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Veniss Underground by Jeff VanderMeer
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Veniss Underground (original 2003; edition 2003)

by Jeff VanderMeer

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5902716,673 (3.67)47
Member:ashamel
Title:Veniss Underground
Authors:Jeff VanderMeer
Info:Night Shade Books (2003), Hardcover, 192 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:novel

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Veniss Underground by Jeff VanderMeer (2003)

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» See also 47 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
"Okay," not great - more aesthetic concept than narrative.

Dystopian novel about a guy who genetically modifies people and animals into entirely new organic creations, and a few characters connected to him. It comes across as more of a writer's exercise in worldbuilding than a novel in the classic sense, as there wasn't a lot of plot or depth of character to it, but it was interesting all the same to watch the unfolding of VanderMeer's crafted universe. It feels very much like the building blocks upon which his much more successful Southern Reach trilogy was built. ( )
  KLmesoftly | May 16, 2016 |
Vandermeer has published many more short stories than novels, and his preference for the short format shows – Veniss is a very short novel (in my edition bundled with an unrelated (?) ‘novella’ (I’d still call it a short story) to fill out the book.
Its length is my biggest complaint with the work. Vandermeer shows the reader an immensely complex, vivid setting – but in around 200 pages, there isn’t time to explore it in the depth one might like to – and the plot itself is very slight.
Veniss is 28th-century Dayton (?) – a crumbling city with wealth on the surface, and untold numbers of literally underground levels filled with the poor, mutants, biohazards, and bioengineered creatures. The milieu is one that’s becoming familiar to readers of SF (although Vandermeer refers to his world as “not SF, but a phantasmagoria”), heavily reminiscent of Mieville, and full of allusions to other mythological and literary works.
But even in this grotesque future, people are just still regular people, trying to make lives for themselves, full of their own concerns.
Nicholas is a failed artist, who pulls in some favors from his friend Shadrach for a meeting with the near-mythical bioengineer Quin, hoping to get a job or commission out of it.
For unknown (?) reasons, Quin, who’s more of an evil cipher than a character, hell-bent on taking over the world with his bioengineered meerkats (!), decides to use Nicholas to go after and kidnap Nicholas’ sister, Nicola, who happens to be Shadrach’s ex-.
Shadrach’s still in love with Nicola, so he goes on an Orphic journey into the Wellsian/Lovecraftian underground levels of hell to rescue Nicola before all her parts are used up by the organ banks.
Of course, this being a dark-and-jaded type of book, one can’t expect an ending full of light and purity… but it doesn’t turn out all that bad, either…
Overall – I liked it. But I’d been hearing such good thing about the book that I guess it didn’t quite live up to the hype.
In the “Afterword,” Vandermeer gives us Quin’s backstory, and an explanation of why he isn’t a fully realized character (we’re supposed to merely be seeing his through the eyes of the ‘narrators’ of the three parts of the book – Nicholas, Nicola and Shadrach) – but the very fact that that explanation is necessary admits to a degree of awkwardness there.

My edition of this novel also included the story “Balzac’s War.”
I loved this story. For me, it packed much more of an emotional punch than ‘Veniss,’ and was really near-perfectly crafted.
In (I believe, a different) decaying future, humans in a crumbling society are being invaded by (possibly) an alien species. The invaders welcome worship, and offer humans ‘immortality’ by the method of transplanting their heads onto a monstrous, engineered, non-human body. However, these monsters with human heads are sent to war against their former compatriots and families. It’s unsure if they are still ‘themselves’ at all…
This story deals with one man in particular dealing with his wife coming back in such a form… Really an amazing, powerful story.
( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
4.5 stars ( )
  BooksOn23rd | Nov 25, 2015 |
4.5 stars ( )
  BooksOn23rd | Nov 25, 2015 |
First Nicholas goes looking for Quin and finds him. Then Nicola, his twin, goes looking for Nicholas, and he finds her. Then Shadrach, Nicola's lover, goes looking for Nicola and then for Quin. It's all set in the city of Veniss, wrapped in a wall a mile thick to keep the desert out. Decaying, decadent, fragmenting, inward-looking, Veniss is one of the last, lingering enclaves of humanity, and it's sitting on top of a vast, hellish underground labyrinth where Quin rules supreme.

Quin is a genetecist and mad scientist who has created intelligent meerkats with human arms and blue, multi-limbed ganeshas. His kingdom is packed to the rafters with grotesqueries and abominations and left-over atrocities. It's Shadrach who, like Orpheus, must venture into this hideous underworld for love and revenge, with a meerkat's head tied to his arm, to find the man who made it all.

This is a short, dense, structurally clever book that might be unbearable if it wasn't so well written. Vandermeer makes poetry out of the horrors and the odd flash of beauty, and there's plenty of conceptual wit, staggering visions and flashes of beauty to keep the reader engaged. It's hard not to emerge from this book feeling a ghostly fraction of the transformations undergone by the characters, and look at the world and people and other books a little differently. It's a mad book about a mad world. Recommended. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
... a nightmare vision that shows off VanderMeer's many virtues - his linking of character and plot to the mythic core of his story, his idiosyncratic inventions which derive straight from the psyche, rather than from any generic inspiration, his ambitious style and his vivid descriptive powers. The denouement is as powerful as any I have read.
added by andyl | editThe Guardian, Michael Moorcock (Nov 29, 2003)
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jeff VanderMeerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rostant, LarryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Let me tell you why I wished to buy a meerkat at Quin's Shanghai Circus.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553383566, Paperback)

In his debut novel, literary alchemist Jeff VanderMeer takes us on an unforgettable journey, a triumph of the imagination that reveals the magical and mysterious city of Veniss through three intertwined voices. First, Nicholas, a would-be Living Artist, seeks to escape his demons in the shadowy underground–but in doing so makes a deal with the devil himself. In her fevered search for him, his twin sister, Nicola, spins her own unusual and hypnotic tale as she discovers the hidden secrets of the city. And finally, haunted by Nicola’s sudden, mysterious disappearance and gripped by despair, Shadrach, Nicola’s lover, embarks on a mythic journey to the nightmarish levels deep beneath the surface of the city to bring his love back to light. There he will find wonders beyond imagining…and horrors greater than the heart can bear.

By turns beautiful, horrifying, delicate, and powerful, Veniss Underground explores the limits of love, memory, and obsession in a landscape that defies the boundaries of the imagination. This special edition includes the short stories “The Sea, Mendeho, and Moonlight”; “Detectives and Cadavers”; and “A Heart for Lucretia” and the novella Balzac’s War, offering a complete tour of the fantastic world of Veniss.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:52 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A triumph of the imagination that reveals the magical and mysterious city of Veniss through three intertwined voices. First, Nicholas, a would-be Living Artist, seeks to escape his demons in the shadowy underground, but in doing so makes a deal with the devil himself. In her fevered search for him, his twin sister, Nicola, spins her own unusual and hypnotic tale as she discovers the hidden secrets of the city. And finally, haunted by Nicola's sudden, mysterious disappearance and gripped by despair, Shadrach, Nicola's lover, embarks on a mythic journey to the nightmarish levels deep beneath the surface of the city to bring his love back to light. There he will find wonders beyond imagining ... and horrors greater than the heart can bear.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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