I read this book some months ago, with hesitation. The further I read, the more hesitant I was to proceed. In truth, this hesitation had nothing to do with the quality of Mr. Vandermeer’s prose or his prolific imagination. He creates an strange and intriguing world within a world, and sets his characters on a dangerous expedition into the unknown – all the exciting elements you could want in a science fiction story.
So what is my problem?
Probably, because when I’m reading I look for new revelations in each chapter. Stories of exploration usually offer not just new challenges at each turn, but new clues to the puzzle the author has created. Characters piece together the clues, bit by bit, until one reaches an Eureka moment, where the puzzle – or at least an important part of the puzzle – is explained.
The basic conceit of the story – which has been given away worldwide to anyone who’s seen the trailer for the movie – is that a part of the country (by its native landscape, I’d assume Florida) has been overtaken by a strange phenomena. No one who’s gone in has ever returned (no, they’re not retirees). Moreover, the boundary for this area is ever expanding, posing a threat to the entire country and perhaps the world.
No explanation is given (that I remember) why it is not being closely observed by satellite. So the government’s intrepid team enters with only rudimentary detail of the layout of the land around their entry point. Here is where the story begins…and it is not too far from where the story ends. The abounding mysteries of the place overtake them very quickly, and the events almost as quickly dissolve their confidence in themselves and their teammates.
And the abounding mysteries pretty much remain mysteries through to the end. Vandermeer presents his troupe with many questions, but with little by the way of answers – except, perhaps, about themselves and the human condition. Unfortunately, I wanted more. While I kept getting frustrated at not being offered some insight as to why this event was occurring, I kept up hope of being rewarded in each next chapter. I kept hoping until it was too late. I’d finished the book.
My one final takeaway, reading the last page, was that this story was clearly intended to be continued. I seriously considered checking to see if a sequel had already been written, but my discouragement at being left empty-handed won out. I never checked. I see now that two sequels have been written, and I’m seriously tempted to give them a shot. After all is said, the first did keep me reading and did raise questions I wanted answered. Who and why come immediately to mind. I’m very leery though whether I’ll find the answers I seek in these later books.
Maybe Hollywood will offer more answers in the movie version. I know I’ll see it. Vandermeer has created a rich, fascinating, visual world, so Hollywood’s version should at least look gorgeous even if it winds up a “gorgeous but dumb” blonde joke on theater-goers.