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The Situation by Jeff VanderMeer

The Situation

by Jeff VanderMeer

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Do you like your job? Are you friendly with the people you work with? Can you trust your boss?

What if you got back from your vacation to find your workplace subtly altered, almost sinister? How would it feel to be shut out: the straggler outside the herd? All of the weirdness you're imagining right now cannot hold a candle to Jeff VanderMeer's workplace satire The Situation.

Savante returns from his vaction to find that things have changed at his office. Friends have switched departments, or formed new alliances while he was away. Policy and procedures are new, but no one has brought him up to speed. He struggles mightily to adapt, but it seems that everyone is against him. Savante's days at the Company are numbered.

There's a lot of emotion behind this story, especially anger. But even as he paints cruel word-pictures of the other workers at the Company, VanderMeer graces us with some fantastic images: communication beetles, a paper-skinned manager with a dry, shrivelled leaf for a heart, the savage smile of a manipulative coworker.

But even with the strange setting and fantastical images, what's really gripping is how recognizable the actions of the Company and its minions are, and the utter bewilderment of Savante, who's done nothing wrong, yet can't seem to make it right.

If ever you've had a bad employment experience, you'll recognize the setting, the characters, and especially the emotions of The Situation>/i>.

It's a short, savage salvo of righteous anger, and it makes a terrific companion to VanderMeer's other workplace satire (and one of my personal favorites) "Secret Life."

PS Publishing has outdone themselves on the packaging, too. The book itself is clean and well-designed, and the creepily gorgeous Ben Templesmith cover puts it over the top.
( )
  Mrs_McGreevy | Nov 17, 2016 |
I continue to be baffled at how much I enjoy Jeff VanderMeer's work. I normally find surrealism either oppressive and annoying or blatantly transparent, but he strikes the perfect balance. This is an odd little story about an extremely dysfunctional workplace (aside, of course, from the spying manta rays and the endless succession of body modifications, not to mention the postapocalyptic wasteland of a Dali painting). ( )
  jen.e.moore | May 19, 2015 |
So, yeah, having worked in the corporate world for 12 years, and 3 years working in IT for academia... that was pretty brilliant.
  montsamu | Apr 3, 2013 |
A nice take on office politics from one of the pioneers of the New Weird movement.

After the narrator returns to work from a two week vacation, he finds that things have changed at the workplace - one of the new employees is angling for his job, his manager is being sidelined by the higher-ups in the company and his best friends - one of whom recently took a new job in Human Resources - seem reluctant to associate with him. So far, so mundane: except his job involves designing beetles and fish with which to teach school children, his manager is made of plastic and paper and has a bad habit of catching fire when angry, and the friend of his that moved to Human Resources seems to be turning himself into a bear ...

This was a delightful short story to read. While there's plenty of bizarre imagery and ideas going on (trust me when I say I haven't mentioned the half of it), the core of the piece is the narrator's struggles at work, struggles that will surely be familiar to anybody who's had to work for long in any office environment. And VanderMeer gets this spot on, capturing the narrator's sense of loneliness and alienation perfectly in just a few dozen pages. That doesn't mean the stranger elements are just a gimmick, either - while the backstory is never fleshed out, the details are intriguing, hinting at alien invasion and the collapse of the old social order.

This is actually the first work of VanderMeer's I've read - it won't be the last.
  Plessiez | Apr 15, 2008 |
Originally available at: http://sf-fantasy-books.blogspot.com

At lunch, we would sneak out behind the company building with a blanket and sit on the little hill there, looking out onto a ravaged landfill full of the bright skeletons of vultures and then, beyond that, the city in all its strange mix of menace and vulnerability. The grass was yellowing rather than dead. A wiry tree stood on the hill at that time. We would ear crackers and old cans of shredded meat, the smell in that context almost unbearably tantalizing.

After lunch, we would unlock the glass cases containing our beetles. Their shining green-and-crimson carapaces would open like the lids of eccentric jewelry boxes to reveal their golden wings, and we would release them into the world.

Those beetles contained every joyous thing we had ever known, and we loved to watch them fly out into the distance.


