THE REAL VANDERMEER
“You’ll be familiar, of course, with VanderMeer.” Schomberg’s fat red fingers fondled the notes he had counted. He placed them in his box and took a sideways look at me before pretending to hide it under the table. “Captain VanderMeer? First mate of The Shriek until she hit that reef. Master of The Frog when he next came back to theIslands.”
“There was a woman involved, I take it?” I sipped my vortex water. It was locally made and suspiciously piquant.
“He knew Shriek himself and did his dirty work.” Schomberg grimaced with his habitual distaste for every villainy and moral weakness not his own. The big fans overhead fluttered and rattled and stirred the thick, damp air. “Dradin did it to him. That’s the view round here. You can tell what happened. It’s all in the final story, if you’re not afraid to give it your full attention.”
“So X was, after all, his muse, his love?”
Schomberg shrugged. It was clear he wanted me to leave. As I removed myself from his story, I heard him breathe heavily in relief. I would miss his earthy explanations, but my presence made him uneasy. I strolled back to my place and was again absorbed in VanderMeer…
— Josef Conrad, The Rescued, 1900.
In those earlier years, to which we all look back with longing, there was no captain more respected than VanderMeer. He sailed the Mirage Islands and the Ambergris Peninsula. His memoirs had been eagerly awaited by the cognoscenti of the ports from Jannquork toSan Francisco; but when they were published not everyone was satisfied the account was genuine. The methods he chose were often grotesque, baroque and fantastical, as if he strove to mirror in his writing style the visions he had witnessed. To be sure, this density of narrative was a little demanding to the reader used to the single sentimental plot which passes for story in most modern tales, as if there were only one truth, and only one way of uttering it, one character of central interest, one view to which you should be sympathetic.
If our author’s response to his own experience was instinctively post-modern, this should be no reason for anyone’s surprise. As one of a remarkable group of contemporary captains who follow their own psychic maps, Captain VanderMeer is a master of keel and sail and at the wheel can take his vessel anywhere he chooses, whether skimming over rocky shallows or plunging her prow aggressively into the crowded waters of the Further Depths. For curiophilia, a wild curiosity and a love of exotic treasure, a fascination with complex architecture, a taste for the strangeness in the apparently ordinary, is what drives him on, carrying a peculiar miscellany of equipment into corners of the universe no intelligence has explored before and returning with remarkable rarities, so valuable they have yet to find their true price or, indeed, connoisseurs.
While we are inevitably reminded of Captain Smith’s
We recall Captain Aylett’s
Yet of course few of these have the weighty grandeur of
Examining VanderMeer one is reminded of the glories of Angkor and Anudhapura combined with the bustle and swagger of Captain Conrad’s Indonesia, the adventurous intrigues of Byzantium and Venice, the brutal Spice Wars of the Dutch. But sometimes it is as if Proust intrudes, insensed and reminiscent.
VanderMeer describes a world so rich and exaggerated and full of mysterious life that it draws you away from any intended moral or pasquinade deep into the wealth of the world’s womb. There is, I know, some suspicion he made over-free, even fictional, use of his material, perhaps to point an irony or two, even to present some kind of personal vision? Has this created a material change in his world? Would the Ambergris we next visit be anything like VanderMeer’s romantic version? And what of the rumor that there is a delicious tinge of an obscure heresy in these pages?
I believe I am not the only one to have calibrated the references to Giant Squid and detected emotional involvements more appropriate in a child to a mother than in man to cephalopod. But it isn’t our place or intention to analyze Captain VanderMeer’s character or predilections, such as he offers us in these pages. Rather 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.
Make the most of the tapestry of tales and visions before you. It is a rare treasure, to be tasted with both relish and respect. It is the work of an original. It’s what you’ve been looking for.
DRADIN, IN LOVE
DRADIN, IN LOVE, BENEATH THE WINDOW of his love, staring up at her while crowds surge and seethe around him, bumping and bruising him all unawares in their rough-clothed, bright-rouged thousands. For Dradin watches