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on 3 June 2011
'Veniss Underground' is a short novel by Jeff VanderMeer, a leading light in the 'New Weird' subgenre of fantasy. VanderMeer first came to attention as a writer of short stories, but has written other novels and multimedia works, and has a considerable profile as an editor and blogger.

If 'The New Weird' means anything - and meaningful definitions are hard to come by - it appears to mean a form of hyper-romantic fantasy that draws at will on urban fantasy, dark fantasy, SF, horror, noir and thriller elements. Its direct ancestors include Michael Moorcock, Angela Carter and, even more pertinently, M. John Harrison, whose 'Viriconium' stories are the template for 'Veniss' and similar work by other writers - notably China Mieville. More generally, this is fleshy fantasy, post-Cronenberg, post-Barker, post-Gaiman.

This makes 'Veniss' sound more attractive than it is. In practice, VanderMeer lacks the imagination of the writers mentioned, and especially Harrison's acute feel for tone, essential when dealing with deliberately mannered prose. The brief opening section of the book is quite horribly overwritten; almost a textbook example of how to alienate a reader by being simultaneously pretentious, obscure and coy. I almost abandoned the book at this point. I wonder how many readers have never progressed further?

The second and third sections are more lucidly written, but what emerges, disappointingly, is a standard fantasy narrative, loosely derived from the classical myth of Orpheus's descent into the underworld. VanderMeer packs a great deal of hectic incident and implication into a relatively small space, but as a result much of what happens feels underexplained, unmotivated and repetitious - as though 'weirdness' (and a very adolescent, Dali-Bosch idea of weirdness) for its own sake was the governing aesthetic.

This borrowed visual imagination means that VanderMeer's Veniss never makes an indelible impression, resembling as it does too many similar creations in familiar films and books. The emotional temperature too is operatically overwrought throughout, as though the fate of the universe were at stake, but the characters are so thinly imagined that it's never clear why we should care about them.

I understand that VanderMeer has written better elsewhere, but 'Veniss Underground' left me with little enthusiasm to investigate further.
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on 18 July 2012
Science Fiction is probably the most open genre there is, an author can pretty do whatever they like. This may have been the thought process of Jeff Vandermeer when writing `Veniss Underground', as he not only threw the kitchen sink at the book, but also the washing machine, oven and kettle. Split into three narratives `Veniss' tells the story of Nicholas, Nicola and Shadrach and their wondrous journey through the land of Veniss. It starts off strangely as Nicholas' narration is hard to follow, he is a futuristic artist and his writing style is almost gibberish. Things settle down when following his sister Nicola, only to get most bizarre with Shadrach.

There are some great ideas in `Veniss', especially in the middle section. Artificially created Meerkats act as servants to the rich and famous, but do they have a hidden agenda? When the final, and largest, section of the book begins, we go from the strange and interesting, into the plain crazy. Vandermeer loses his way as Shadrach stampedes through too many different places all in the same world; underground mines, mountains of limbs, strange seas. A confused story entirely loses its way and you become less lost in the world of Veniss and more lost in a world of confused storytelling.

`Veniss' is a book that peaks halfway through, as it borders on the crazy, but remains one step aloof. When Vandermeer does let his imagination run riot, it is at the sake of a coherent narrative. The many great ideas in the book make it worthwhile reading for harder science fiction fans, everyone else is best off giving it a miss.
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on 17 August 2015
It's not often I follow the recommendations of established authors when it comes to picking up new books. Far too often, they cite obscure (and mostly dull) works of fiction in an effort to elevate themselves above the common herd, or more glaringly, recommend books from authors, that by an amazing coincidence, share the same agent/publisher as themselves.

But kudos to Michael Moorcock for pointing me in the direction of this.

Looking back on Veniss Underground, it's hard to believe that this is a debut effort. It's a polished, accomplished, masterful piece of work, and as usual, I'm in danger of running out of superlatives!

The story of a man looking for his missing sister, it alternates between first, second, and third person perspective, in an effortless manner, that in the hands of a lesser author, would probably collapse in a heap.

