four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
45-Mar-Apr-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-FinchWorld Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer is at the forefront of the "New Weird," a subgenre of fantasy/SF with noir overtones. His previous books include City of Saints and Madmen (2001) and Shriek: An Afterword (2006) (the first two volumes of the Ambergris cycle), and Veniss Underground (2003).

The Story: Ambergris is a city torn by war between the "gray caps," subterranean fungi with mushroomlike heads, and humans. Detective John Finch balances his life between the tyranny of the gray caps, who have established martial law in the city, and the humans who have been subjugated by them and forced to build a time bridge. When Finch finds himself investigating a double murder, one human and one gray cap (and both, it seems, have fallen from a great height, despite being found inside an apartment), he must decide whether he will kowtow to his oppressors or join the humans in rebellion. No one will emerge from the investigation unchanged.
Underland. 320 pp. $14.95. ISBN: 9780980226010.

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Like China Mieville (Perdido Street Station, The City & the City), VanderMeer creates a dense and persuasive imaginary universe, in which the things that also belong in our universe—tanks, whiskey, revolvers, the paranoid feel of a Raymond Chandler or James Ellroy whodunit—strike us as oddly comforting. … Down these alien streets, as Chandler might say, goes a man who is not himself alien, and we’re willing to follow him almost anywhere." Michael Harris

San Antonio Current 4 of 5 Stars
"As the subgenre’s standard-bearer, VanderMeer has created an intriguing vision that successfully incorporates the seemingly disparate elements of fantasy and gritty reality. … As with all of VanderMeer’s works, this layered tale ultimately satisfies as it barrels to a momentous conclusion." Rick Klaw

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"VanderMeer writes insightfully about those caught in the middle of war. … The story’s final moments may seem triumphant, but this complex novel rejects simple conclusions." Victor LaValle

io9.com 3 of 5 Stars
"While Finch may be flawed, it’s ultimately a rewarding read. Even if you’ve never read any of VanderMeer’s other Ambergris stories, it stands well on its own and is testimony to how mind-boggling and affecting science fiction can be when released from its usual clichés." Annalee Newitz

Critical Summary

In Finch, Jeff VanderMeer, one of the most underrated fantasy/SF writers working today, offers another accomplished novel, the third in the Ambergris cycle. It is worth reading this novel simply for the gritty appeal of the title character. However, VanderMeer’s complex and intriguing world-creation (City of Saints and Madmen and Shriek, the previous Ambergris novels, are both must-reads), the "big picture" vision for the sociopolitical structure of his dystopian world and the author’s just plain, fun weirdness will impress the reader the most. Critics noted that VanderMeer chose to write in partial sentences and a staccato style (a departure from his longer prose in prior works) to enhance the feeling of a novel noir. After a deliberate opening, Finch rushes to a bang-up conclusion, promising more great things for both the author and the future of New Weird literature.