content by

Jeff VanderMeer

Fiction and Excerpts [6]

Fiction and Excerpts [6]

The Strange Bird

The Strange Bird is a new kind of creature, built in a laboratory—she is part bird, part human, part many other things. But now the lab in which she was created is under siege and the scientists have turned on their animal creations. Flying through tunnels, dodging bullets, and changing her colors and patterning to avoid capture, the Strange Bird manages to escape.

But she cannot just soar in peace above the earth. The sky itself is full of wildlife that rejects her as one of their own, and also full of technology—satellites and drones and other detritus of the human civilization below that has all but destroyed itself. And the farther she flies, the deeper she finds herself in the orbit of the Company, a collapsed biotech firm that has populated the world with experiments both failed and successful that have outlived the corporation itself: a pack of networked foxes, a giant predatory bear. But of the many creatures she encounters with whom she bears some kind of kinship, it is the humans—all of them now simply scrambling to survive—who are the most insidious, who still see her as simply something to possess, to capture, to trade, to exploit. Never to understand, never to welcome home.

With The Strange Bird, Jeff VanderMeer has done more than add another layer, a new chapter, to his celebrated novel Borne. He has created a whole new perspective on the world inhabited by Rachel and Wick, the Magician, Mord, and Borne—a view from above, of course, but also a view from deep inside the mind of a new kind of creature who will fight and suffer and live for the tenuous future of this world. Available in digital format only August 1st from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

[Read more]

About This Summer at Shared Worlds SFF Writing Camp

In celebration of nine years in operation, our Shared Worlds teen science fiction and fantasy writing camp (Wofford College, South Carolina) featured several special guests, including Thomas Olde Heuvelt on his U.S. tour for the novel HEX. Olde Heuvelt met with the students to talk about the six-week tour, writing, and publishing, participated in a reading at Hub City Bookshop, and signed copies of HEX for all fifty-nine Shared Worlders. Tor graciously donated free copies of HEX for the students; they had a lot of fun posing with their copies, as you can tell. Olde Heuvelt visited Shared Worlds just as the students were finishing up their week two short stories.

[Read more]

Download a Free Romulus Buckle Story from The Steampunk User’s Manual!

In discussing Steampunk fiction and wondering how to show readers an example of “thinking big,” one way was to illustrate a high-octane action scene. Richard Ellis Preston, Jr.’s Romulus Buckle series always tends to “go big” in terms of being fearless in that arena, so we thought a scene involving an airship and a giant squid made a lot of sense to include in the book. The books partake of an old-time pulp sense-of-wonder but with modern underpinnings. We’re also happy Preston’s been generous enough to offer his latest short story set in that universe for free to readers for two weeks (Update: three weeks!), in conjunction with The Steampunk User’s Manual’s release.

Thinking big can also, of course, be conceptual or about innovation or experimentation and we cover that in the Storytelling chapter as well. In addition to Preston’s diagram we’ve included words of wisdom from Nisi Shawl, Amal El-Mohtar, and more—some of which originated right here at

Find out more about the story and how to download it below!

[Plus the art from the giant squid battle!]

Wonderbook (Excerpt)

Check out Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer, available October 15th from Abrams Image!

This all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object. Employing an accessible, example-rich approach, Wonderbook energizes and motivates while also providing practical, nuts-and-bolts information needed to improve as a writer.

Aimed at aspiring and intermediate-level writers, Wonderbook includes helpful sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names in fantasy today, such as George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Catherynne M. Valente, and Karen Joy Fowler, to name a few.

[Read an Excerpt]

The Situation

Experience the familiar perils of office politics in a world eerily different from our own in The Situation,” an original comic story created by Jeff VanderMeer and Eric Orchard.

The Situation” is based on a short story by Jeff VanderMeer which Margo Lanagan called darkly hilarious and Kevin Brockmeier a work of surreal humor, bemused sadness, and meticulous artifice…as if the workplace novels of Sinclair Lewis and Joshua Ferris had been inverted, shaken, and diced until they came out looking like a Terry Gilliam creation.” The original short story can be read online in its entirety courtesy of WIREDs GeekDad and in Jeff’s collection, The Third Bear, available from Tachyon Books. For more of this special brand of weirdness, check out Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s anthology The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, available in eBook and UK editions now and US print editions on May 8, 2012.


A Sneak Peek into The Steampunk Bible: Jeff VanderMeer Interviews Co-Author S.J. Chambers

After almost a year of researching and writing, this past month S.J. Chambers and I wrapped up our work on The Steampunk Bible, a coffee-table guide to the genre, forthcoming from Abrams Image in May 2011. As we both look back at the process, we remain amazed at how much the book changed and evolved during that time. We began with the goal of providing a definitive overview of the genre in all of its manifestations, while also telling compelling stories about some of its movers and shakers. By September, when we held the first pass in our hands, we were happy to find that true synergy had occurred, and that readers would see the connections and interplay between Steampunk as fiction, fashion, art, making, music, and in other creative disciplines.

The book features quotes or interviews with a wide range of experts, from Libby Bulloff to Ay-leen the Peacemaker, Bruce Sterling to Jake von Slatt, Bryan Talbot to Gail Carringer. It even includes an exclusive excerpt in translation from a Brazilian Steampunk story.

[Interview with S.J. Chambers below the cut]

Series: Steampunk Fortnight

Can Dirigibles Slouch Along? Can They Saunter?

In Angela Carter’s amazing Nights at the Circus, Fevvers, a highwire act if ever there was one, causes disbelief and awe in equal measure because she’s billed as a flying woman, but in flight she takes her time and rudely ignores the laws of gravity. It’s as if she’s daring the audience to call her a fake, to accuse her of being held up by invisible wires and other tricks of the circus trade.

