Jeff VanderMeer’s new novel Annihilation is the story of a four-person expedition into a strange region known as Area X where the laws of physics and biology seem to be bent, maybe broken. Fine. You feel like you kinda know where this is going, right? Botched experiment… wormhole… alien alloy… something like that.
You don’t know where it’s going.
Most fiction is recombinatory. That’s not a bad thing! I mean, my novel is recombinatory. You can have a lot of fun with recombination. You deal yourself a hand from the deck of culture and try to make sense of the juxtapositions. I think I just described the process behind all comic books ever. The results can be rich and compelling—all the more so because they’re supported by ideas and images with deep roots.
But! We can’t only recombine. It can’t just be remakes and reboots and remixes forever. Every so often, we need new stuff, too.
Have you ever played one of those collectible card games? Bought a pack of cards, ripped it open, added them to your deck? Annihilation is a foil-wrapped booster pack for weird fiction, loaded with truly original images. Truly original entities.
It’s the first in a trilogy called The Southern Reach. I recently finished Authority, the second, and this is shaping up to be a singular sequence indeed. There’s a clear through-line—a big story unfolding—but Authority isn’t a book that just picks up where the last one left off. Instead, it’s packed full of new pleasures, not only new characters and settings but whole new kinds of writing. If Annihilation is an expedition novel painted with a thick coat of weird, then Authority is a spy novel given the same dark lacquer. And yet, they connect; are unquestionably part of a coherent whole. Which makes me desperate to know what the third book is going to be like–whether it will be some mixture of the two, Jurassic Park meets James Bond, or some third thing entirely.
That feeling—my anticipation—brings me to another thing.
Fiction is really feeling the heat from TV. The very best shows are doing exactly what (many of) the very best novels set out to do, and doing it for much larger audiences. There is a sense of encroachment, and also a sense of defection! Novelists are lining up to write for TV.
I think one of the things that makes TV so much fun at this moment is the release schedule, which is enjoying a kind of Cambrian explosion. A season of TV used to be a pretty standard thing, right? But consider the “seasons” of shows like
Whereas a book mainly just… arrives. Thud. If it’s part of a series, there’s another one in a year or two or six. Thud.
But here’s a sign that this Cambrian explosion may yet reach into print.
As I mentioned up above, Annihilation is the first book in a trilogy. The second, Authority, will be released… in a few months’ time. These are all full-length novels. The third, Acceptance, arrives this fall.
That’s crazy! When has a trilogy ever been released rapid-fire in the space of a single calendar year? It’s a schedule that feels, to me, more like TV than publishing. I hope it succeeds, because I’d love to see more innovation along these lines. These days, the rhythm of a story’s release is part of the package.
Anyway, I’m hugely excited about The Southern Reach, and I’m hungry for more like it: more publishing projects that innovate not just on the level of scenes and sentences, but also genre and packaging and timing, all of it, everything. We can’t only recombine. We need to shuffle new ideas into the deck, too. Annihilation, the booster pack, is out this week.
From M. John Harrison:
A Happy Christmas to everyone else, the best possible Christmas to the fucked up and the nearly done, all the deadbeats and ne’er-do-wells, the metaphysicians, atheists and losers, all the so-called scroungers, all those not in receipt of a Royal pardon, all the thoughtful, intelligent and above all decent people who believe there is such a thing as a society, the readers and the writers, students and philosophers, and — especially — a big shout out to the 32,000 people in the UK who didn’t receive their benefits on Christmas Eve due to “administrative error”.
Over here, we have Calexico’s Green Grows the Holly on repeat. Merry Christmas!
This short post is about starting areas in MMOs. When you create a new character in, say, World of Warcraft, where do you begin? How much of the world is available to you, and how soon?
Here’s the author Keen’s ideal starting situation — one that apparently goes against the grain of modern MMO design:
Players start hours apart, and in areas of the world so different from each other that the social mechanisms are different. I remember seeing people say, “We do things differently in this part of the world.” Someone hunting in Crushbone might be used to players behaving differently than those in Blackburrow. Even the experiences are totally unique; players on one side of the world might have a dungeon crawl deep into the depths of a vast cavern network, and players on the other side fight camps of orcs in a forest. The unique experience matters because people can swap stories.
Because people can swap stories! That’s so great, and so important. I don’t know exactly how this applies to domains beyond MMOs, but I’m quite sure that it does.
In a months-ago message to my email list, I shared a handful recommendations for other lists; one of them was Craig Mod’s Roden Explorers Club. It has about the same pace as mine — it might even be slower — so there haven’t been any dispatches since that recommendation… or there hadn’t, until today. And now, I feel like I want to send a one-word message to my list: SEE??
It’s just a wonderful piece of writing to find waiting in your inbox. I wish I could link to it, and at the same time, I’m glad I can’t. Email has different physics, and accordingly, our relationship to it is different — less performative, I think. (Present post is obviously an exception.) I know some people are professing email newsletter fatigue these days, but I think that’s driven by the weekly blast format, the oh-great-one-more-thing-to-read format. But many lists have a pace more seasonal, possibly celestial, and for me, their pleasures are comparable: a voice reappearing like a bird, blooming like a tree.
But you gotta be around to see them bloom.
P.S. Don’t forget, my list is a beautiful seasonal organism, too!
Oh yes. Of course.
Link via Waxy, just like the good ol’ days!
This could hardly be better: simple evidence of brains at work, and muscles too; tiny collections assembled and abandoned. A photographer haunts a university library; he spots and captures stacks of books.
The photographer writes of his first encounter with a noteworthy stack:
However, by dint of the peculiar juxtaposition, it seemed as though I happened upon the mineral tailings and spent fissile materials of a speculative research project born a few hours prior.
It’s totally enjoyable to click through the images, remembering that each one represents a real person’s migration through physical space; I think the wacky juxtapositions are therefore interesting — and occasionally melancholy? — in a way that, say, browser histories are not.
I only wish you could link to individual images!
Via Alexis Madrigal’s 5 Intriguing Things.
This 3D-printed “room” — really more of an architectural sculpture, as you’ll see — was designed by Michael Hansmeyer and Benjamin Dillenburger. They call it a (the?) Digital Grotesque, and in its totality, it’s pretty astounding –
– but it was the close-ups, in the video, of the object’s various twisting crenelated modules that made my jaw drop. Beautiful.