I can remember Leer saying once, "This hill makes me happy."

"The Situation” is my first foray into the writing of Jeff Vandermeer, a multiple award-winning author and one of the progenitors of the New Weird avant-garde literary movement. Vandermeer’s own definition of the subgenre from the introduction to the New Weird anthology (Tachyon Publications, 2008) exposes as crucial some of the following elements: (1) urban, secondary-world fiction based on the complex real-world models; (2) subversion of the romanticism usually found in traditional fantasy; (3) may have elements of both sf&f; (4) acute awareness of the modern world and (5) the writing style and writing techniques may include elements of surreal, postmodern and transgressive horror for the tone, style and effect. I found all this to be blatantly true concerning this novelette.

The Situation’s intent is simple and is revealed in the author’s acknowledgements: “I dedicate The Situation to all the passive-aggressive emotional vampires,…and incompetent power-abusing managers currently lurking among unsuspecting office workers everywhere.” We follow an anonymous corporate worker in his everyday life in a weird alternative world’s company. The Company dabbles dabbles with what we would see as biotechnology – producing all kinds of beetles, worms, grubs man-sized fish and other distorted fauna for all kind of purposes (usually in place of this world’s computer technologies and pharmaceutics). It is a story about modern workplace relations – as flawed and dysfunctional as they are. The Company’s interior is the one safe haven that the employees know. Hope is buried in the past along with all the happy memories and family photos. Our worker’s days revolve around pleasing his superiors and finding himself more and more excluded from the people he works with and therefore dealing with growing hostility and isolation.

This novelette reminds me uncannily of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” with an added pinch of Marvyn Peake’s “Gormenghast”. Vandermeer has a lyrical approach to writing, using a lot of metaphors and allegories, and sure knows how to make you sympathize with the main protagonist. His ideas are just twisted enough for me to like and to remind me to read some of his other works – I’ve heard a lot of good things about his collection of short stories gathered in “City of Saints and Madmen”.

To conclude, this is a kind of story I would recommend to grown-ups or those remotely familiar with office work...for those under 25 (this age limit is highly arbitrary!) I would say to wait a few years so you can full appreciate Vandermeer's allegory of the office life.

3,5/5 ( )
  thrinidir | Apr 8, 2008 |
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My Manager was extremely thin, made of plastic, with paper covering the plastic. They had always hoped, I thought, that one day her heart would start, but her heart remained a dry leaf that drifted in her ribcage, animated to lift and fall only by her breathing. Sometimes, when my Manager was angry, she would become so hot that the paper covering her would ignite, and the plastic beneath would begin to melt. I didn’t know what to say in such situations. It seemed best to say nothing and avert my gaze. Over time, the runneled plastic of her arms became a tableau of insane images, leviathans and tall ships rising out of the whorling, and stranger things still. I would stare at her arms so I did not have to stare at her face. I never knew her name. We were never allowed to know our Manager’s name. (Some called her their “Damager,” though.)
My Manager forced me to put my beetle in my own ear, a clear waste, and an act that gave me nightmares: of a burning city through which giant carnivorous lizards prowled, eating survivors off of balconies. In one particularly vivid moment, I stood on a ledge as the jaws closed in, heat-swept, and tinged with the smell of rotting flesh. Beetles intended for the tough, tight minds of children should not be used by adults. We still remember a kinder, gentler world.
The last raise had been a huge leech shaped like a helmet. It was meant to suck all the bad thoughts out of your head. It smelled like bacon, which seemed promising. I had invited Mord and Leer over to my apartment and we'd fried it up in a skillet. I'd gotten a week's worth of sandwiches out of it.
Up close, her eyes were like the glistening grit you find at the edges of drying asphalt. Her fingers on the desk seemed as long as the legs of a spiny crab. In the quiet, I could hear the leaf in her chest - just the slightest whispering shift of dead plant matter against plastic each time it touched the sides of her ribcage. I wondered if each time another piece disintegrated into the dust at the bottom of her chest cavity. 'Do you love me?' she always asked. I could remember a time and a world where such a question could never have been asked.
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