Scoop! Jeff VanderMeer Tells All

i have not been completely honest. this blog was more than simply an experiment inspired by Jeff VanderMeer's Shriek: An Afterword...it was also an attempt to insert myself, to participate in the--dialogue?--between Janice and Duncan Shriek. reading the book, i couldn't help the feeling that i was simply another layer to the book's reality...that we are all just layers of Ambergris...

i never imagined just how close i was to the mark, just how far it would go.

it's out of my hands.

prepare yourself. neither Jeff and i can emphasize enough just how important that is...

1. Why should a reader pick up your book as opposed to, say, just about anything else?

Because these are survival guides. As the wall between Ambergris and the "real" world becomes ever more tenuous, many millions of people will eventually find themselves actually in Ambergris. That this will cause a real refugee problem for Ambergris' gray cap overlords is secondary to the fact that those people who have not read the books will be much more disoriented and disinclined to survival than those who have read the books. I have waited until now to reveal this deeper purpose in writing the books to avoid being called a crackpot, but since this has been occurring recently in certain quarters anyway, I thought it best to drop the charade, kick over the facade, and just say what's really on my mind.

2. If an autographed and vacuum-sealed copy of your book had been pinned in place of the Vitruvian Man on the Voyager space probe's paneling, what sort of message would we be sending extraterrestrial intelligences about the human race? What action, if any, might they take in response?

What you have to understand is that the entire space program is an elaborate PR hoax perpetrated upon the world's public to distract them from urgent Earth-based problems of lack of resources, overpopulation, and global warming. We are made to feel as if there is some "out there" to which we might eventually travel if conditions on our planet become too difficult. Or, we are given the feeling that there are peoples out there--aliens if you will--who might come rescue us or in some way change our lot on this planet.

Unfortunately, the truth is that a vast black barrier surrounds the Earth at approximately 100,000 miles beyond the Earth's atmosphere. The sun, the moon, and the stars all occur before or at this barrier, much as if a scale model of a solar system (and galaxy) had been built around us. The truth is, the sun does not heat the Earth. Nor does the Moon cause the tides. It is all an artificial construct and the scientists in the know have no clue as to who or what created us or why we are stuck behind this barrier. It's too frightening to think about, and that, again, is why we have all of these distractions, like the so-called space program. Which is more of an inner-space program.

3. What impact might your book have on a preindustrial civilization?

We will probably find out in about 50 to 70 years as global warming continues, as part of some experiment our unknown overlords have in mind, to devastate the planet. I would imagine Ambergris will become very escapist literature by then. But then, when the wall between Ambergris and Earth falls completely apart in about 100 years, it will become full-on survival guide material again. I don't really know if Ambergris will trickle out into this world or if our world will just be devoured whole. No one can really predict these things, or what the fault lines might be. All we can do is prepare for the crash, really. And try, in the meantime, to find moments of small beauty in our lives.

4. Sesame Street and the Muppets can be pretty wonderfully fucked in the head at times. Did they have any role at all to play in the development of your fiction?

The subliminal messages projected out into the unsuspecting populace by both Sesame Street and the Muppets are rather dreadfully "fucked in the head" as you put it. These subliminal messages reinforce the lies about our so-called space program, reinforce the "science" that we are told to believe in even though it is false, and try to relax us into not thinking about the black barrier 100,000 miles out in space. So my "fiction" is actually a reaction against such shows, inasmuch as it acknowledges them at all.

5. What effect might your book have on muppets? Which muppet is best suited, tempermentally, psychologically, physically, to reading your book out loud to children? Would you consider a muppet-read audio book for children?

Given that muppets are viral carriers of subliminal messages, I suppose the muppets would begin to subliminally imprint the reality of Ambergris on the unsuspecting populace. Which would be a good thing for when the wall finally comes down.

Audio is so last-year. But mostly I would not trust the muppets not to be releasing viral subliminal messages contradicting my own core message: that the boundaries between our so-called consensus reality and Ambergrisian subjectivity are disintegrating. That we need to be prepared for the moment when our consensus reality implodes into a fine mist of spores and we find ourselves in a land where everyone is their own world, their own reality...and most likely carted off to a gray cap detainee camp. This is the message I will be taking on my book tour, as well. It's what I'm devoting an entire documentary to, because it's the most important thing in the world right now. Whether anyone else sees that or not.

6. You mentioned Nabokov in your Bat Segundo interview; who else might we find wandering through the pages of your book (apart from the characters and other people actually mentioned in the story, of course)?

Most of my characters are based on Disney or Warner Bros. propaganda tools such as Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny. The subliminal text of these propaganda tools is to reinforce the lies about the space program and our Earth's relation to the Sun, etc. I try instead to divert these archetypes to warn people about the divide between Ambergris and Earth falling apart, but I've only been partially successful. The problem is I'm only one person and I don't write that fast. The other side has hundreds of thousands of people working for it at secret locations all over the world.

Most of my stories about Ambergris are fictions using a real setting. Not many people understand that. So except for the people mentioned in The Early History of Ambergris and the entire manuscript of Shriek: An Afterword, you won't find many of those characters when you go to Ambergris. The writer allusions I make are simply to emphasize the fact that echoes of the real world already exist in Ambergris--and these echoes will become more and more prominent as, and it becomes tiresome to have to emphasize this, the divide between our world and theirs weakens.

It is perhaps now time to reveal that I stole Janice Shriek's manuscript off of her desk in the tavern the Spore of the Gray Cap and that the only part of it I really wrote was Sirin's supposed brief afterword at the end. So as far as I know, Shriek: An Afterword represents the only truly true account of Ambergris in any of my books. Early History is close, but I had to embellish it for literary reasons.

