Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Southern Reach

I'd long been aware of the writing of Jeff Vandermeer, but had always avoided it, having somehow gained the impression that it was going to be irritatingly wacky in a "Gosh, I'm Just So Crazy" way. That his own publishing company is called Cheeky Frawg didn't help matters.

But I was intrigued by the pre-publication blurbs for his Annihilation, the first book in a trilogy about a weird, possibly alien-infected, zone of danger and peculiarity and the people attempting to get to grips with it: a development of the ideas from the classic Strugatsky brothers' novel Roadside Picnic (filmed as Stalker). That all three books in the trilogy were already written and being released over a period of only nine months helped--no waiting around for years to read the end of the story, with the added worry of the author dropping dead before they finished writing it.

Annihilation was in fact very good indeed, and now I'm reading the newly released second book, Authority (the final volume comes out in September), which may be even better. I seem to have sorely misjudged Vandermeer, and I apologise.

it doesn't hurt that all three books, published by FSG in the US, have beautiful  cover designs by Charlotte Strick, making use of unsettling illustrations by Eric Nyquist. The line art is printed with metallic ink, which is very effective in the flesh. (Click all images for bigger versions.)

Nyquist is also responsible for the end papers to each volume, picturing the lush and weirdly wrong wildlife of Area X.

Nyquist has even animated the three covers for added freakiness.


The books are published in the UK by Fourth Estate, and have the misfortune to have perfectly good cover designs that are kicked completely into the shade by Nyquist and Strick's work.


kshomer said...

Annihilation is definitely VanderMeer's best, most mature work. (I just got a copy of Authority yesterday.) If you go digging in the back catalogue, you'll find it's very uneven. I think he might finally have found an editor at FSG that brings out the best in him. Sections of City of Saints and Madmen are brilliant, and just as many are frustrating. Everything about Annihilation seemed like a breakthrough to me. I loved it.

As for covers, City of Saints and Madmen has been through a ton of editions (VanderMeer seems to be constantly adding stories to it). My favorite is an early edition that has an entire short story on the dust jacket itself. Link:

His worst cover was Shriek: a green-tinged photo of a typewriter with some mushrooms sprinkled on top. No.

JRSM said...

Thank you for that info. Authority, I'm pleased to report, was excellent, and sets up things very nicely for the third book--and I'm even more glad that's coming out SOON. That Shriek cover is woeful! But the entire story on the cover of City is a great idea.

Anonymous said...

The covers are wonderful, but I seem to recall reading something by Vandemeer and being less than impressed.

Still.....nice covers.....

redcelia said...

The US covers are quite nice, but the ones for the Uk are simply beautiful. The hardback editions have a slight irridescence and a sheen to them that is just gorgeous. Also the new UK editions of the City of Saint etc are rather special if you see them on the shelf, although they don't look as great on a computer screen.

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