Dangerous Flora: An Evening of Surreal Botany

By now, many readers of speculative fiction know that stories are not limited by the conventions of traditional narrative. In a genre that constantly challenges and transcends boundaries, the structure is sometimes as creative as the prose.

Consider, for example, The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases (Bantam, ed. Mark Roberts and Jeff VanderMeer), an anthology of bizarre and—fortunately—fictional maladies in an encyclopedic format with illustrations suitable for any medical textbook. More recently, Catherynne M. Valente launched Invisible Games, an online exhibition of apocryphal and unsettling stories surrounding games and toys and the people who encountered them. Then there’s Shadow Unit (created by Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, and Will Shetterly), a website built around a fictional television show, complete with its own fandom, message boards, short stories, DVD extras, and a wiki. The show is soon going into its second season.

Last summer, Two Cranes Press (in conjunction with the “Surreal Botanists Association”) released A Field Guide to Surreal Botany (ed. Janet Chui and Jason Erik Lundberg), a collection of forty-eight guidebook entries describing fictional plants, as “discovered” by their authors. The book’s introduction sets the tone for this unusual anthology: “The publishers of this book believe that the time for remaining ignorant of surreal botany has come to an end. Personal safety alone would justify the information on some of these specimens coming to light, and readers will surely appreciate learning of the plants whose threats are lesser, or that are disappearing as the plants themselves become more rare. This book may be read and appreciated by gardening enthusiasts, paranormal investigators, and conspiracy theorists alike.”

The plants described range from humorous to dark, poetic to philosophical. Here you’ll find detailed entries for plants like “The Nabokov,” “Queen Victoria’s Bloomers,” the “Forget-me-bastard,” and the “Ozymandias-plant.” The Twilight Luon-Sibir (Russica spectrata) has an extremely short life cycle and exists in a state of probability, while the Couch Kelp (Siturfatarscea velvetorleva monthlypaymetis) is floating seaweed with an inflatable bladder that resembles a sofa. If you read closely, there’s a story to be found in each of them that extends beyond their descriptions; at their best, these entries are tiny glimpses into pure imagination. Each species is also gorgeously illustrated in full-color by Janet Chui, making this slim volume a work of art as much as it is a collection of truly unique and fascinating fiction—as close to an artifact from an alternate world as you can get outside of the Noble Collection.

Contributors include familiar names such as Jay Lake, Steve Berman, and Vera Nazarian, along with newer authors who may be as unknown to you as the plants they introduce. This Friday, December 19th at 7:00pm, nine authors from A Field Guide to Surreal Botany will share their botanical discoveries at the KGB Bar in New York City (83 E. 4th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues). Jason Erik Lundberg (editor) and contributors Erik Amundsen, Steve Berman, John Bowker, Christopher M. Cevasco, Kris Dikeman, Susan Fedynak, Matthew Kressel, Livia Llewellyn, and James Trimarco will present their work and sign copies of the book, which will be available via Mobile Libris. Artwork will also be displayed during the reading. Admission is free.

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