Today Jeff VanderMeer turns 52 and celebrates the release of his latest book A Peculiar Peril which is already receiving rave reviews. It is his first novel for a young adult audience and tells the story of a boy named Jonathan Lambshead who inherits his dead grandfather’s sprawling mansion packed full of mysterious antiques. When Jonathan and two of his friends set out to catalogue the contents of the house, they soon discover that most of it comes from another earth called Aurora where birds and vegetables talk and famed occultist Aleister Crowley is wreaking havoc.
Dubbed “the weird Thoreau” and “the King of weird fiction” by The New Yorker, VanderMeer has an imagination like no other. Reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft and Angela Carter, his writing is flamboyant, lush, and evocative, never shying away from the strange. He is very engaged with ecological issues and most of his writing deals with genre-bending worlds where flora and fauna are behaving in new ways.
VanderMeer began writing in high school, submitting his short stories to small presses and publications. His first real success was a short story collection called City of Saints and Madmen published in 2001 which showcased his vast imagination and odd aesthetic. It is set in the fictional city of Ambergris where incandescent fungi cover the walls and a group of mysterious, marginalized people called the grey caps plan a takeover. VanderMeer later wrote two novels set in the same city― Shriek: An Afterward in 2006 and Finch in 2009. His novel Veniss Underground ventured into a different city, the surreal Veniss where the hero Shadrach must travel deep underground to rescue his lover Nicola from a fate worse than death.
THE SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY
Initially associated with the rather obscure literary genre the New Weird, VanderMeer flew under the radar for a while before achieving mainstream success with his Southern Reach trilogy― Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance, the first of which was made into a movie in 2018. The books inhabit a place somewhere between fantasy, sci-fi, and cosmic horror. They tell the story of Area X, a mysterious patch of wilderness with no visible boundaries but from which few return. Inspired by the wilderness of North Florida, Area X is beautiful and odd and terrifying. When a group of four women ventures inside hoping to find answers, they will never be the same.
THE BORNE SERIES
VanderMeer’s books set in the Borne universe have also received wide acclaim. Borne, the short story The Strange Bird, and most recently, Dead Astronauts are set in a nameless, post-apocalyptic city overrun by a biotechnology firm called the Company with amorphous, shapeshifting inhabitants who have become almost as much a part of the landscape as they are human.
VanderMeer has also delved into nonfiction territory several times, most notably with Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, a completely illustrated writer’s guide. It is a stunning and creative tool for those who want to write fantasy or really anything at all. Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer is a more practical book of advice on how to use social media to progress a writing career.
VanderMeer has also worked with his wife Ann to compile short stories from other writers into a series of massive anthologies including The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, The Big Book of Classic Fantasy, The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, The Big Book of Science Fiction, and The Time Traveler’s Almanac, among others. The latest is called The Big Book of Modern Fantasy and will be released in a couple of weeks on July 21st.