Shriek: An Afterword (Ambergris, #2)

ISBN: 0765314657
ISBN 13: 9780765314659
By: Jeff VanderMeer

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Reader's Thoughts

Rafal Jasinski

Cholernie obawiałem się tej książki, bowiem przyzwyczaiłem się, do tego, że Jeff VanderMeer, podobnie, jak M. John Harrison, lubuje się w "dręczeniu" czytelnika na wiele rozlicznych sposobów: od prowadzenia fabuły niezwykle splątanymi ścieżkami - którymi podążając, nie wolno w żadnym wypadku pozwolić sobie na rozproszenie uwagi, należy zachować pełną koncentrację i czujność - poprzez kreację bohaterów, których motywacje są niejasne, losy zagmatwane a czyny irracjonalne, aż do doprowadzanie do kompletnego "skołowacenia" w końcówce, w której nie wiemy, co jest prawdą a co tylko imaginacją tychże postaci.A jednak udało się autorowi całkowicie zawładnąć wyobraźnią - "Shriek: Posłowie" jest doskonałym uzupełnieniem "Miasta szaleńców i świętych" a jednocześnie jestem pewien, że ponownie sięgnięcie po pierwszą z książek z cyklu o Ambergis, całkowicie zmieniłoby jej odbiór, nadałoby nowy sens i głębię temu, co zostało tam wcześniej spisane.Ponadto książka jest - oczywiście - bardziej spójna (w przeciwieństwie do "Miasta szaleńców i świętych" mamy tu do czynienia z bardziej tradycyjną formą opowieści, która mimo zaburzeń chronologii i narracji w często polemicznym dwugłosie, ma swój wstęp, swoje rozwinięcie i zakończenie), bardziej wciągająca fabularnie (zwłaszcza w drugiej połowie) i "okraszona" licznymi nawiązaniami do "Miasta..." (znani bohaterowie pojawiają się w dalszym, lub bliższym tle, znane wydarzenia poznajemy z nowej, często zaskakującej perspektywy). Wszystko to sprawiło, że po raz kolejny dałem się porwać VanderMeerowi w tą oniryczną podróż do Ambergis. Chociaż, trzeba dodać, do najłatwiejszych ta wycieczka nie należała.I jeszcze drobna uwaga: uważam, że "Shriek: Posłowie", można czytać bez znajomości "Miasta szaleńców i świętych", a kto wie, czy nawet nie lepszym zabiegiem byłoby zacząć właśnie od drugiej książki? Tego jednak, niestety, już się nie dowiem...


Finally finished this, after many interruptions and diversions. I enjoyed it, though the writing style made it somewhat difficult for me to become fully immersed in the story. Also, the writing had a weird way of making things that should have been exciting or scary seem less so at points. (Not that there weren't scary parts - I'm normally a little afraid of mushrooms, so they make for a good monster.) The back-and-forth chronology of the storytelling, skipping and repetitive, wasn't really my favorite thing, but I think reading in larger chunks helped - this definitely isn't a book to read in tiny bites. this combined with the fact that most of the characters are frustrating made me wonder if I'd get through, but since this book came highly recommended, I thought it worth the effort.

Courtney O'Banion Smith

Original style and believable world. I was thoroughly invested in the characters. There were times I wished less was left up to me to fill in or figure out, especially at the end. Thoroughly enjoyed the read, though, and went back to it every free moment.


** spoiler alert ** Ambergris can only be illuminated obliquely--through the backscatter of light as it bounces off things much closer in focus. VanderMeer worked this to wondrous effect in many of the short pieces in "City of Saints and Madmen," but the technique is far less satisfying in this full-length work. Janice, Duncan, and Mary are simply not interesting enough to stand up to this close focus. This author's books are never easy on the reader but there is little pay-off for slogging through 350 pages. 350 pages and we get a slap, an opera, and a very tiresome love affair. Also missing is the humor that was present throughout the work that Shriek is ostensibly a sequel to.There are little tidbits of Ambergris revealed, but not nearly enough to keep the story afloat. We get the Machine, the glasses, and Edward the fake gray cap; unfortunately, there's tenfold more about Duncan and Mary, Mary and Duncan. As with "Dradin in Love," the most effective scenes are the highly charged reminiscences of earlier family life. This time, instead of the indelible image of Dradin's mother eating mud in the rain, we get Mr. Shriek sprinting across the yard, being struck down by his own happiness. A pity about his children.