Steampunk has its own version of this high wire act, in that depictions of dirigibles in movies represent a kind of tipping point for the audience’s threshold of disbelief. Most films don’t attempt to realistically map out what a fantastical dirigible might look like—they’re just interested in something that seems visually cool. We can get behind that—cool is good. But sometimes it doesn’t work, especially because a dirigible in a righteous Steampunk movie is a kind of character in and of itself. Not believing in a character, even one made of canvas, wood, and metal, can doom a film.

[Who gets it right?]

Series: Steampunk Month

Speed Weed Comes Clean: Steampunk and NCIS: Los Angeles

Who knows when Steampunk really hit the mainstream? Some point to the long article in the New York Times last summer as a harbinger of ascendancy. Others to the moment when many of us found that our ears contained tiny golden clockwork gears instead of cartilage and bone. Still others to the spontaneous appearance over Beijing last week of thousands of tiny nano dirigibles no bigger than a pinhead—which all winked out of existence a moment later—prompting me to wonder exactly what parallel universe exists just next-door).

But none of those sit well with me as indicators. Me, I say when the top rated new television series in these here United States of America starts thinking about shooting scenes in Steampunk bars, the Steampunk Revolution is here to stay. (Certainly, it now seems perfectly acceptable to reveal in polite company that I am working on the Steampunk Bible for Abrams Books in NYC, a cornucopia of steam goodness, with the aid of the brilliant archivist, Selena Chambers.)

Through sekrit intel sources deep in the Steampunk insurgency—otherwise known as my stepson Jason, who is one of the casting directors for both NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles—I discovered that the LA version had decided to shoot a Steampunk scene. I soon tracked down the mysterious Speed Weed in a clandestine Hollywood bungalow location to get the low-down on the up-high. Weed is one of the eight writers on NCIS: Los Angeles, airing at 9, Tuesday nights on CBS. Starring Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J, it’s the number one rated new show of the season.

[Here’s what he had to say.]

Series: Steampunk Month


After the untimely demise of Argosy Quarterly—confirmed in late fall of last year after a long gap between issue three and the planned issue four—Jeff VanderMeer’s agent, Howard Morhaim, brought our attention to an unpublished story meant for publication in that journal. We decided to publish it as a public service, and out of respect for James Owen, who has been unavailable for comment. The opinions and facts related in “Errata” in no way reflect the views of or its parent company. We have included the note originally intended to be published with the story for contextual reasons.

— Management Services

When I received Jeff VanderMeer’s “story,” reproduced below, my first impulse was to forward it to the writer’s family, to whom it might be more relevant than to the readers of Argosy. (The two photographs that accompanied the story—one of a kitchen freezer and the other of a waterlogged lobby—were more than a little disturbing to both myself and my wife, and I have declined to reproduce them within these pages.)

Unfortunately, my brother James had been quite explicit when he called to check on the progress of the issue two weeks before Mr. VanderMeer’s story arrived. He insisted that I include the story in the magazine “no matter how unorthodox it may appear to be.” At James’ request, I had already slapped—rather bemusedly—some images of farm equipment and seals into the allotted space in the main volume ready to be replaced with the tardy story whenever it came in. According to James, VanderMeer’s story “must be published both in the magazine and in a separate chapbook entitled simply Errata.” James pays the bills, so despite any instincts to the contrary, I have no choice but to publish this “story” as he desires—although that doesn’t mean I have to do so without comment or warning to the reader.

In short, whether you, as a reader, should have to endure the ramblings contained in this chapbook is an individual decision. I have no such freedom in deciding whether or not to publish it. I do know that there is little chance that the original title of this “story”—“A Literary Work of Great Import and Inestimable Redeeming Value”—will strike anyone as anything other than a pathetic joke.

I haven’t heard from James since that last phone call about Errata. As a result, the burden of finishing this issue of Argosy has fallen on my shoulders. I have already left a message for James letting him know that this is the last time I plan to involve myself with Argosy.

This kind of behavior is too eccentric to be considered professional.

—Jeremy Owen

[Read more]

Subverting Cliche at Shared Worlds: The Scaly Ones Are Always Evil

This summer I had a wonderful teaching experience, serving as the assistant director and resident writer for Shared Worlds, a unique world-building/writing camp for teens hosted by Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. For two weeks, along with Wofford staff, I helped nineteen highly creative teens from as far away as Japan create fantasy/SF worlds and then write stories set in those worlds.

(The Shared Worlds students in high spirits, with Jeff on the left, and Tobias Buckell, center, flanked by TAs Stephyn and Zach.)

Also assisting were several visiting writers, including Tobias Buckell, who flew in right after an appearance at Comic-Con in San Diego. Buckell focused on cliche and archetype, getting the students to see their worlds and their writing in a different light. I thought his teaching style was great, engaging the students through a combination of lecture, workshop, and video.

Buckell used the hilarious Skeleton of Cadavra trailer as the jumping off point for a discussion of when to use cliches and when to subvert or think beyond them. As Buckell said, “You can put your heart and soul into something and readers go c’mon—really? Because the writer has missed some portion of the cliches out there.”

One of the first answers when he asked the students for examples of cliche came from Lyndsey Werner, who replied, “Anything Hollywood, especially romantic comedies.” Later, during a discussion of Nature as Villain, student Miranda Severance memorably said, “It’s always the scaly ones that are evil. Never the fluffy ones.”

[More below the fold…]

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