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Shriek: An Afterword: A Novel (The Ambergris Trilogy Book 2) by [Jeff VanderMeer]

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Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One
Mary Sabon once said of my brother Duncan Shriek that “He is not a human being at all, but composed entirely of digressions and transgressions.” I am not sure what she hoped to gain by making this comment, but she said it nonetheless. I know she said it, because I happened to overhear it three weeks ago at a party for Martin Lake. It was a party I had helped put together, to celebrate the artist’s latest act of genius: a series of etchings that illustrated The Journal of Samuel Tonsure. {One of many parties I have missed over the years. Maybe if I’d been there, everything would have turned out differently. Maybe it even would have affected the past portrayed in Mary’s books.}
Sabon arrived long after Lake, a reticent and not entirely undamaged man, had left for the Café of the Ruby-Throated Calf. 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. The couples on the dance floor displayed such ambition that Sabon’s necklace seemed to move around her, although she and her admirers stood perfectly still.
Rain fell on the skylight above with a sound like lacquered fingernails tapping on a jewelry box. Through the open balcony doors came the fresh smell of rain, mingled—as always in Ambergris—with a green dankness. As I hobbled down the wide marble staircase, into their clutches, I could pick out each individual laugh, each flaw, each fault line, shining through their beaded faces. There were names in that flesh necklace—names that should someday be ticked off a list, names that deserve to be more public.
At ground level, I could no longer see anything but patches of Sabon—a glimpse of red hair, of sallow cheek, the pink allure clumping, a flash of eye, the eyelashes overweighed with liner. The absurd pout of a lip. The crushing smell of a perfume more common to a funeral parlor. She looked so different from the first time I had met her—lithe, fresh student—that I thought for a moment she had put on a disguise. Was she in hiding? From what?
“He is not a human being at all, but composed entirely of digressions and transgressions.”
I admit I laughed at Sabon’s comment, but I laughed out of affectionate recognition, not cruelty. Because Duncan did digress. He did transgress. He might well have dashed Sabon’s living necklace to bead pieces with just as amusing a phrase to describe Sabon, had he not disappeared, possibly forever, a few days before the party. That was another thing—Duncan was always disappearing, even as a child.
Sabon’s comment was amusing, but not, as one gentleman misidentified it, “the definitive statement.” A shame, because my brother loved definitive statements. He used to leap up from his chair at definitive statements and prick the air out of them, deflate them with his barbed wit, his truculent genius for argument, his infinite appreciation of irony. {I think you both mock me here. Whatever I might have been in my youth—and I can’t remember ever having been a witty conversationalist—I’m long past any such trickery. Let the spores be tricky. Let those who ignore them—from the Nativists on down—expend their energy in fanciful phrasings, for all the good it will do them.}
I really ought to start again, though. Begin afresh. Leave Sabon to her admirers for now. There will be time to return to her later.
Duncan often started over—he loved nothing better than to start again in the middle of a book, like a magician appearing to disappear—to leave the reader hanging precariously over an abyss while building up some other story line, only to bring it all back together seamlessly in the end, averting disaster. I would be a fool to promise to duplicate such a feat.
For a time, Duncan sat next to the desk in my apartment—in an old comfortable yellow chair our parents had bought in Stockton many years before. There he would sit, illumined by a single lamp in a twilight broken only by calls to prayer from the Religious Quarter, and chuckle as he read over the transcript of his latest chapter. He loved his own jokes as if they were his children, worthy of affection no matter how slack-jawed, limb-lacking, or broken-spined.
But I best remember Duncan at his favorite haunt, The Spore of the Gray Cap, a place as close as the tapping of these keys. {Favorite? Perhaps, but it was the only one that would have me, at times. At the more respectable establishments, I would walk in and be greeted with a silence more appropriate to the sudden appearance of some mythical beast.} Sober or drunk, Duncan found the Spore perfect for his work. Within its dark and smoky back chambers, sequestered from the outer world by myopic, seaweed-green glass, my brother felt invisible and invincible.  Through a strange synchronicity of the establishment’s passageways out of keeping with its usual labyrinthine aura, those who congregated at the altar of the bar could, glancing sideways down the glazed oak counter, see Duncan illuminated by a splinter of common space—at times scribbling inspired on his old-fashioned writing pad, at times staring with a lazy eye out of a window that revealed nothing of the outer world, but which may, reflecting back with a green wink, have revealed to him much of the inner world. {The outer world came to me—at various times I entertained Mary, Sirin, Sybel, and, yes, even Bonmot, pillar of the community, in that place.}
He had become a big man by then, with a graying beard, prone to wearing a gray jacket or overcoat that hid his ever-evolving physical peculiarities. Sometimes he would indulge in a cigar—a habit newly acquired from his association with the fringe historian James Lacond—and sit back in his chair and smoke, and I would find him there, gazing off into a memory I might or might not be able to share. His troubles, his disease, could not touch him in those moments.
I much prefer to remember my brother in that space, calm and at the center of himself. While he was there, many regular taverngoers referred to him as the God of the Green Light, looking as he did both timeless and timeworn. Now that he is gone, I imagine he has become the Ghost of the Green Light, and will enter the annals of the Spore as a quiet, luminescent legend. Duncan would have liked that idea: let it be so.
But I do choose to begin again—Duncan, after all, often did. Like the shaft of green light shooting down the maze of passageways at the Spore, each new shift of attention and each new perspective will provide only a fraction or fracture of the man I knew, in several senses, not at all.
If there is a starting point in Duncan’s life, it would have to be the day that our father, Jonathan Shriek, a minor historian, died at our house in Stockton, a town some hundred miles south of Ambergris, on the other side of the River Moth. Unexpected reversal ripped through Dad and destroyed his heart when I was thirteen and Duncan only ten. I remember because I was seated at the kitchen table doing my homework when the mailman came to the door. Dad heard the bell and hopped up to answer it. “Hopped” is no exaggeration—Dad was a defiantly ugly man, built like a toad, with wattles and stocky legs.
I heard him in the hall, talking about the weather with the mailman. The door shut. The crinkle of paper as my father opened the envelope. A moment of silence, as of breath being sucked in. Then a horribly huge laugh, a cry of joy or triumph, or both. He came into the kitchen and barreled past me to the open hallway that led to the back door.
“Gale,” he was shouting. “Gale,” my mother’s name. Out into the backyard he stumbled, me right behind him, my homework forgotten, beside myself with suspense. Something marvelous had happened and I wanted to know what it was.
At the far end of the lawn, Duncan, ten and still sandy-haired, was helping our mother with the small herb garden. My father ran toward them, into the heart of the summer day. The trees were lazy in the breeze. Bees clustered around yellow flowers. He was waving the letter over his head and yelling, “Gale! Duncan! Gale! Duncan!” His back to me. Me running after him, asking, “What, Dad? What is it?” {I remember this with the same kind of focused intensity as you, Janice. Dad was running toward us. I was smiling because I loved seeing Dad’s enthusiasm. I loved seeing him so euphoric, so unselfconscious for once.}
He was almost there. He was going to make it. There is no doubt in my mind, even today, that he was going to make it. But he didn’t. He stumbled. He fell into the sweet, strange grass. {“Mottled with shadows from the trees,” I wrote in my journal later. It is those shadows I remember most from that day—the dappling and contrast of light and dark.} The hand with the letter the last to fall, his other hand clutching at his chest.
I stopped running when I saw him fall, thought he had tripped. Looked up across the lawn at my mother and brother. Mom was rolling her eyes at her husband’s clumsiness, but Duncan’s face was pale with horror. Duncan knew our father hadn’t fallen, but had been made to fall. {I don’t know how I knew, just remember the way Dad’s smile flattened and his face took on a sudden pallor and sadness as he fell, and know he knew what was happening to him.} A moment later, Mom realized this, too, and all three of us ran-to-him converged-on-him held-him searched-for-a-pulse called-for-the-doctor, and sat there crying when he did not move, get up, say it had all been a joke or accident. {Even now, the smell of fresh grass is the smell of death to me. Was...
--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

