Saturday, November 8, 2014


Let me start with a context-free quote. Context wouldn't help much in this case, anyway:

(c) Zdzisław Beksiński
The tube of flesh is quite prophetic. The tube of flesh, the umbilical, is inserted at the base of the neck, although sometimes inserted by mistake toward the top of the head, which can result in unexpected visions. The umbilical feeds into the central nervous system. The nerves of the familiar's umbilical wind around the nerves in the person's neck. Above the recipient, the manta ray, the familiar, rises and grows full with the knowledge of the host. It makes itself larger. It elongates. The subject goes into shock, convulses, and becomes limp. Motor control passes over to the familiar, creating a moving yet utilitarian symbiosis. The neck becomes numb. A tingling forms on the tongue, and taste of lime. There is no release from this. There should be no release from this. Broken out from their slumber, hundreds are initiated at a time, the tubes glistening and churling in the elision of the steam, the continual need. Thus fitted, all go forth in their splendid ranks. The eye of the City opens and continues to open, wider and wider, until the eye is the world. 

That's a quote from a short story called "Three Days in a Border Town," by Jeff VanderMeer. Even after reading the whole story for myself, I'm not completely sure how much mind control the familiars exert over the people they're attached to, but clearly there's some. And doesn't it make you delightfully squirmy? You can read the full story online for free; I'll give you the link at the bottom of this post. But for now, let's move on.

It's been about two months since I finished VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy (I blogged about the first two books here and here). I've been dying to tell you what I thought about the conclusion, but other topics came first. Now it's time to finish what I - or, rather, VanderMeer - started. The first and second books in the series contained lots of mind control, seemingly via hypnosis, although I noted that the levels of control were too high to be caused by real-world hypnosis. Well, I was right. The character known as "the Voice" in Book 2 is a megalomaniac who loves thinking up new and better ways to warp people's minds. Here's a quote from Acceptance. I've taken out the Voice's real name and gender pronouns as well as a few other spoilery details:

Light hypnotic suggestion, conditioning that's more about Area X survival than any of the Voice's dubious "value adds," his/her claims to have found a way around the need, on some level, for the subject to want to perform the suggested action - "a kind of trickery and substitution." The stages you've seen described are identification, indoctrination, reinforcement, and deployment, but _____ has seen other documents that borrow the semiotic of the supernatural: "manifestation, infestation, oppression, and possession."

Most of the Voice's attention has concreted around _____, a volunteer with radicalized ideas about the value of free will. You wonder if the Voice prefers it when there's more or less resistance.

Then there's this quote:

They implant in the brain of _____ what the Voice calls "a pearl of surveillance and recall." Some tiny subset of the silver egg that is Central, passing first through the Voice's deforming grip. They make a man not himself, and you along with it to keep your job, to stay close to what is important to you.

Now, I have to admit that mind control doesn't play as big as role in Acceptance as I expected. Most of the MC takes place in Book 2, Authority. And I know my readers; MC is what you come here to read about. Still, there's so much else worth reading in the Southern Reach trilogy that I recommend it to you anyway just because it's fantastic. It's like Lovecraft on LSD with a side helping of three-dimensional characters and hope. Again I'm being careful to avoid spoilers, but if you've read the first two books and haven't decided whether to pick up the conclusion, here's some of what you'll learn: the ultimate fates of the biologist and her husband, what the hell the psychologist from Annihilation was up to all this time, what happened to the lighthouse keeper, why Whitby is such a basket case, and whether or not Control ever gains control of himself. You also mostly...probably...learn what caused Area X, although the details are open to debate. And I did debate them at length in a Goodreads thread on the series until I felt satisfied with my conclusions (even if not everyone agreed with me). If you've read the whole series, and/or if you don't mind being spoiled to hell and back, here's the thread. Feel free to hop in with your own thoughts.

Now back to VanderMeer in general. The guy clearly has an interest in MC; different forms of it show up in many of his stories, although not in fetishy ways. He uses it for the sake of horror, and believe me, that man knows how to do horror. The quote at the top of this post comes from VanderMeer's short story collection The Third Bear; and the title story is absolutely, no-question-about-it, unrelentingly horrific. So is "Predecessor." But "Three Days in a Border Town" is more like Mad Max with aliens, "Shark God vs. Octopus God" is just plain funny, and "Errata" is - oh God, just read it for yourself. I keep going on about VanderMeer because the more I read his stuff, the more I love it. I think a lot of you will, too; and several stories from The Third Bear are free online. You can find links to them all in this one helpful review. Just do yourself a favor and start with Errata. It's a standalone story with everything that's freaky and wonderful about Vandermeer in one tidy little package. Check it out and let me know what you think of it.

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