Saturday, 11 June 2011

The Third Bear by Jeff VanderMeer (Book Review)

From the back cover:

“The creator of a child-swallowing manta ray struggles with office politics: a parasitical collective of co-workers, his (literally) flammable supervisor, and the hazardous whims of the fiftieth floor. A broken-hearted sharpshooter travels to a dusty border town, searching for the elusive floating city where her husband has vanished. A dissolute author – equipped only with two pearl-handled pistols, a rockhopper penguin, and plentiful vodka—is dispatched to Lake Baikal, where he hunts for his metafictional redemption.

“The Third Bear is the much–anticipated first collection of critically-accalimed author Jeff VanderMeer’s surreal and absurdist short fiction. VanderMeer, whose work has been compared by critics to Borges and Kafka, evokes exotic beasts and eccentric scenarios from the uncharted depths of our innermost psyches."

Tthese are stories about the inexplicable, and the reader ought to consider the imagery within each of the stories. Mr. VanderMeer's early exposure to the sea play upon several of the stories: to read those of a sea-faring nature brings the reader right into the story itself. There are many hidden things within the lines of each story. The genre elements of horror are mingled with fantasy and every day realism. Many of the stories have disturbing elements to them.

The Third Bear

A forest village is plagued by brutal killings by a bear. Despite repeated attempts to send hunters, the villagers turn for assistance to the witch in the woods. An intriguing aspect of this story was the door to the witch’s abode.

The Quickening

An orphan living with her Aunt in Florida acquires a white rabbit: who talks. An engaging story of growing up.

Finding Sonoria

A stamp collector hires a PI to find the place “Sonoria” from the name on the stamp. After an unfruitful search, the PI begins thinking he can see the trees moving in the wind on the mountain. Then his dreams begin.


A man slips into another reality after the death of his wife.

The Situation

Warped victimization of working in a futuristic office where the office manager is flammable.


Utterly creepy story of a scientist in an old mansion with bizarre experiments.

Fixing Hanover

A piece of machinery is washed up on shore which a man names Hanover when he is asked to repair it. An alarming incident occurs when Hanover speaks.

Shark God versus Octopus God
(based on a Fijian myth)

The Shark God, Dakuwaga, rules his portion of the sea by relentless blood lust with his army of 10,000 sharks, considered invincible. One day, Dakuwaga decides to battle the Octopus God for Kadavu Island, learning the aspect of mercy from a powerful opponent. An excellent story.


The first two sentences in this short set up the reader nicely:”I am writing this sitting in the waterlogged lobby of a rotting, half-finished condominium complex. I am surrounded by cavorting freshwater seals and have two pearl-handled revolvers in my lap, a bottle of vodka in my right hand, ahuman body in the freezer in the kitchen behind me, and a rather large displaced rockhopper penguin staring me in the face.” By the way, the penguin’s name is Juliette. Thus begins a tongue-in-cheek mission to change the future. Good fun.

The Goat Variations

A future America where the separatist evangelists have divided the country with the government fighting them. Deep beneath the Pentagon REM-stage images have been collected from segregated adepts: a collective message of a future event. A time machine is built to convey users to alternate realities.

Three Days in a Border Town

The descriptive images of desert sand and ancient buildings provide an intriguing backdrop for a woman-looking for her missing husband. In each of the border towns she discovers another clue about the illusive City in the desert.

The Secret Life of Shane Hamill

A humourous look at a bookstore employee who builds a Roman galley. There’s a nice twist at the end.

The Surgeon’s Tale

This story is a variation of the Frankenstein theme.


(Fragments from the legendary city of Smaragdune’s Green Tablets)
Short stories within a larger one with vivid imagery in the prose along with bits of some of the previous stories in thus anthology.

Despite the sinister undertones in the majority of these stories there is something here for every fantasy reader.

Jeff VanderMeer is the award-winning author of City of Saints and Madmen, Finch, and Veniss Underground. He has recevied two World Fantasy Awards and an NEA-funded fellowship.

The review copy was provided by Matt at Tachyon Publications.

Book format: paperback, 384 pages
Publisher: Tachycon Publications
Author website: Jeff VanderMeer

Available: August 2010

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I've read some of his work and liked it. I'll have to give this a try.