city-of-saints-and-madmen

Prior to this month’s BOTMC selection, my exposure to the literary genre known as New Weird was limited to the works of China Mieville (The Scar being a personal “If I Was To Be Stranded On A Deserted Island And Could Only Bring 25 Books With Me This Is One of the Books I’d Choose“ favorite). While I knew that author Jeff Vandermeer was a pioneer of the avant-garde movement, I’d never had occasion to read any of his work. Until City of Saints and Madmen, a book that, while apparently a fine example of “New Weird”, is, in my mind, an equally fine example of the more traditional definition of the word: weird. And wickedly so.

The City of Saints and Madmen is a collection of short stories, research papers, and historical studies with a common thread: the fantastical city of Ambergris, a magical and mercurial metropolis part Lankhmar, part New Crobuzon, and a whole lot Arkham. It’s a place as corrupt and decadent as some of its curious inhabitants – an obsessed squidanthropist, a mad artist, a scheming dwarf with a map of the world tattooed on his head – who casually go about their business as ancient mysteries stalk the streets and political factions wage open battle against a Rabelasian backdrop rife with love and death in all its forms. It’s Edward Gorey meets H.P. Lovecraft in a Byzantine bazaar.

Author Vandermeer has created a brilliant work of postmodern fantasy in which the different layers of an elaborate narrative tapestry weave in and out of each work, shedding light on future entries, shaping past ones. Puzzles are presented, hints dropped, clues concealed within the text. This is textured, sophisticated storytelling that makes demands of the reader. And those willing to invest the time and the patience will be rewarded with a book that is clever, humorous, and fiercely unique.

The first story, “Dradin in Love”, is the tale of a lovestruck missionary who enlists the help of a suspicious-looking dwarf as matchmaker. Ultimately, he ends up with much more – and much less – than he expected. It sets an ominous tone of what’s to come.

The following entry, ‘The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris”, was, for me, the highlight of this collection – a historical study of the city of Abergris. The dark history of Abergris is fascinating in itself, but the footnotes that accompany the accounts of mushroom people, mass disappearances, and wholesale slaughter offer up some amusing insights into not only the historian himself, but history in general and its intrinsically variable nature. In fact, this idea of the pliability of textual evidence as influenced by the unreliable narrator is something Vandermeer plays without throughout The City of Saints and Madmen, presenting a shifting narrative open to interpretation, misinterpretation, and reinterpretation. In “King Squid”, the enormous glossary that concludes the study in itself presents a telling backstory while the “Strange Case of X” blurs the line between fiction and reality, bringing the reader along for the ride. Hell, even the About the Author bio that caps the book can’t be taken at face value, to say nothing of the Note On Fonts sectionthat offers such gems as:

“Caslon Old Face, used for the body text of “The Book of Ambergris” is artfully structured, with classic textures and aromas. Redolent of fine leather, sandalwood, and cinnamon, Caslon is dry yet velvety, its gossamer qualities offset by enough backbone to satisfy even aficionados of such terse fonts as Nicean Monk Face and Cinsorium Ironic.”

AND

“The font Dr. V uses for his correspondence is known as “Mother’s Typewriter” because it is indeed generated on his mother’s typewriters…”.

The collection shifts effortlessly from humor to horror, licentiousness to inventiveness, often within the individual entries themselves. And, above all else, there’s a caginess in the storytelling that engages the reader beyond the typically passive act of reading.

Moody and melancholy, delusory and deep, City of Saints and Madmen is, without a doubt, one of those 25 books I’d be bringing with me if I was to be stranded on a deserted island.

What did everyone else think? Loved it? Hated it? What were your thoughts on the other stories that made up the collection? Weigh in with your comments, and post your questions for author Jeff Vandermeer.

So what, many of you have been asking, IS happening with the SG-1 and SGA movies? Well, at last report, Carl was about 20 pages away from a first pass of the script which will then find it’s way onto Brad’s laptop where he will do his pass. The Atlantis movie is still an outline but Paul and I will be starting work on the script in the coming weeks and hope to have it completed by April. An official production start date for either movie has yet to be announced. More detailed discussions on both movies will be taking place in the coming weeks and, hopefully, I’ll have more definitive news for you then regarding everything from actor participation to a preliminary schedule.

Mailbag:

Shirt ’n Tie writes: “Any bites from the LA Pilot Season trip last year??”

Answer: Alas, no. But looks like we’ll be heading south for another round of feature talks before long.

