Urban spaces and sf: interview with Jeff VanderMeer

GM sez, "Novelist Jeff VanderMeer talks about the use of urban space and architecture in his own work – discussing everything from bioluminescent reefs in Fiji to York cathedral, via Floridian fungal outbreaks (and "fungal technologies"), with a quick trip through the work of Vladimir Nabokov, Italo Calvino, and Jorge Luis Borges. J.G Ballard, Terence McKenna, "architectural infections," Gormenghast castle – the interview goes all over the place, and is actually pretty funny. Prague, mushrooms made of iron, Monsanto – etc. etc. Also, it coincides with VanderMeer's newest novel being published in hardcover, as well as the recent completion of a film based on that book."

As a novelist who is uninterested in replicating "reality" but who is interested in plausibility and verisimilitude, I look for the organizing principles of real cities and for the kinds of bizarre juxtapositions that occur within them. Then I take what I need to be consistent with whatever fantastical city I'm creating. For example, there is a layering effect in many great cities. You don't just see one style or period of architecture. You might also see planning in one section of a city and utter chaos in another. The lesson behind seeing a modern skyscraper next to a 17th century cathedral is one that many fabulists do not internalize and, as a result, their settings are too homogenous.

Of course, that kind of layering will work for some readers – and other readers will want continuity. Even if they live in a place like that – a baroque, layered, very busy, confused place – even if, say, they're holding the novel as they walk down the street in London [laughter] – they just don't get it. So you have to be careful how you do that. In the novel I'm working on now, I'll be able to do much more layering because much more time will have passed. It's set 500 or 1000 years after the events in City of Saints and Shriek. Though I don't actually refer to specific architectural styles, or to a kind of macro-vision of buildings in the Ambergris universe; I just allude to things.


(Thanks, GM!)