We book lovers can’t help speaking of authors as “the next ....” We’re always keeping our eyes open for the next Jane Austen or the next Ernest Hemingway or the next Salman Rushdie or the next Ursula K. LeGuin, and we gleefully trumpet their arrival in our reviews. Of course, what we really ought to be looking for is the first China Miéville, the first Lisa Moore, the first Neal Stephenson, the first Iain Banks, the first whomever. When we find those authors who are truly themselves, we’ve really uncovered gold. There is a comparison that is valuable, however. It doesn’t place impossible expectations on burgeoning authors; it doesn’t reduce the work they are doing; it simply places them in the context of literary history and points us in the direction of their progenitors. What I am talking about is authorial inheritance. There are some authors who, for whatever reason or in whatever way, have “inherited” a technique or a focus or an obsession from an established author and somehow built upon what came before.In this case, I am thinking of Jeff Vandermeer and how he is the truest descendant of JRR Tolkien. Tolkien’s world building, especially linguistically, is legendary. He knew everything there was to know about the races, religions, languages and histories of Middle Earth. It remains a world of immense richness, and Fantasy authors of every generation have aspired to create worlds that match Tolkien’s genius.I don’t think Vandermeer is one of those authors, at least not consciously. I don’t think he’s sitting down with his scribbled maps and booklets of backstories and rules of behaviour, aspiring to be the next Tolkien. Yet what Vandermeer has done is create a world every bit as alive and teeming as Tolkien’s, and he has done it in a way that is unique to his time and personal experience and place in the world (a Pannsylvanian born, Fiji raised, Floridian). Can you imagine a world where the grey skinned alien invaders people fear come from below, not from above, and are living, breathing fungus beings? Jeff Vandermeer can. Can you imagine a world where historians and artists are the venerated celebrities of the day, rather than actors and athletes? Vandermeer can. Can you imagine a world where weapons of mass destruction are fungal weapons that alter the world in a fearful burst of steampunky modernity? Vandermeer can. But Vandermeer doesn’t stop at these peculiarities. He produces artifacts for reproduction, like a fungus rotted page from Janice Shriek’s Afterword, complete with Duncan Shriek’s annotations, and reproduces it in Sirin’s Afterword to her Afterword. He offers us photos of Janice’s mushroom overrun typewriter, the key artefact of her writing process, the green, glowing keys she writes about as she writes about her brother and Mary Sabon and Ambergris and herself. And Vandermeer doesn’t stop there either. He invites bands into his world to write soundtracks for the works he’s writing. He hints at characters whose roots might be our world, madmen trapped in Ambergrisian madhouses. He offers histories of commerce and religion every bit as alive as the creations of any other world builder. And there’s more, so much more. It's in City of Saints and Madmen. It's in Finch. It's in Vandermeer's mind. Vandermeer lives and breathes Ambergris and cities and nations it competes with, and all its environs, and his world is always expanding, always becoming. In its own way, Vandermeer’s world is as alive and important as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, and he has one leg up on the old master. He’s still alive, still working, and Vandermeer’s world can continue to grow. Read Shriek: An Afterword, and you will discover the first Jeff Vandermeer. He's worth the time and the effort.


This is possibly the best book I have ever read. I loved the way the story is constructed. Janice Shriek, older sister of historian Duncan Shriek, tells the story of his life after he has disappeared into the underground of the city of Ambergris. Duncan has spent his life studying the gray caps, a mysterious race of mushroom people who were the initial inhabitants of the area. Duncan believes the gray caps are working on something sinister. "A machine. A glass. A mirror. A broken machine. A cracked glass. A shattered mirror."After Janice finishes the Afterword, Duncan edits it putting his comments on her comments of both of their lives. The comments are insightful and intriguing. A very unique approach to a novel."I had not invited her, but the other guests must have taken her invitation for granted: they clustered around her like beads in a stunning but ultimately fake necklace.""Rain fell on the skylight above with a sound like lacquered fingernails tapping on a jewelry box."Those two sentences are on the first page of the book and should give you the incentive to read it. How can you not read a book with sentences like those in it? Those are beautiful, concise, expressive, compelling sentences.

