Veniss Underground

Veniss Underground - Jeff VanderMeer I picked up this book on a recommendation as a book that features it's urban setting as an integral character in the story. When I looked at the synopsis, I was glad to see it's a Far Dark Future-y cyberpunky sort of story. It's not like all the other cyberpunk books I've read; the prose is some weird amalgam of stream-of-conscious meets futurewords-without-enough-context. It read like some Important Modern Literature I've seen (and subsequently loathed). I believe our main character, or at least the one who's point of view has most of the words for the part I read, is a starving artist and he's telling me that he's telling me about something that happened to him. That was not a typo back there - the character is actually making a point of saying (over and over) that he's telling me a story. First of all, I'm not a fan of books that address me directly. It's a gimmicky device that's only useful in a small number of (mostly humorous) contexts. Books are for being written and being read, and I'd like to keep the conversation between myself and the author in my very own head, thank you very much. If you want to have a dialogue with me, send me an email or write me a note on a forum; otherwise, stick to writing your story and we'll get along fine. I provide this sentence as exemplary of the way the author uses lots of words and punctuation without saying anything meaningful:
So, since Shadrach certainly wouldn't move in to protect me and my art from the cold pricklies of destruction - I mean, I couldn't go it alone; I had this horrible vision of sacrificing my ceramics, throwing them at future Pick Dicks because the holo stuff wouldn't do any harm of a physical nature (which made me think, hey, maybe this holo stuff is Dead Art, too, if it doesn't impact on the world when you throw it) - since that was Dead Idea, I was determined to go down to Quin's Shanghai Circus (wherever that was) and "git me a meerkat," as those hokey nuevo Westerns say. A meerkat for me, I'd say, tall as you please. Make it a double. In a dirty glass cage. (Oh, I'd crack myself up if the Pick Dicks hadn't already. Tricky, tricky pick dicks.)

Right about the time I was telling myself, "I'm going to give this book 5% more to figure out how to talk to me, or I'm giving up on it" there's a chapter break and the POV changes. I usually don't like POV changes; it's fine to move between characters but please don't change the narrative POV you're approaching the characters with unless you have a really good reason and you know what you're doing. I never found the former and I'm not convinced of the latter. The narrative changed to second person POV.


I hate it in my bones. The very fiber of my essence quivers with revulsion when my eyes scan second person POV with a disgust that is born of the irrationality that can only be fostered by a childhood full of abuse. Second person narrative makes me throw up in my mouth a little. I don't doubt for a moment that authors feel passionately about their work and they put an amazing amount of effort into writing a book, but that doesn't mean anybody, anywhere, anytime, gets to tell me "You feel (something), you think (something)." I reserve that right for myself alone. The author is more than welcome to try and manipulate my feelings and intellect, but I and I alone get to tell me what I feel and think. The prose doesn't improve much with the change in POV, either. The irony of the following selection is that it's the loser artist's sister talking about the loser artist we met in the first quote, but it could just as easily be talking about the prose:
You can still hear Nick's sentences, but you don't want to complete them, for they are monstrous, guttural creations, and they reek of blood. They are not the constructions of the Nick you know, the Nick who loves the Canal District for its many-layered conversations, the deals being made, the mysterious magic of it that defies easy definition.

That was right about where I knew this book and I did not have a future together. I soldiered on for the remainder of my cigarette, glued to my reader like a bystander at a trainwreck and found this gem that, again, could describe my thoughts about this book:
Another week passes into gray oblivion. You're a slow dream, an autumn freeze, a ship in the doldrums. Thoughts come slow and ponderous, like deep-sea fish floating heavy and memory-bound to the surface; coelacanth reborn.

Needless to say, I'm not a big fan of the book. I suppose it isn't poorly written, it's just written in a way that really turns me off. No doubt there's a worthwhile story lurking in the craggy depths of those murky sentences, like coelecanths waiting to be discovered long after they were written off. I'm willing to let other people find it.