7. Have you ever been surprised to find yourself similarly wandering through the pages of someone else's story? If so, in what books, other than your own, to your knowledge, might we find you? If not, what or whose books would you like to be seen in?

Ambergris spreads like a virus. You find it mentioned in history books where ancient historians think they're describing Earth history but they've transposed little leaps of...I don't know what you'd call it? memory? matter?...Ambergris into their story. You also find it in many fictions, which is why novels and stories predating my Ambergris stories actually echo the Ambergris stories. I get exasperated sometimes when people talk about Nabokov, M. John Harrison, the Decadents, and Angela Carter being my "influences". The fact is, I got it right from the source, and I didn't distort the setting or rename it or anything like that--the way many of the others did.

As for what books I would like Ambergris to be in: as many as possible. At first I wasn't sure if I shouldn't in fact disguise the name and some of the facts, like the others had. But over time I've come to see that naming it correctly was very important. Because it does create a ripple effect. Many authors just coming on the scene today have absorbed a piece of Ambergris and allowed it to come out through their pores, into their fiction. And thus the process continues. I think this is the only way we will help prepare and save the human race when the time comes.

8. What has Ambergris got to do with Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius?

Well, again, these are all secondary or tertiary echoes. Poor old bastard Borges was afraid of seeing it properly. It was Ambergris that destroyed his external vision, but he still had his internal vision, so he could never really escape it. All of his work is about attempting to escape from that imagery, from the glimpse he had, looking into a still pool of water in a Buenos Aires courtyard, of Ambergris. It's in his journals if you know how to read them—that moment of clarity when the waters revealed to him the truth of the world. And ever since then he was infected, and became an infecting agent, no matter how he fought against it. It's nothing he could do anything about, except write. He thought he'd write the spores out of him without actually facing the subject head-on. But he was wrong. It wouldn't come out. It was inside of his skin, controlling him, so no matter how he fought it, a little bit of it would leak into the writing. He was strong, but not that strong.

There's not much more that can be said.

10. What the hell were you thinking?

A bit accusatory toward the victim, don't you think? I didn't ask for this. I didn't ask to be shown any of this. Can you imagine what it's like for a child to have this separate world open up around him, to be trapped there for three or even four hours? Except it was longer than that. I've mentioned in interviews that I was lost as a child in Rome for that amount of time, but I've never said where I was during that time. I roamed the streets of Ambergris for two days, and I was never the same. I couldn't go back to being a child after what I saw. All I could do is what Borges did--try to write it out of me. And like Borges, although without his talent, I couldn't face it head-on at first. I wrote "fantastical" fiction, yes, but not about Ambergris. It wasn't until my mid-20s that I found the courage, and only because I had to find some way to write the nightmares out of my brain or I would have gone insane.

So it's always been ironic to me that Ambergris has been the most successful of my creations, and a damnation at the same time, because it's not really my imagination at work. I'm more like a reporter who embellishes. I can't really describe how that feels. Basically, I'm a fake. A forger. An impersonator. And I comfort myself with the thought that, at base, I'm helping people. Come to an acceptance of what's going to happen in the next hundred years. And that helps. Sometimes.

9. What has any of this got to do with squid? Am I wrong in thinking that finding the connection between the squid, the spore and the gray caps is just as vital to our survival as everything else you've said?

The squid are just a social intercourse lubricant, so to speak. They're the sugar that makes the bitter medicine go down sweet, so you don't notice it. The fact is, there are giant freshwater squid in the River Moth, but they're not intelligent and they don't come out onto the land. Any agenda they have is locked away in their squeamous, soft-palate brains. They're vital as a source of meat and byproducts, but I don't believe they otherwise have any importance with regard to the gray caps. I could be wrong, of course. I've only visited Ambergris six or seven times, and on each occurrence it was only for a few hours.

10. Should we expect more from you about Ambergris? or have you exorcised those demons from yourself? will we, in fact, see Zamilon File or whatever's next come to light in the future?

How can you exorcise demons that are literal rather than figurative? How can you put aside a real place that you've visited? Especially given the context of anyone you tell thinking you're a complete crackpot. Zamilon File is a tricky thing because I have to use the gates. And the gates are unpredictable. To gather everything I need to gather for that, in terms of documents. Who knows? Maybe I'll wind up fabricating part of it? Which would defeat the purpose, but I'm not always a brave man. At the same time, I'll be the only cross-Echo whistle-blower in existence if I manage to pull it off. There may be a black barrier over our heads, but there's none between all of these Echoes. It's just tough to see them—see them at the right angles. Otherwise, it just looks like glints of sunlight. Specks of metal rust. A mote in the corner of your eye. See? I'm reduced to cliché when it comes to even beginning to speak of it…You don't understand a word I'm saying, do you?

11. To end on a personal note, I'd like to let you know that reading "King Squid" in City of Saints & Madmen made my life a lot more bearable. To know that other people also have this squidanthropy affliction has made me feel much less alone. And I've even thought of showing my friends all of the squid costumes I've knitted for myself over the years.

You know, I have answered your questions with a candor and openness that I have never shown in any other interview. All I ask in return is that you keep your filthy hobbies to yourself.

My apologies. What choice do I have but to be what I am? Would you deny the King his due? I'd thought you of all people would understand...was I wrong? For your sake, I hope not.

Do not underestimate the Squid.

thanks, Jeff, for indulging a nameless hack. and for letting us know the truth, as you have come to know it, behind it all...


Jen said...

This was brilliant :S

skinnyblackcladdink said...

why thank you. i do me best.

oh, sorry you meant Jeff. yes, it all seems to come naturally to him.

channeling the spores, i mean.