Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Third Bear

Jeff VanderMeer

The Third Bear

Tachyon Publications, 2010

This collection of short stories (one original, other 13 were published in one form or another in magazines and anthologies) by Jeff VanderMeer can confound all those who believe that the format of the short story had died. After reading «The Third Bear», it becomes clear to anyone that the story is alive and is not going to die for a few hundred years more at least.

«The Third Bear» is a shooting gallery for the reader. The book is populated by huge numbers of animals and the creatures that pretend to be animals, and when the eye-gun hits the target, then as a gift you take a story about an animal.

In «The Third Bear», which after the first page seems the standard fantasy, but then turns into something more sophisticated and unconventional, a kind of monster that people call for the convenience The Third Bear, attackes the village of Grommin, abducting people and devouring them. The Third Bear, of course, is not a bear, and got his nickname because of the consonance with Theeber. The village already is in a mess, but the monster eats strong men, placing the existence of the entire community at risk. Head of the village at any price has to stop the dangerous animal. You can’t find in the story typical clashes between conan-villager and man-eating bear; powerful wizards; king defender, guarding his citizens. Vandermeer does not give the answer where the bear came from and for what purpose. Author does not give an answer to the question, what kind of world is this, as well. This well may be the Earth in feudal times, this may be another planet, another world. And is it so important when you stay cut off from the world, with your village in front of the forest with the most terrible creature, which you ever saw?

VanderMeer leaves unanswered the appearance of the speaking rabbit in the story «The Quickening». Parents of 12-year old Rachel died in a car accident, and now she lives in a house with his aunt Etta. One day a stranger near the pond gives the girl a rabbit and says his name is Sensio. Sensio soon begins to talk to the girl and tells her that he is not a rabbit. The Aunt Etta, having learnt about the abilities of the beast, at first gives him royal honors, and then decides to make money. To some people the fabula of «The Quickening» may seem unoriginal: how many times we've read about talking animals? But Sensio is anything, but not an animal. This is a story (not without a bit of black humor) about the blackness of the soul and tyranny, about the narrow-mindedness and breadth of meanness. «The Quickening» could be written by Updike or Carver, if they came up with the story of a girl, her despot aunt and a creature in the guise of a rabbit.

«My manager was extremely thin, made of plastic, with paper covering the plastic» - so begins «The Situation», very weird office farce. Conspiracy is building up against the protagonist, his Manager every day asks whether he loves her, colleagues mutate. The expression "office plankton" should be understood literally. Very weird.

Each story in this collection is not what it seems. «Fixing Hanover» is more than steampunk. «Errata» is more than a postmodern story on how to write a story. «Shark God Versus Octopus God» is more than a story based on a myth. «The Surgeon's Tale» is more than the retelling of "Frankenstein."

Vandermeer has everything that a good storyteller should have: he is original, he knows how to build a structure of a story, and he can change style depending on the story. Read this book, or you will be eaten by the bear.

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