Monthly Archives: January 2011

review – finch

It’s too bad that Finch is purportedly Jeff VanderMeer’s current completion to his Ambergris cycle of novels. A shame, really, as this work raises more questions and definitely more curiosity with the fungal, brutal and mysterious imagery he populates his city with. The exploration of new ideas, and more importantly characters morphing themselves throughout the story seems too tease-worthy of VanderMeer to so easily flip his shroom switch to the off position.

The idea of Ambergris is built upon its continual bloodshed and rebirth exhibited by the competing factions du jour. An anachronistic place where ordinary citizens constantly live in fear of the next coup, but for some reason, ultimately choose to remain there, nonchalantly carrying their gas masks about town and displaying a fondness for fungal narcotics and black market soirees. This heightened duality of normality amid instability is one of the main characteristics of the societal disconnect established by VanderMeer. People go about their lives normally despite the constant danger either blooming or exploding around any particular corner.

Coupled to this strange duality is the ever increasing variety of characters and factions. In addition to the houses Hoegbotton & Sons, Frankwrithe & Lewden, and the ever mysterious gray caps, VanderMeer adds a few more to the mix, including the unsettling, all-witnessing Partials, as well as a completely new group of rebels competing for the affections of the city. All interconnected around the actions of Detective Finch in his attempt to detect not just a murder case, but his own fate. As with the impermanence of the city itself, the characters are depicted similarly. Nearly everyone is more than who or what they claim to be, and those who aren’t are more darkly enshrouded in shadow.

This success is also where the author fails, as there is simply too much uncharted territory for VanderMeer to leave his world alone. The stories of the Dogghe and Nimblytod clans are worthy of their own separate narratives, as is the full story of the gray caps. Furthermore, VanderMeer employs unusually vivid detail to the fungus growing everywhere. When it’s not dispensing drugs like an ATM, it serves as ammunition among the factions, even emanating upon or within the locals; it’s one of the more brilliant devices detailing a setting that needs more room to bloom, I should think. In any case, Finch seamlessly picks up where Shriek left off, delivering an engorging explosion of adventure, suspense, and a fine bit of stylistic writing.

PS – It looks like there’s more Ambergris to come. Huzzah!

open access goes papal

Interesting article about the Vatican’s library, and their approach to digitizing select works. Very practical move, but one not need to think long of what may not be digitized by the Vatican. Article also brings up interesting points about how with digitization, the notion of scholarship and science is looming large, not only within these accessible works, but into the overall discussion.  No link, but like  a good lib, I cite:

Far more important for the many scholars who have no ready access to the library, the process of digitizing images from the Vat’s collection of illuminated manuscripts had begun–an undertaking that is very much in keeping, in ways that Nicholas V couldn’t have imagined, with that Pope’s dream of “the common convenience of the learned.” “A decision was taken,” Cardinal Mejía went on, making use of the curious passive construction that, I’d noticed, he favored when speaking of events that occurred during his tenure, “to digitalize the miniatures”–the hand-painted illuminations in the manuscripts–”so people could have access to the miniatures without seeing the manuscripts, which we try to keep as much as possible in their own places, because they’re so precious. So now the Vatican has a site for these images, and you can click on an image and see the illuminations. There’s access for anybody.”

Mendelsohn, Daniel. “GOD’S LIBRARIANS.” New Yorker 86, no. 42 (January 3, 2011): 24-30.