Theparanoidone writes: “ I am a UK actress (24yrs) currently without representation, how would I get my info on the SG table?”

Answer: The truth is we rarely consider overseas actors unless: a) they are well-established, or b) we are looking for a series regular. When all is said and done, if we have to go outside Vancouver for talent, we look to the very deep pool in L.A. which, quite frankly, is considerably closer and wouldn’t incur the same travel costs as Europe. Sorry about that.

Fargate One writes: “I am still alive and happy to be. Last Thuesday Jan the 24th my heart stopped because of electric mal function ( syncopes in french) While at the emergency in the hospital my heart stopped for more than 15 seconds. Now I lived with a pacemaker!”

Answer: Scary. I’m glad to hear you’re doing alright now.

Platschu writes: “When can we hear some news about the female cast of SG:U?

How many female character will be in the crew of Destiny?

Do you have an exact number of the complete Destiny crew or will you introduce new, ealier unseen people as the story needs them?

When can we expect some official team and set photos?

Did you plan the fate of the main and secondary characters for seasons ahead? Is there any chance to have a flash-forward type episode?

Will every gate system have an own chevron color? Will you keep the old gate size and form? Some fans worried about this after the short teaser trailer.

How long will the team stay in the same galaxy? I ask this, because if they fly only through them, than how will you introduce recurring enemies and allies? Will they follow them through the gate system or by ships?

Will you tell us some new episode names?

Sanctuary season 2 will begin October 9th, than Universe’s double premiere will be aired on October 2th?

Is there any chance that Kari Wuhrer (Nancy Sheppard) will be in SG:U? Maybe the role of Camilla Wray could be re-written to her.

Can you name some popular non-SG actor, who will be guest star for season 1?”

Answers: An official announcement on the female cast will be made whenever we’ve finished casting the roles. It’s hard to say how many female characters will make up part of the crew. We don’t have an exact number of the complete Destiny crew and prefer it to be vague at this point. No idea on the release of official team or set photos. We have a pretty good idea of where we’ll be going with the main characters and a few of our secondaries, but a lot will depend on how things come together onscreen. No plans for a flash-forward type of episode. No official gate info at this point. With regard to ship travel, we’ve discussed the possibility that each season would take place over the course of a voyage through a different galaxy. No new episode names for now. No idea when SciFi plans to air the premiere. As much as we love Kari, there are presently no plans to include her (or any Atlantis characters) in SGU. At this point, it’s too early to be announcing guest stars.

 

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Jinx

Ok, ok…I’ll pick up this book! I looked at it online & didn’t think it would really capture my interest. Your critique piqued it enough for me to run out on my non-existent lunch hour tomorrow & get lost in a bookstore.

I’m still waiting for the ice cream flavors….. *poke* smile

Platschu

Thank you very much for answering my questions.

Narelle from Aus

Hmmm, book sounds interesting. Love the Note on Fonts. I have a stationery issue which also incorporates a font problem too. It’s like an OCD.

With the anthology you are contributing your short story to, do you know/can you divulge what other author’s will be joining you?

Narelle from Aus

I also have a misplaced apostrophe problem.

Now that I think about it, the list is endless.

Fathercrow
Fathercrow

I humbly suggest that you insert some nifty discourse concerning branes and m-theory when characters are discussing the new ships drive systems. Maybe brane cosmology and 5-dimensional warped geometry theory could play a part in the working of the drive. Just a thought….

Linda Gagne
Linda Gagne

Thank you for your SGA update, there are a lot of nervous people out there (me being one) that think it was all to shut us up and watch SGU which will work for some not all. I am putting my faith in you which is something I don’t do to people often.

PoorOldEdgarDerby
PoorOldEdgarDerby

Last three stores I went to didn’t have it in stock. Good for Mr. VanderMeer but I’m worrying I won’t get it purchased, let alone read, in time.

This snot-nosed brat eyeballed me, too. My damned business if I feel like getting lost in Austen.

lcshepp
lcshepp

I sincerely hope that the one SGA movie takes precedent over the third SG1 movie.