From the Back Cover

Shriek: An Afterword is the first novel set in Ambergris, World Fantasy-award winning author Jeff VanderMeer's best-loved setting.

Praise for
Shriek: An Afterword

"Here is a desert island book, a tale you can lose yourself in for days, a novel of character in which the setting--the magnificently gritty city-state named Ambergris--proves as the light fails to be the finest character of all."
--Gene Wolfe

"There's a madness in Jeff VanderMeer's literary eye, and I would be a liar if I didn't admit it seems intimately familiar. VanderMeer envisions an outlaw literature of shrieks and shouts and a screaming across the sky, worth a thousand polite and respectable mutterings. I, for one, am listening."
--Steve Erickson

"An enthralling book which takes you into the vivid and superbly-realised world of Ambergris. It is in turn unsettling, moving and thrilling--with passages of writing that can be dryly funny on one page . . . and beautiful on the next."
--Clare Dudman

"Jeff VanderMeer is an extraordinary writer. His vision of Ambergris is passionate, beautiful, complex, terrifying. What is remarkable about
Shriek: An Afterword is the way it combines such surreal imagery with intensely human feeling. He writes about real people--about the real world."
--Tamar Yellin

Praise for
City of Saints and Madmen: The Book of Ambergris

"Somewhere at the intersection of pulp and Surrealism, drawing on the very best of both traditions, is Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris. Unsettling, erudite, dark, shot through with unexpected humour, the stories engross and challenge endlessly. Ambergris is one of my favourite haunts in fiction."
--China Miéville on
City of Saints and Madmen
"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

"Beautifully written, virtually hallucinatory work... connoisseurs of the finest in postmodern fantasy will find it enormously rewarding."
Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

Praise for Jeff VanderMeer

Secret Life, an utter dazzlement, demonstrates one of this literary era's defining truths, that in the hands of a brilliant writer like Jeff VanderMeer, writing fantasy can be a means of serious artistic expression. In VanderMeer's hands, it is also playful, poignant, and utterly, wildly, imaginative."
--Peter Straub

Veniss Underground is full of beautiful sentences, black humor and terrible wonders … it marks VanderMeer as a novelist to be reckoned with."
San Francisco Chronicle
--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B08QGL1NXN
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Picador (January 11, 2022)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ January 11, 2022
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 11057 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Sticky notes ‏ : ‎ On Kindle Scribe
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 482 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.6 out of 5 stars 90 ratings

About the author

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Called “the weird Thoreau” by the New Yorker, NYT bestseller Jeff VanderMeer has been a published writer since age 14. His most recent fiction is the critically acclaimed novel BORNE, which has received raves from the NYTBR, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and many more. Paramount Pictures has optioned BORNE for film.

VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy was one of the publishing events of 2014, the trilogy made more than thirty year’s best lists, including Entertainment Weekly’s top 10. Paramount Pictures has made a movie out of the first volume of the Southern Reach, Annihilation, slated for release in 2018 and starring Tessa Thompson, Oscar Isaac, Gina Rodriguez, Natalie Portman, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

His nonfiction appears in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, and the VanderMeer also wrote the world’s first fully illustrated creative-writing guide, Wonderbook. With his wife, Ann VanderMeer, he has edited may iconic anthologies. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with two wonderful cats. His hobbies include hiking, reading, and bird watching.

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