Michael Harrel

I recently went through a harvest of Listmania lists on Amazon, from those I found on the page for China Meiville's "Perdido Street Station". It seemed like a promising way to break into reading the current "New Weird" fantasy sub-genre movement, uh, thing. (New Weird. It's a fairly ambiguous term, but generally, think Fantasy (often dark fantasy) with a more "modern" viewpoint and usually an urban (modern or pseudo-steampunk) setting, that sidesteps Tolkien's legacy when tracing its lineage (which manifests itself, in the books I've read at least, in attempting to include an element of psychological realism despite the fantastic setting and events, as opposed to the more archetypal characterizations one finds in Tolkien and other writers of Epic Fantasy.)All of the above is true of the first book from the Amazon lists that I've gotten from the library, "Shriek: An Afterword" by Jeff Vandermeer. Shriek takes place in the fictional city of Ambergris, in an unnamed fictional world. It is ostensibly an Afterword to another work (which does not exist in real life), written by the sister of the other work's author (who has gone missing). The brother and sister duo are named Duncan and Janice Shriek (thus the title), and the story involves Duncan's two obsessions: first, his obsession with the mysterious fungus-filled world of tunnels beneath the city, and second his obsessive love for a girl named Mary Sabon, who is at first his student and, in the end, the person who discredits and ruins his name in the public mind. But of course all of these are almost secondary characters compared to the city itself, its history, its current state of politics and turmoil, and the tensions with and fear of the original inhabitants of the area, the Gray Caps: beings who live in the world Underground, having been driven there by the first human colonists, who may or may not secretly control the minds of the human populace of the city (this is where Mary and Duncan differ in their theories), and who are never given concrete physical description within the course of the novel.One of the critiques leveled at the New Weird from the more traditional fantasy is that the New Weird is Ugly. This is the same critique that I have heard one of my favorite authors, John C. Wright, level against the "traditional" "literary" genre (you know, the one that claims not to be a genre). Novels concerned with psychological realism tend to include a lot of psychological baggage, which in turn means not flinching away from the faults (and underlying reason for the faults) of their characters. Which means that essentially a lot of dirty laundry is aired, even on the part of the protagonists. This is certainly the case in Shriek, where certainly none of the characters are treated as being blameless in their actions. There are no "good guys" or "bad guys" in the novel; and sometimes just when you expect someone to be a caricature (such as the supposedly narrow-minded religious leader that tries to ban one of Duncan's early books), Vandermeer surprises you (as when the religious leader, himself having suffered a scandal, becomes one of Duncan's closest friends, though no less a religious man). I'm not going to fall on either side of this argument: I can see both sides of the argument, and enjoy books written by those on both sides. (Which side I would rather write like myself remains to be seen.)(The other "ugly" aspect of the New Weird is that it often draws on influences from the horror genre. There are some disturbing or shocking images in Shriek, which you may want to watch out for if you're not a fan of being disturbed or shocked. Mostly it is more dark than gruesome, though there are a couple violent images at certain points.Literarily, Shriek exists in that lovely world of "suggesting" meaning, where the metaphorical (or mythopoeic?) elements are there to "wake" a meaning rather than to "convey" a meaning, as George MacDonald once said. Shriek is an excellent example of this. The Underground, perhaps the most powerful metaphoric image in the novel, can be seen from any number of potent angles. It's exactly the sort of technique that I want my own work to employ.In all, then, I would heartily recommend the book to anyone interested in works of the fantastical, but who aren't necessarily looking for mere escapism. This is a tough, complex, and ultimately rewarding book, and one that I devoured with much excitement. I'll be reading more of Vandermeer in the future.


While I definitely was glad to step back into Ambergris, I didn't love this book the same way I love City of Saints and Madmen, and the main reason is this is just a heavier and more somber book. I loved the humor and interconnectedness of CoSaM, the way an aside could be either hilarious or terrifying. This book was still an interesting creepy journey, particularly the action sequences, and played in interesting ways with style with Duncan and Janice both being simultaneous unreliable narrators. I am hoping it sets the stage for the third book well, because though this one was good, it just never knocked me out of my seat.