Sparrow_hawk

City of Saints and Madmen is without a doubt the strangest book I have read in a very long time and may well be the strangest I have read to date. It is not a book to be undertaken lightly. I think Michael Moorcock’s introduction sums up the proper approach to the book: “… we should admire the rare texture of the writing, the engaging vividness of his description and the quirks of his idiosyncratic mind which conducts its network of realities with celebratory panache.” While can’t say I always found the book fun to read, it was certainly never dull. Stylistically, it is simply amazing. Jeff VanderMeer varies his writing style dramatically as the “authorship” of each section changes and even changes typefaces to enhance the effect (the description of the various typefaces at the end was very amusing). And now a word or two about the stories: I did not get off good start with this particular book. After reading the extremely dark, violent and depressing “Dradin, In Love” I was a heartbeat away from tossing the book into the reject pile; not the stack of books destined to be passed along to a friend, but the ones doomed to go to the next charity who called looking for donations. But the next story, a pamphlet entitled “The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of the City of Ambergris”, complete with footnotes (which are the highlight of this section of the book) exhibiting a pleasantly dry wit, redeemed the book and kept me reading. “The Transformation of Martin Lake” was a strange and wonderful story of an artist and may be my favorite. One thing in its favor is the fact that it did not obsess about either squid or fungus; and I liked the depiction of the Martin Lake and his mystical, hallucinatory transformation. “The Strange Case of X” was interesting, but became even more so after I read the appendiX and its additionally appended story “The Release of Belaqua” wherein the other shoe dropped. “King Squid” returned, as you might guess, to the squid obsession with a vengeance; but I liked the way the writer’s descent into madness played out in the references that followed the body of the treatise. I loved the descriptions of squid making sport of unsuspecting land dwellers by shooting jets of water them and the squid walking around with water-filled helmets on their heads. After I had been lulled by the charming and nostalgic narration of “The Hoegbotton Family History” the saga of the Hoegbotton family continued on a more personal level in “The Cage”, another grim and disturbing tale with enough slime and fungus to make me want to go take a nice, long, hot shower after reading it; but it did have a strangely satisfying and almost uplifting ending. I liked the way the stories/treatises/local guides/etc were linked by internal cross references and I must admit that I have never found footnotes and references and glossaries so much fun… Read more »

Sparrow_hawk

Damn, that post was long! Sorry about that, Joe. I did trim it. Honest.

Shawna
Shawna

How is it I managed to go through nearly five years of college to get a Literature degree and yet have before never heard of an entire genre of fiction? I think I should e-mail my university and complain.

Namiko
Namiko

Ugh, I think you also hooked me with this “New Weird” genre and review of the book. Amazon, here I come…

On the SGU front, I know you don’t have a complete cast finalized yet, but is the Destiny’s crew more like SG-1 (in that you heard very little accents) or more like SGA, with its international flavor? Is Robert Carlyle going with his natural speaking accent, or will he use a different one?

Delynn

Sounds like Destiny’s crew is going to have the LOST problem: you only have a limited number of survivors, so how do you (if ever) introduce new characters? There was a bit of an uproar when new characters were introduced on LOST (Nikki and Paolo; Ernst) so much so that the characters had to be killed off! Here’s hoping that y’all can find legitimate ways to introduce people as the need arises!!!

sorrykb
sorrykb

Hi. I’ve haven’t yet read “City of Saints and Madmen” (It’s on hold from the local library. The likelihood of losing my job in the next couple of months has led me to cut back on actually purchasing books. eek), but in response to dyginc’s question yesterday about things to do in Vancouver.

I’m not a local but do manage to get up to Vancouver for a few weeks every year. Here’s a few suggestions:
– Take some time to explore downtown, and while you’re there walk along the seawall and explore Stanley Park.
– The Museum of Anthropology at UBC ( http://www.moa.ubc.ca ) is worth checking out. Sadly, it appears to be closed through early March. Oh well. But… if you’re heading out towards UBC and if you and your sister are SERIOUSLY geeky (I am), take a tour of TRIUMF (Canada’s national nuclear and particle physics lab http://www.triumf.info ). 2-hour guided tours are free and open to everyone. Giant walls of blinky light units, massive magnets, control rooms with big red buttons. Who could ask for more. smile
– Hop a ferry somewhere, maybe to Bowen Island, and explore a bit. You might also want to go over to Vancouver Island, but I actually find Victoria a bit boring.
– If you’ll have a car (or a full day to deal with public transportation) take a side trip to Steveston in Richmond. Touristy, yes, but you can stroll the docks, pick out your own fish, and get good fish and chips at Dave’s.
– North Vancouver has some good sights — Grouse Mountain skyride is expensive and can be crowded, but IF it’s a clear day there are some nice views from the top.
– If you ski or snowboard (I don’t), there are opportunities.
– Finally, grab a good local guidebook (I’m partial to Lonely Planet, but that’s me.) and read up in advance so you’ll have a few ideas before you arrive.

