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Friday, November 20, 2009

The Ambergris Week - Part 3: Finch



Behold the birth (and the death) of sporepunk. If Jeff VanderMeer´s FINCH could be summated in but one word (it can´t, mind you, but let´s pretend, just for argument´s sake), it could be this one: sporepunk.

Naturally, the suffix punk is more than overrated, and the story doesn´t have anything to do with old cyberpunk or steampunk stories. It is, however, a good, old-fashioned (or should we say new-fashioned?) noir mystery, with lots of biotechnology in a post-apocaliptic setting. This is what the third and last Ambergris story is about.

Forget the baroque language here, kiddo. What´s the angle? We´re talking about going to dark places, not the dark places of the mind, but to very real dark corners, amidst the debris of the Rising, the period six years before the story when the gray caps finally took over Ambergris and dominated the city, making no prisioners but instead co-opting them - offering some of them a kind of twisted fungal post-humanity (being the case of the hybrid Partials, virtual recording machines with sporetech implants) or just making them as their working force. That is the case of detective John Finch, who must solve a double murder where - obviously - nothing is what it looks like, and every little step he takes can get him in the path (and in the wrath) of the Insurgents, led by the insidious and invisible Lady in Blue...

This story is set after the events of Shriek - apparently far in the future, but how far we can´t be sure; the city of Ambergris was completely taken by the gray caps, who rule the city not exactly with an iron hand, but with a cruel pervasiveness - and a strange spore-based technology which infiltrates in human systems and destroys them slowly - as it´s been doing with Wyte, partner of detective John Finch. Finch, a cynical, sad man reminiscent of Raymond Chandler´s Philip Marlowe (but imagine a Marlowe aged beyond his years, too exhausted to be a smart-alec), has himself his share of skeletons in the closet, and, in the space of a few days, must fend off attackers of all kinds and solve this nagging mystery. He also must try to survive - but who wouldn´t, in a place like Ambergris-in-ruins?

Finch reminded me of David Cronenberg´s eXistenZ and its ugly, weird organic weaponry. The more-or-less Burroughs-like "soft machines" that are the gray caps´s guns, of spongy texture and which more often than not kill by contagious instead of simple hard impact, provides the narrative with an almost palpable texture. FINCH is a tactile novel.

The narrative here is really weird. Think of Dashiell Hammett (or Ross MacDonald, for that matter) meets Lovecraft - with more narrative focus and cutting all the adverbs. Michael Moorcock also comes to mind in several parts of the narrative, for reasons which, if explained, can easily turn into spoilers, so they won´t be described here. All you must know is that Finch, as a narrative experience, is entirely different from VanderMeer´s previous Ambergris books. It´s gritty, strong reading, and highly rewarding as such.

The story is sad in its end, and in its sense of finality. When we get closer to the book´s ending and we slowly become aware that there will be no more Ambergris stories (paraphrasing Paul Éluard, there may be, but in other worlds), we feel awful. we feel like crying. As if we had lost an old friend. Like Ambergris.

This is the last transmission of this insurgent cell (for now, at least). Thank you for staying with us until the end of this long week. Long live Ambergris.

(This review was first posted in Post-Weird Thoughts)

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