by Various Authors, Ann VanderMeer (Ed.)
“All the same, it may be maintained that since, at the time of Creation, the Creator was altogether lacking in prior experience in this sort of thing, all kinds of errors, actually, were made. And these went unnoticed until the work was finished, as is so often the case. Ask any writer.”
-Michael Cisco, “Figmae”
This looks like it might be a modernized compendium put together by Weird royalty and play out as a highly researched, ultra-cool version of the Dungeons and Dragons Monstrous Manual. Except that’s not the case. This book makes no attempt to document any strange creatures of myth or magic from history or fable. Instead is asks its authors to create entirely new creatures of their own design with an assigned letter of the alphabet beginning its name. Outstanding artwork is heavily featured throughout the relatively small book with a new illustration for almost every entry. Results vary greatly, but this assembled talent bent toward the purpose of creating new life has done exactly that.
One of the standouts is “Bartleby’s Typewriter,” a story by Corey Redekop about a creature that changes its physical shape, including bone structure, to blend with its environment. “Daydreamer by Proxy” by Dexter Palmer and “The Vanda” by Rikki Ducornet are also excellent, as well as “Ible” by Brian Evenson and “Orsinus Liborum” by Catherynne M. Valente, but Michael Cisco knocks it out of the park with his “Figmae,” a creature that folds into our universe perfectly.
Another feature of each section is small piece at the end where the author creates another creature in a paragraph or so, often humorous, and usually a variation on the author’s name. For instance, after detailing her new creature, “The Karmantid” Karen Heuler concludes with: “The Heulertwit is a bird with a nattering squawk and an exact number of feathers which never seem to be the exactly the feathers she thought she had.”
In spite of the positive elements the book presents a challenge in that its creatures and ideas are so far out there. It’s very difficult to read the book from story to story because each is so abstract, requiring a new mental gear with every new creature. However, this is exactly the book you reach for when blocked or when you think you’ve seen everything already and need concrete evidence that the boundaries can be pushed further. It’s a very different collection but has its place.