Very strange, but beautiful in its' horribleness. Definitely cool.
Vandermeer has published many more short stories than novels, and his preference for the short format shows Veniss is a very short novel (in my edition bundled with an unrelated (?) novella (Id still call it a short story) to fill out the book.
Its length is my biggest complaint with the work. Vandermeer shows the reader an immensely complex, vivid setting but in around 200 pages, there isnt time to explore it in the depth one might like to and the plot itself is very slight.
Veniss is 28th-century Dayton (?) a crumbling city with wealth on the surface, and untold numbers of literally underground levels filled with the poor, mutants, biohazards, and bioengineered creatures. The milieu is one thats becoming familiar to readers of SF (although Vandermeer refers to his world as not SF, but a phantasmagoria), heavily reminiscent of Mieville, and full of allusions to other mythological and literary works.
But even in this grotesque future, people are just still regular people, trying to make lives for themselves, full of their own concerns.
Nicholas is a failed artist, who pulls in some favors from his friend Shadrach for a meeting with the near-mythical bioengineer Quin, hoping to get a job or commission out of it.
For unknown (?) reasons, Quin, whos more of an evil cipher than a character, hell-bent on taking over the world with his bioengineered meerkats (!), decides to use Nicholas to go after and kidnap Nicholas sister, Nicola, who happens to be Shadrachs ex-.
Shadrachs still in love with Nicola, so he goes on an Orphic journey into the Wellsian/Lovecraftian underground levels of hell to rescue Nicola before all her parts are used up by the organ banks.
Of course, this being a dark-and-jaded type of book, one cant expect an ending full of light and purity but it doesnt turn out all that bad, either
Overall I liked it. But Id been hearing such good thing about the book that I guess it didnt quite live up to the hype.
In the Afterword, Vandermeer gives us Quins backstory, and an explanation of why he isnt a fully realized character (were supposed to merely be seeing his through the eyes of the narrators of the three parts of the book Nicholas, Nicola and Shadrach) but the very fact that that explanation is necessary admits to a degree of awkwardness there.
My edition of this novel also included the story Balzacs War.
I loved this story. For me, it packed much more of an emotional punch than Veniss, and was really near-perfectly crafted.
In (I believe, a different) decaying future, humans in a crumbling society are being invaded by (possibly) an alien species. The invaders welcome worship, and offer humans immortality by the method of transplanting their heads onto a monstrous, engineered, non-human body. However, these monsters with human heads are sent to war against their former compatriots and families. Its unsure if they are still themselves at all
This story deals with one man in particular dealing with his wife coming back in such a form Really an amazing, powerful story.