"Monstrous Creatures" Book Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press
Written by Jeff VanderMeer
2011, 248 Pages, Non-Fiction
Released on March 11th, 2011
There's been a debate, or rather an argument, for years about what exactly is literature. People always turn to the classics and hold them up on a pedestal as these perfect works of art. Over the past few decades there have been tons of novels and short stories written that would easily fit alongside such highly-praised works but they're thought of a somehow less important because they're "genre fiction." This is where your fantasy, science fiction, and horror stories fall into and, despite the monumental success of these books, they are held back from the aforementioned pedestals.
Author Jeff VanderMeer explores this space between the two warring factions in Monstrous Creatures. He has collected several essays, articles and reviews all discussing the ins and outs of genre fiction. It is made apparent early on that VanderMeer is very passionate about this subject and enjoys speaking about it.
The essays and articles explore a variety of topics that range from dissections of old folk tales to reviews of many recent stories. VanderMeer also includes interviews with genre authors providing another voice to the entries. These can be dry at times, though, especially if you haven't read the work that he's talking about.
My favorite article in Monstrous Creatures is "An Anvil is not an Artichoke" (originally published on Bookslut in 2006). This is of no surprise being that it's about comics and how some people to equate a graphic novel to a novel when they're two very different beasts. There's a strange need for fans to make their love of a medium or a particular work in that medium seem more respectable. Yes, comics are books with pictures and lots of times there are huge muscular guys with capes and ridiculous storylines, but you don't have to dress it up as something it's not.
I was a little lost through "Romantic Underground", though. I understand that this movement was a big deal but I just didn't get into this article. The way that VanderMeer writes it, though, it sounds like the most important thing to happen to a sub-genre of books; yet no one really knows if it actually happened.
I have to make a confession at this point. VanderMeer cites many authors throughout Monstrous Creatures. Of all the ones that he mentions, I've only heard of a handful of them. Of those, I've only read a fraction of their work. I can understand the ideas that he's bringing forth but it would drive the point home a lot better if I were more of a die-hard fan of the genre. VanderMeer's book can be looked at as a guide for any casual fan that's interested in diving deeper into the world of fantasy, horror, and science fiction It covers a lot of ground and is very in-depth. Be warned though, if you're a fan that is not looking to make that jump, then Monstrous Creatures may not be what you're looking for.
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