Enjoy your trip! Oh, and bring a raincoat.
– KB

P.S. Bridge Studios are on Boundary Road right at the border of Vancouver and Burnaby, south of Lougheed Highway. If you’re taking public transportation Gilmore Skytrain station is closest.

crayonbaby
crayonbaby

I have a quick question, if you have time.

You were talking about an outline for the SGA movie. Did Paul and you write the storyline or was it handed to you and you both ran with it? It’ll be fun to watch no matter what!

dasNdanger
dasNdanger

Ya know – just because I have to share…

If you think I was only afraid of real spiders, think again. My husband’s underwear just scared the crap out of me…

I opened the bathroom closet door, and all I saw was a decapitated Spider-Man head wrapped in a t-shirt. I yelped. razz

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das

susan the tartan turtle

I saw Haggis Pizza in the local shop today – next door to that you can get a deep fried pizza from the fish and chip shop.

I don’t fancy either of them – yuck!

firespy
firespy

sorrykb–thanks for the recommendations as well as directions to the studio…in all honesty i would love to hit every spot that BSG, 4400, SG1, SGA hit…they all seemed to use the same places a lot. Would not mind running into the Supernatural cast either. That would be the ubergeek in me. I am counting the days until vaca!

fsmn36
fsmn36

Platschu writes: Some fans worried about this after the short teaser trailer.>

What teaser trailer?!?!

Anywho. Regarding the book, I’d hoped to get it read, but haven’t yet. Alas. It sounds interesting; I will definitely get to it soon. Ish.

Sorry to hear about the no response on the pilots. But good luck on the next round! You’ll have to keep us updated again.

belouchi
belouchi

Dear Joe,

Do you know when Paul is gonna enlighten us about the ZPM situation for SGA? More specifically, whether or not the Area 51 ZPM was destroyed or not and whether or not we will ever see the Tria and the Dagan Potentia in the Movie Project twilight.

Thank you

By the way do you any good restaurants to try out in the Boston Area… I’m heading to see a friend this weekend and I was wondering where is a very nice place to have him invite me smile

kanadra

I was just wondering if you get your books at a book store you can trade them in for new books etc. or do you use a library.How many books do you read a year? Once you read a book do you keep it?

How do you pick the books you read, by author, title, word of mouth?

Just wondering…

Shirt'n'Tie
Shirt'n'Tie

Hi again Mr M!!

Thanks for the mailbag. Another trip to LA LA land eh? Don’t forget your sunglasses this time!!

Glad to hear all well. Thanks for the info re: SGU.

Didn’t have time to read City of Saints and Madmen. I usually just pick one book from the selection, it’s as much as I can cram in. Am currently trying to finish up another book for another book club (all general fiction).

Re: Pics of books : Glad to see you have Flann O Brien (Myles na gCopaleen!) The Third Policeman is a riot!! Very good!!

Silly Question Alert: What happened to AU Shepp’s car from Vegas? As you might guess, we don’t get to see a lot of American Muscle cars here in Ireland, and between The Rockford Files and Knight Rider, the old Pontiac Firebird was a favourite!! Just curious to know what happened to it? I know you guys try to re-use stuff, so I’m betting it may appear in the SGA movie.

Thanks again for the mailbag

Best to all

Shirt’n’Tie

Arctic Goddess

Hi Joe:

There is a rumor afloat that Dr. Jackson himself, Michael Shanks will be guest staring in the opening episodes of Star Gate Universe. Is this true?

Patricia (AG)

Rose (formerly OhioAnne)
Rose (formerly OhioAnne)

The mailbag prompted another question:

Have you ever switched a gender on a planned character? Because of an outstanding actor/actress that you thought could do the character more justice? Just to shake up things? (For example, like Starbuck being a female in the later version of BSG when he was a “he” originally.)? Or for any other reason?

Hayloh
Hayloh

Did you just say Edward Gorey? (interest is piqued). I adore that man’s work and have it pasted all over my office. If you have never been to his house on Cape Cod I recommend it. Ever see pictures of his Dracula set? Awesome.

I see that “Sanctuary” was mentioned. I was just introduced to that show this past weekend and am loving it. The opening title sequence for the webisodes is nothing short of stunning and brilliant. I very much hope that a soundtrack gets released and the whole notion of a 13 episode season gets forgotten in favour of the more conventional 21 or so.