Kenny Cross

Switched up my reading order a bit, pulled two books out and put in SHRIEK and FINCH. I've been meaning to finish off the Ambergris books but the mood finally swept me away today. So I can't wait to start tonight.-----Ah this is what happens when birthdays get in the way of good reading. Took me two weeks to finally sit down and be swallowed whole by Ambergris. I'm not in the mood for writing a long essay/review which this novel deserves. Jeff Vandermeer's writing as always grabs you by the throat and drags you down underground in Ambergris where the 'shrooms laugh and play. If you want every day high fantasy or epic fantasy, stay away - if you want a well written, awesome mind fuck, great story telling, and a concentrated dose of 'The Weird' - then this novel is for you, and me.


A review on the back of this book name-checks Nick Cave and "Hitchhikers Guide" -- please ignore the back of the book. I can't imagine anything less like Douglas Adams than this book. If I had to write a review of this book based primarily on name-checks, my list would include: Mervyn Peake, Edward Gorey, H.P. Lovecraft, China Mievelle, and Tom Waits. VanderMeer's Ambergris setting has echoes of Gormanghast's crumbling antiquity, but with more of Amphigories twisted, Gothic humor thrown in (think "The Insect God"). The entire wold is spun over a shadow background of an unknown, violent horror lurking beneath the surface of things (see: Cthulhu), and the Waits I have in mind is less "Romeo is Bleeding" than "The Earth Died Screaming" (I will admit that the Nick Cave reference is accurate if what the reviewer was thinking of was "The Carney"). I picked this up mainly because I absolutely LOVED City of Saints and Madmen and this is the only other VanderMeer I've found in my multi stops at B&N since finishing that book. It was good - as well conceived and developed as CoSaM - but something about the premise seemed to drag a bit when stretched over the length of an entire novel; perhaps had it been 50 to 75 pages shorter it would have carried the same punch-to-the-gut as its surreal predecessor. At first I was worried about the premise being too clever: the text proports to be an afterward to Ambergris historian Duncan Shriek's "History of Ambergris," written by his sister Janice Shriek, but discovered and edited with notes by Duncan himself. However, this conceit is very well executed, and the two voices play off one another very nicely without intruding too much into the text -- the result if very "Pale Fire," but successful to an extent that surprised me.The reason I gave it three rather than four stars is simply that something about the book struck me as somewhat false, or distant, as if the book was part of an elaborate in-joke that VanderMeer only partially let the reader in on. I can't really explain it, as it was just a vague sense of unease or detachment that set in from time to time. Whole chapters would be utterly gripping, but then there would be some bizarre detail that left me cold, almost as if he was writing an allegory and I was missing the cultural basis to understand the elaborate symbolism, or that if I was one of his college buddies I'd get how he'd cast their least favorite professor as the head of a church. Think of the wonderful stories you've told a small child, working their friends and family and neighborhood into the narrative, and later you realize with a slight disappointment that no one other than that child would really appreciate the story. I felt like that from time to time (if this makes sense to anyone other than me).Still, 90% of the book was great, and the restrained use of senseless and utter violence brings this books an edge of urgency and horror I've seldom experienced outside of Mieville. Well worth reading for those who like weird-fiction.


Jeff Vandermeer has a wonderful imagination. He is a master of the surreal, the uncanny, and the striking set piece - skills shown to brilliant effect in the linked novellas of his City of Saints and Madmen. The same skills and the same imagination are on show in this novel, but although the set pieces are well worth persisting for, I found myself getting impatient at times with the digressive narrative. The digressions are quite deliberate, and they play a key role in this story of two siblings going in and out of favour in Ambergris, but there were times when I wanted to tell the author to get on with the story, already! If you're new to Vandermeer, I'd suggest starting with City of Saints and Madmen to get the flavour of his style, and of the fungal ripeness of Ambergris.