Long does this live in the memory as a masterful piece of work.
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on 16 April 2016
Classy, visionary, and always entertaining. A page turner if ever you wanted one from this sci-fi/fantasy master.
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on 8 November 2006
This is Vandermeer's first Novel and is wonderfully crafted. It reminds me of a Dali painting - both grotesque and glorious on the same page. This is not a typical Science Fiction book. It has elements of the finest horror and fantasy in a world just about familiar enough to believe in. His style is free flowing and easy, with language that makes you feel you are with the characters. The three main Characters are written in different tenses, this just adds to the feel of the book and Characters. I read this in one sitting and at times wanted to block out some the images Vandermeer made me create in my head, but at the same time wanted to know what happened next. A wonderful journey and a lesson as to where our world might go.
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on 23 May 2009
Nicholas, a washed-out holo artist, is desperate to secure the patronage of a mysterious man only known as Quin who, through biological engineering, creates fantastic creatures to serve the city-states of Veniss. When Nicholas disappears, his twin sister Nicola launches a frantic search for her brother which brings her and her former lover Shadrach ever closer to the ultimate truth behind Quin and the dank subterranean world of Veniss Underground.

Many years ago I happily walked away from fantasy, thinking the genre had reached its pinnacle with Lord of the Rings and was now deadly repetitive. But Vandemeer's vision debunks all my preconceptions and exposes my hubris in thinking the genre has nothing new to offer. Mixing fantasy with science fiction and adding a hefty dash of the Kafkaesque, this author produced a haunting and beautiful tale. It helps that he has kept the story short; if it had been any longer one's willingness to suspend belief would have been sorely pressed. What makes this novel especially intriguing is the author's style and language: it is playful and poetic, while remaining streetwise and gritty. There isn't a lot of character development - a problem that's endemic to a genre that focuses on place - but Vandemeer has more than enough made up for it with a breath-taking and phantasmagoric world.
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on 25 July 2004
Meerkats are benign creatures, are they not? The sort of small furry mammal that peers timidly from a burrow with a David Attenborough voiceover, harmless, cuddly even, if you got close enough...that is in this world, the one I'm in. But in the world of Veniss, which is described so vividly by Mr Vandermeer that I came to inhabit that one too, the meerkat is sly, vindictive, genetically engineered, intent on following his heinous purpose. This is just one of a host of memorable characters that horrify and amaze in Venis Underground. The writing is ambitious and exciting, the journey and characters fantastic and yet believable. It is a world that lurks in your mind long after you have finished the final page and absorbs you absolutely while you are there - a great and satisfyingly gruesome escape.
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on 25 May 2009
I picked up Jeff Vandermeer's debut novel on a whim and am sure to investigate his work further having enjoyed this surreal and poignant offering immensely!

Vandermeer's story is, in its basest terms, a compelling revenge story told from three different perspectives but Veniss Underground has more on it's agenda than narrative.

The prose works best as a series of surrealist explosions of imagery, philosophy and sensationalism held together by the experiences of the three main characters.
As the reader is drawn to the incredible world of Veniss (which is equal parts Hieronnymous Bosch and Philip K Dick) fever dream images of freakish genetic engineering and equally freakish archiecture and technology merge seamlessly with explorations of notions of life, sentience and Godhood.

Those who prefer a meat and potatoes style narrative may be put off by the poetic verse and imagery of the story but for those who don't flinch at the idea of entering an undergrounddistopia peopled by gun toting Meerkats and horrible mutants, enjoy!
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on 24 June 2008
Low marks from me for this debut effort from Mr Vandermeer, but it might be your thing. I'll try to be as objective as possible...

The narrative has a distinctive style, which is a pleasant departure from much popular low-grade "and then and then and suddenly and then..." dreck but for me it wasn't carried off with sufficient brio. Examples of lucidity and eloquence occur here and there, but only aside more populous moments of awkwardness. Interesting - and possibly contrived - bits of vocabulary pop up twice within a few pages, never to be used again. All together, I found myself regarding the artifice, rather than being absorbed by the tale.

And what of the tale? Certainly, there is originality and some new spins on familiar ideas, but there's a lot of well-trodden ground here, too, which failed to provoke my interest. The author is capable of painting the occasional individual scene well enough to deliver some gut-punches, but a lack of logical cohesion means that these fail to hang together as a convincing whole.

I'm not a sci-fi or a fantasy fan: I like to read across many genres, normally finding something of value in any work. I have only abandoned 3 titles in my entire life. I AM a grumpy guy and notoriously difficult to please in my choice of entertainments, but I am not a snob. What I mean by this is that I gave "Veniss Underground" a sporting chance and stuck with it to the end but consider it a weak novel, more for reasons of technical demerit than of personal taste.

But some people'll eat anything.
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on 9 July 2008
as a reader of jeffs short stories-a big reader of them, i have them all- and really thinking they were good, espcially the writing, i was shocked to read this book. It might as well have been written by someone else. none of the elegant similies and graceful literary devices that adorn his short stories are present.

I canr even remeber what this novel was about it was so average. Something about a Giant Meerkat that was sent to kill this woman because her twin brother pissed off the Government or something like that. it was a dreary affair.
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