday, January 8, 2011

Shriek: An Afterword

Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer
Tom Doherty Associates, 2006
Trade Paperback , 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9780765314666
highly recommended

From the Publisher
An epic yet personal look at several decades of life, love, and death in the imaginary city of Ambergris—previously chronicled in Jeff VanderMeer's acclaimed City of Saints & MadmenShriek: An Afterword relates the scandalous, heartbreaking, and horrifying secret history of two squabbling siblings and their confidantes, protectors, and enemies.
Narrated with flamboyant intensity and under increasingly urgent conditions by ex-society figure Janice Shriek, this afterword presents a vivid gallery of characters and events, emphasizing the adventures of Janice's brother Duncan, a historian obsessed with a doomed love affair and a secret that may kill or transform him; a war between rival publishing houses that will change Ambergris forever; and the gray caps, a marginalized people armed with advanced fungal technologies who have been waiting underground for their chance to mold the future of the city.
Part academic treatise, part tell-all biography, after this introduction to the Family Shriek, you'll never look at history in quite the same way again.

My Thoughts:

Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer is his first novel set in the fungus-laden city of Ambergris, which was introduced in the City of Saints and Madmen collection. We were introduced to siblings Janice and Duncan Shriek in City of Saints and Madmen. This afterword, written by Janice to accompany Duncan's The Early History of Ambergris, is a memoir, or autobiography, of their lives. It also tries to explain, among other things, Duncan's obsession with and theories about the underground-dwelling mushroom people, or Gray Caps, and his ill-fated relationship with Mary Sabon.

While Janice wrote this afterword after she presumed Duncan was dead, Duncan finds her manuscript after it was written and comments about what Janice has written, which is shown to us in brackets as we read the text. So we are getting both points of view about the same incidents, which are told in the form of flashbacks. The whole novel foreshadows one pivotal confrontation that is told in completion at the end.

VanderMeer is an excellent writer and the development of his characters is exceptional. In many ways this is a character study set in a mythical universe - it's fantasy, but with elements of science fiction. I guess it's also classified as steampunk.

The whole, totally unique mushroom/fungus infested world already has a history established, so I can't imagine reading Shriek without having first read City of Saints and Madmen. They are really interconnected. Additionally, Shriek is not an easy read and, even though it does get a bit repetitious at times (enough with the flesh necklace, already), it is well worth the time you'll invest in following the story.
Highly Recommended - but only after reading City of Saints and Madmen


Mary Sabon once said of my brother Duncan Shriek that "He is not a human being at all, but composed entirely of digressions and transgressions." I am not sure what she hoped to gain by making this comment, but she said it nonetheless. I know she said it, because I happened to overhear it three weeks ago at a party for Martin Lake. opening

I had not invited her, but the other guests must have taken her invitation for granted: they clustered around her like beads in a stunning but ultimately fake necklace. The couples on the dance floor displayed such ambition that Sabon's necklace seemed to move around her, although she and her admirers stood perfectly still. pg.15

For a time, Duncan sat next to the desk in my apartment—in an old comfortable yellow chair our parents had bought in Stockton many years before. There he would sit, illumined by a single lamp in a twilight broken only by calls to prayer from the Religious Quarter, and chuckle as he read over the transcript of his latest chapter. He loved his own jokes as if they were his children, worthy of affection no matter how slack-jawed, limb-lacking, or broken-spined. pg. 16

Not that Ambergris didn't have a rich past of its own—just that we knew much less about it. We knew only that Ambergris played host to some of the world's greatest artists; that it was home to the mysterious gray caps; that a merchant clan, Hoegbotton & Sons, had wrested control of the city from a long line of kings; that the Kalif and his great Western Empire had thrice tried to invade Ambergris; that, once upon a time, some centuries ago, a catastrophe called the Silence had taken place there; and that the annual Festival of the Freshwater Squid often erupted into violence, an edgy lawlessness that some said was connected to the gray caps. The gray caps, we learned from helpful relatives seeking to reassure us, had long since retreated to the underground caverns and catacombs of Ambergris, first driven there by the founder of the city, a whaler despot named Manzikert I. Manzikert I had razed the gray caps' city of Cinsorium, massacred as many of them as he could, and built Ambergris on the smoldering ruins. {It all sounded incredibly exciting and exotic to us at that age, rather than horrifying.} pg. 20

I do remember that in our mother's absence one of my aunts tried to help orient us to the city, telling us, "There's a Religious Quarter, a Merchant Quarter, and an old Bureaucratic Quarter, and then there are places you don't go no matter what. Stay out of them." Faced with such vague warnings, we had to discover Ambergris in those early days by exploring for ourselves or asking our classmates. pg. 22

I was happy. After years of unhappiness. {It's easy to think you'd been unhappy for years, but I remember many times you were invigorated, excited, by your art, by your studies. The past isn't a slab of stone; it's fragmented and porous.} pg. 54

I have to say, I loved the sheer randomness of it all - there is nothing more liberating than playing an illogical game where only you understand all of the rules. pg. 77

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