Veniss Underground
Jeff VanderMeer

U.S. Trade Paper
Feb-March '03 (Prime)

U.S. Ltd. Hardcover
May '03 (Night Shade)

U.K. Trade Paper
Oct. '03 (TOR UK)




Excerpts from the Book

[Nicola] [Shadrach]

On a far future Earth where vast ecological disaster areas surround walled city-states slowly losing their grip on advanced technology, the mysterious Quin manipulates biology to create sentient species as both toys and a growing source of manual labor. When Nicholas, a failed holo artist, decides to visit Quin, he, his sister, Nicola, and her former lover, Shadrach, will all discover what it really means to know Quin, in the place known as Veniss Underground.


MORNING BRINGS WITH IT A TOO BRIGHT SUNRISE through half-shaded windows, the welcome realization that it is the weekend, and a knock upon your door.
The knock repeats itself, despite the early hour. You throw on a bathrobe, brush your hair in two quick strokes, start coffee with a mumbled command. The knock comes again-a child's knock, not loud, but confident. Who else but a child would fail to use the doorbell?
Enough suspense. You clap your hands and the door opens itself, starting at the top and slowly teasing downward. At eye-level there is still nothing. Then: is that something moving? Something blue? The tips of blue ears appear. Is that a blue bit of hose or flexible pipe now curling its way upward?
"Who is it?" you call out, although you'll know in a few seconds.
"Delivery," comes the muffled reply.
"Of what?"
As the answer is spoken to you, the answer is also revealed in the flesh, for the door fully opens and there, oblivious to your scrutiny through the one-way glass, stand a Ganesh and a meerkat.
The Ganesha, a dark blue, is dressed in a top hat and hopelessly outdated tuxedo. The poor meerkat is clothed in nothing but its own fur. The Ganesha doffs his hat and, with a single fluid motion, transfers it from top right hand to bottom right hand, to bottom left to top left. The blue trunk, meanwhile, is an inquisitive snake. The eyes are bright gold, the mouth toothy with two tiny tusks. The blue belly paunches out below and the stubbly legs end in flat feet.
They are so like a cartoon that you half expect them to be badly dubbed, to move at one-and-one-half speed, to prance and prattle like poorly made toys. Entertainment. Servitude. Comedy. But they don't. They stand there, awaiting your attention. This suaveness, this smoothness frightens you. This is a dance you do not understand, a pattern that doesn't repeat itself enough times to instill its nautilus self in the grooves of your brain. Nicholas used to make creatures like these . . .
When they speak, their voices lodge like little pins in your ears, and when you speak little pins pierce your tongue. "Come in."
You let them in because you do not believe in them. They are not real. This is a dream. You are the glass of the door, and you wonder for a moment if this is what it means to be a holograph, if this is what it means to be a story that has reached its end. One single shudder, one single tear, and you will shatter into a thousand memories.
And then they are barreling in like thoughtless, rude clowns. Speaking to you while you listen with disbelief.
"Nicola? Nicola Germane?" the Ganesha says. "Programmer Nicola Germane?"
"Yes," you say, somewhat overwhelmed.
"May I present to you," says the Ganesh, with a flourish of all four arms, choreographed perfectly, toward the meerkat. He begins again in a high, lilting speech akin to the music of List or Bardman. "May I present to you . . . a present, a gift, a friendly gesture, from Quin, the greatest of all Living Artists, for a friend of Shadrach's is a friend of Quin's."
You look at the meerkat. Eyes downcast, body language subservient, still it suffers your examination. You want to laugh. It is a droll, impossible creature, rather like an upright weasel. A stuffed toy. A trifle.
"It has no name as yet," says the Ganesha, "for it is your task, Ms. Germane, to name this pleasant creature. I need only confirm that you will accept this gift which, I might add, is an honor bestowed only upon a few." The Ganesha's twinkly eyes seem to tell you there is no possibility open to you but acceptance. And, just for a second, its eyes chill you with their contrast-unlike the meerkat, you can find no subservience in those eyes, no acceptance of your superiority. Isn't there, in fact, a trace of scorn, of disdain?
"Yes," you hear yourself say, "yes," and wish you had a better reason than "because."
One thing is certain-you don't intend to let it leave the apartment. Nick decided to buy a meerkat and vanished. Shadrach worked for Quin, who makes meerkats, and Shadrach had a secret. Nick had had a personal invite to see Quin. Had Shadrach given him the invitation? Now you have a meerkat. Will you disappear?
The morning sun is frozen outside your window. The silence snuffing out the world seems of your own making.


He opened the door, went through, and gasped as he came out from the antechamber to a raised dais below which lay the main floor of the organ bank and from which rose tiers of columns to a ceiling some two hundred feet above him. Ahead, a series of tall stone archways led the eye onward to a far away horizon. On first glance, it reminded him of nothing so much as the cathedrals built in the Tolstoi District to mimic those of ancient history, but changed strangely in function.
Where the sculptures of saints would have been set into the walls, there were instead bodies laid into clear capsules, the white, white skin glistening in the light-row upon row of bodies in the walls, the bewildering proliferation of walls. The columns, which rose and arched in bunches of five or six together, were not true columns, but instead highways for blood and other substances: giant red, green, blue and clear tubes that coursed through the cathedral like arteries. Above, shot through with track lighting from behind, what at first resembled stained glass windows showing some abstract scene were revealed as clear glass within which organs had been stored: yellow livers, red hearts, pale arms, white eyeballs, rosaries of nerves disembodied from their host.
Behind him, on the dais, a plaque to fallen surgeons, and more bodies set into the walls, their distant, lamenting gazes as sad as any martyr's, and yet none of them was Nicola.
Above him, in the rich, rich air, which smelled of blood, which smelled of bodies richly decomposing, dust motes floated and, as light as the dust motes, the globes of security cameras, the many lenses sticking out from their bellies as numerous as pores. He could just barely hear, coming from the wings of the cathedral, the faint sounds of surgeons at work (he thought): scalpel against scalpel, men's voices in casual conversation looped around gurgling screams. But even as he imagined them, these sounds faded like ghosts of sensation, and still there was no one to be seen below or above that was in motion, not locked up against the walls, like corpses.
Against such silence, such lack of resistance, Shadrach felt lost, and so when a pattering noise came from the long row of archways directly ahead of him, he was relieved rather than alarmed. A pattering as of feet slapping against marble. It did not fade, but became louder, more specific, somehow violent. It circled round the columns of blood and ichor. He stared intently down the long length of the archways to find its source. A laugh-short, barking-that he couldn't pinpoint. A shriek-long, feminine. Then once again nothing but the pattering. A shadow coyly peeking out from a column, the hint of motion, the glimpse of a face which seemingly withdrew into white marble. Once more the sound of feet. Shadrach took out his gun, walked to the stairs that led to the ground level.
He was about to take action-for here, finally, was resistance-when a shape came into view. It looked very much, from a distance, like a deformed, broken-backed "H," a single strip laid across two larger strips. As it came closer-a halting, sideways progress-he recognized his mistake. It was two people somehow joined in the middle. And, finally, as they ran and spun and argued right beneath him, at the foot of the stairs, he saw that they were two ancient, wizened old people-so wrinkled and stooped, the flesh sagging, that he could not tell their gender-who fought over the snow white corpse of a girl child. The child's abdominal organs smiled at Shadrach from a great epidermal rip between breastbone and stomach.
"Welcome to the cadaver cathedral, as we like to call it," said a voice from behind him.