Andy Tischaefer

Well written if strange. Is it ok for me to say I like my weird fiction a little more straightforward?It was successful in that it made me want to read more of VanderMeer and specifically about the city of Ambergris, but the story itself just didn't move me as much as I had hoped it would be. I expected more payoff, for whatever reason. When it hit, though, it hit hard - the war scenes in particular were pretty great and imaginative.Overall I liked it and if the description intrigues you, it may be worth checking out.


Jeff VanderMeer's wildly inventive new novel is the afterword to the nonexistent history of a fictional city. After completing the classic The Hoegbotton Guide to the Early History of Ambergris, controversial historian Duncan Shriek disappeared, leaving his sister Janice Shriek to supply the much-needed afterword.Janice Shriek's piece evolves into a memoir of the siblings: their family, their loves, and, most importantly, their failures. Banned by the Court of Kalif – this reality's Catholic Church – as heresy, Duncan's first book, On the Refraction of Light in a Prison, a critical and financial success, made him a minor celebrity. Ironically, later in life he would work as a professor for a Kalif university. Duncan's second book, Cinsorium: Dispelling the Myth of the Gray Caps, on the mysterious fungal beings living beneath Ambergris, destroyed his fledging career, furthered his notoriety, and affords the most humorous scene in this book. In a spot-on parody of the publishing world, the publisher of Duncan's previous effort berates and blames him for all the problems of the world, society, and, quite possibly, existence itself.Duncan's relationship with the Gray Caps and his subsequent books intertwines with Janice's life, which finds her becoming a successful art gallery owner and eventually a bitter, disillusioned old woman. After Janice finished the afterword, her brother resurfaced and added his commentary to her work. The interaction between the siblings throughout grounds Shriek and elevates VanderMeer's story above the works of his contemporaries. Their relationship reads more true than many in so-called literary novels. Readers will recognize the bickering, love, and trust that could only exist between siblings.VandeerMeer first introduced Ambergris in an intriguing series of novellas, collected as City of Saints and Madmen. Shriek: An Afterword is his first full-length novel set in the mythical city. With literary stylings, a complex plot, and ideas that lesser writers could not imagine, it further establishes him as the finest fantasist of his generation.(This review originally appeared in The Austin Chronicle, June 30, 2006)Link:

Lori L (She Treads Softly)

Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer is his first novel set in the fungus-laden city of Ambergris, which was introduced in the City of Saints and Madmen collection. We were introduced to siblings Janice and Duncan Shriek in City of Saints and Madmen. This afterword, written by Janice to accompany Duncan's The Early History of Ambergris, is a memoir, or autobiography, of their lives. It also tries to explain, among other things, Duncan's obsession with and theories about the underground-dwelling mushroom people, or Gray Caps, and his ill-fated relationship with Mary Sabon.While Janice wrote this afterword after she presumed Duncan was dead, Duncan finds her manuscript after it was written and comments about what Janice has written, which is shown to us in brackets as we read the text. So we are getting both points of view about the same incidents, which are told in the form of flashbacks. The whole novel foreshadows one pivotal confrontation that is told in completion at the end.VanderMeer is an excellent writer and the development of his characters is exceptional. In many ways this is a character study set in a mythical universe - it's fantasy, but with elements of science fiction. I guess it's also classified as steampunk.The whole, totally unique mushroom/fungus infested world already has a history established, so I can't imagine reading Shriek without having first read City of Saints and Madmen. They are really interconnected. Additionally, Shriek is not an easy read and, even though it does get a bit repetitious at times (enough with the flesh necklace, already), it is well worth the time you'll invest in following the story.Highly Recommended - but only after reading City of Saints and Madmen;


I read "City of Saints and Madmen" a few years back and thought most of it was excellent (the rest was a bit too over the top). So, last month I got a little burnt out on science fiction and decided to give this book a go based on how much I enjoyed his previous book. I'm glad that I did, to say the least. This may very well be the best fantasy book that I have ever read (or maybe just behind "Perdido Street Station").Other reviewers seem to have covered the basic plot points, so I will just add that this book has a very colorful, almost hallucinogenic feel to it. If David Lynch decided to make a sequel to Eraserhead in color, it would probably be this.Even if you don't read much fantasy, don't pass this up! This is a far cry from the sword and sorcerer type stuff that seems to be so popular.

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