“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 Mercury or Ashton Smith’s Zothique, Jack Vance’s Dying Earth, ’Crastinator Harrison’s Viriconium or Lady Brackett’s Old Mars or of the borderlands explored by the famous Hope Hodgson expedition, while Dunsany and even Love-craft can be used in respectful comparison, we perhaps find more useful similarities in those recent reporters from the imagination’s margins.

We recall Captain Aylett’s Beerlight and Pilot Etchells’ Endland, whose mores and customs are at once so familiar and so strange to us. Since the great expansion, Captains DiFilippo,Constantine, Mieville, Gentle and Newman all return with alien currency from new worlds. Others with a taste for exotic geographies continue to seek the Unending Parallel. All have left accounts.

Yet of course few of these have the weighty grandeur of Ambergris, which is reminiscent more of Peake’s fine, almost-finished Titus Alone. Here is the complex surreality of fresh-discovered history, only a shade or two inland from our most familiar harbors. It shares resonances with Sir David Britton’s monumental wasteland offered to us in the dark memories of Lord Horror and The Auschwitz of Oz. We are also reminded of labyrinthine Whittemore of the Sinai Tapestry and lands explored by the Welsh captains from Cowper Powys to Rhys Hughes and the strangely named Captain Taffy Sinclair. Robert Irwin, the Arabiste, has been another to draw his own maps and follow them. With VanderMeer, all are commanders of their chosen literary destinies, as courageous a company of psychic navigators as any you could hope to find.

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.

Michael Moorcock

Circle Squared Ranch

Lost Pines,Texas




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 her, she taking dictation from a machine, an inscrutable block of gray from which sprout the earphones she wears over her delicate egg-shaped head. Dradin is struck dumb and dumber still by the seraphim blue of her eyes and the cascade of long and lustrous black hair over her shoulders, her pale face gloomy against the glass and masked by the reflection of the graying sky above. She is three stories up, ensconced in brick and mortar, almost a monument, her seat near the win dow just above the sign that reads “Hoegbotton & Sons, Distributors.” Hoegbotton & Sons: the largest importer and exporter in all of lawless Ambergris, that oldest of cities named for the most valuable and secret part of the whale. Hoegbotton & Sons: boxes and boxes of depravities shipped for the amusement of the decadent from far, far Surphasia and the nether regions of the Occident, those places that moisten, ripen, and decay in a blink. And yet, Dradin surmises, she looks as if she comes from more contented stock, not a stay-at-home, but uncomfortable abroad, unless

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