Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Terrifying Dream That Inspired Jeff VanderMeer’s New Novel

by Geek's Guide To The Galaxy)

Illustration: Eric Nyquist

eff VanderMeer knows weirdness. His 2009 novel Finch is a detective story set in a city ruled by evil mushroom-men, and along with his wife Ann he edited the 2012 anthology The Weird, a massive book that catalogs a century’s worth of peculiar fiction. As you might imagine, spending all that time exploring weirdness can lead to some pretty strange dreams, like the one that inspired his latest novel, Annihilation. VanderMeer dreamed he was descending into a subterranean tower, following along behind a monster that was writing eerie sermons on the wall in bioluminescent fungus. He used the monster’s words in his novel.

“The creepiest thing for me is that those words were actually in my head after the dream,” says Jeff VanderMeer in Episode 103 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “And they have not changed since that point. I have been kind of superstitious about editing them.”

Annihilation is the first book in the Southern Reach trilogy, which concerns the troubled attempts of a secret government agency to unravel the mysteries of Area X, a stretch of coastline that’s been invaded by some inscrutable otherworldly power. All three books will be released this year, and film rights to the series have already been sold to Paramount Pictures. Fans of the uncanny are sure to find plenty to like here. Not only was the series inspired by a strange dream, but the entire first novel was written while VanderMeer was sick with bronchitis. He says there are stretches of the book he definitely doesn’t remember writing. Fortunately he was very pleased with most of it.

“And then every once in a while I’d be like, ‘I wrote that and that definitely doesn’t belong,’” says VanderMeer. “‘That was bad, whoever the other person was who came to my computer and wrote that.’”

Listen to our complete interview with Jeff VanderMeer in Episode 103 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). Then stick around after the interview as guest geeks Eric Smith, Bones Rodriguez, and Marjorie Liu join host David Barr Kirtley for a special Valentine’s Day discussion on dating for geeks.

Jeff VanderMeer on confronting a wild boar:

“It charged us from a very long way away … I was out there with a guy who had told me he was ex-military, and so we’re standing there with a godawfully long time to think about what we were going to do about this boar charging, which is not something I would have expected if you’d told me I was going to be charged by a boar. So I took out my little gutting knife, which is very useful if you want to stab something that’s already gored you, and my friend had his walking stick, which he was twirling around like nunchucks, which was not inspiring any confidence in me whatsoever, and we just had this very casual conversation — because we couldn’t really run, because there was water to both sides — about this thing that was the size of a large German Shepherd that was charging toward us. We finally got to a point where I said, ‘Um, have you ever been in this situation before?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ And I said, ‘Well, what did you do about it?’ And he said, ‘Well, I was in a tank at the time.’ And I said, ‘Well, that helps not at all.’”

Jeff VanderMeer on dysfunctional workplaces:

“Over the last thirty years the Southern Reach, this secret government agency, has been sending in expeditions with varying degrees of success, trying to figure out what’s going on. And as you find out in Book 2, this has had really interesting effects on the secret agency itself, because if you can imagine [an organization] that — even with turnover in personnel and whatnot — has tried for thirty years unsuccessfully to solve a problem, you’re going to have some devolution of command and control going on … Toxic work environments are incredibly stressful, and I think the more we learn about stress and how it affects the body, the more [we see] that those psychological things and even slightly dysfunctional workplaces are really affecting people’s health, and are much more dangerous than we think about, so that’s just kind of amplified in a way in Authority.”

Marjorie Liu on meeting dates at book events:

“My partner originally introduced himself via email … and this was his pickup — the most successful pickup ever — was the fact that he agreed to meet me at the Romance Writers of America convention … He picked a place that’s my home base, a place where I was comfortable, and it was absolutely fantastic. And I think if part of your geek orientation is books, book events are amazing places. There’s plenty of room to have a conversation while waiting in line to have a book signed … You never know who you’re going to encounter. I know people who look like total squares, but push a button and they can talk to you in Klingon and Elvish, and you would never know that.”

Bones Rodriguez on why Captain Kirk is no womanizer:

“He just loves life, and if you watch the show with that in mind it’s different than the stereotype that we know. He definitely uses sexuality to get out of jail a number of times, but generally speaking he always fell in love. And there were a few times that he absolutely, absolutely fell head over heels … I don’t think anybody that was left in the five years was mad at him. In fact, he even got used once. He got used for his diseases. In one of the episodes a woman sleeps with him just because her planet doesn’t have any diseases, so they’re overpopulated, so she sleeps with him just to get a disease from him.”

Eric Smith on his personal essay “Master Grief”:

“Back in 2011 I thought I was going to get engaged, I thought I had met the one, and I didn’t, and I ended up selling the engagement ring that I’d purchased and using that money to purchase a set of Master Chief armor from the video game Halo, as one does. And I felt like each piece I bought I got a piece of myself back, and it was just a really great, cathartic experience … And [my new fiancee] likes the armor. It’s great. When I realized she was the one, that I was going to marry her, was when she bought me a mannequin to put the armor on and display it in my apartment.”

Episode 103: Jeff VanderMeer

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The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy is a science fiction/fantasy talk show podcast hosted by John Joseph Adams and David Barr Kirtley. Adams is publisher and editor of Lightspeed Magazine. Kirtley is a fiction writer who teaches at the Alpha science fiction workshop.

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