21 October 2011

A Contribution to Schaller-VanderMeer Studies

After my own previous contribution to the burgeoning academic field of VanderMeer Studies, I am happy to christen yet another field: Schaller-VanderMeer Studies, a discipline inaugurated in ivy-covered halls with the Illustrating VanderMeer exhibit. True (Schaller-)VanderMeer Studies scholars do not limit themselves to the study of half a VanderMeer, however, and so I am happy to present here a monograph by Eric Schaller about the woman who was described by Xaver Daffed as "the better half of VanderMeer" (325).

This monograph was originally published in the Fogcon program book, March 2011.



ANN VANDERMEER
by Eric Schaller



Something was happening back there at the tail end of the last millennium. And I’m not talking about The Gulf War, McDonald’s opening a franchise in Moscow, the cloning of Dolly the sheep, the Spice Girls, or even Bill Clinton demonstrating new uses for a cigar. Although all these probably figure in there somewhere. What I am talking about are THE SILVER WEB (1990-2002), CRANK! (1993-1998), CENTURY (1995-2000), and LADY CHURCHILL’S ROSEBUD WRISTLET (1996-date), four magazines that helped define a new course in speculative fiction. Whereas before, most notably in Damon Knight’s ORBIT series, there had been attempts to define science fiction more broadly, so much so that the old guard hesitated to call it science fiction, here the editors of these new magazines basically said, “Definitions be damned, we’ll publish whatever gives us that certain feeling we got when we first encountered genre fiction, when it seemed to open a new vista on the world, blew our collective consciousness, so to speak. Oh yeah, and we do care about language, so don’t destroy the waking dream by confusing an adjective with a unicorn.”
I notice that I didn’t mention the name of Ann VanderMeer in the previous paragraph, although her presence suffuses it. Ann was, of course, the editor for THE SILVER WEB, the first of these magazines to see print and the one that cast the broadest net in terms of what you might discover between its covers. Completists please note, the first couple of issues were published under the name of THE STERLING WEB. This quickly morphed into THE SILVER WEB but, reports by CNN pundits to the contrary, this change of name had nothing to do with any confusion brought on by the strange coincidence of Bruce Sterling having coined the term ‘slipstream’ and THE STERLING WEB, being an early proponent of strangeness and the surreal in fiction, having no connection to Bruce Sterling himself. But, back to the matter at hand, in THE SILVER WEB you never quite knew what to expect and this was all to the good. There were the short stories of course, but there were also poems, interviews, and essays. There was rock’n’roll (Ask Ann about her years playing bass with Grandma’s House). And there was the art! Great stuff, printed large, that complemented but did not repeat what was in the stories. I know of no other editor who has cared more about the relationship between art and text. Everything played off of each other to create a unique experience greater than the sum of its parts.

What’s more, it wasn’t just through her magazine that Ann was making the world a little stranger, a little weirder, a little bit better. She was also the founder of Buzzcity Press, the publisher of two remarkable books—Dradin, in Love by Jeff VanderMeer in 1996, and The Divinity Student by Michael Cisco in 1999—that restored my faith in what genre literature could accomplish. Both books are career-defining works, the points of departure for two writers who use language as if it were a scalpel for flensing the skin from your torso, so that you spin bloodied and in pain, but luxuriating in the sensation of a new world being born. If you have not read them already, I urge you to seek them out. Without Ann, you might never have had the chance.

Since then there has been much more. But you already know that. Ann joined forces (i.e. married) Jeff in 2002, at a celebration noted for a finger-puppet show, cephalopod-embossed matchbooks, and a Ketubah created by artist Scott Eagle (featured artist in the final issue of THE SILVER WEB and cover artist for Jeff’s CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN). Together, Ann and Jeff have edited any number of anthologies, most recently Steampunk Reloaded (out now), The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals (also out now), The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities  (out soon), and The Weird (also out soon). Together, Ann and Jeff have taught at numerous writing workshops, including Clarion, Odyssey, and Shared Worlds. Although the SILVER WEB is no more, Ann now edits WEIRD TALES, somehow making this four-score and eight years old magazine seem both classic and ground-breaking at the same time (maybe that’s why the magazine received a Hugo award in 2009).

Back in 1996, Ann wrote in an editorial for the Silver Web that she would “continue to bring together work from diverse backgrounds and present it in a unique way.” You don’t have to look very far to see that she still lives and edits according to that credo.

That about wraps it up.

But wait, there’s more, you say.

What about the Northfield Bank Robbery? Aren’t you going to clear that mystery up? We’ve heard so many stories about how Ann and Jeff met that we’re no longer sure of what is what, and which is which. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint, but there’s really no mystery there at all, just a coincidence, a similarity of names, but ultimately nothing of significance. Sure there’s an Anne Kennedy listed in the county records as bank teller at the Northfield Bank of Minnesota in 1876. And sure, some members of the James-Younger gang insist that an itinerant embezzler named Geoff Vandermere joined up with them and was wounded by her during the robbery and then later, after being captured, incarcerated in Stillwater Prison. But really, that was over a century ago. There are no documents to confirm that Anne ever visited Geoff in prison, nor that they married. And even if they did, I repeat, that was over a century ago. What possible connection could that have to Ann and Jeff now?

Really?

Just because Jeff has a limp that he attributes to an old soccer injury.

Just because Ann seems a little too knowledgeable about Civil-War era firearms…





Work Cited
Daffed, Xaver. "Heteromeric interactions among VanderMeer receptors mediate signaling in arabesques". Journal of Antinormative Philology 77.4. (2003): 258-343.

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