Jeff VanderMeer, or the novel trapped in the open world

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Jeff VanderMeer's writing has been widely described as ecofiction, responsive primarily to anthropogenic climate change. My reading of the Southern Reach Trilogy (2014), Borne (2017), and Dead Astronauts (2019) differs substantially, emphasizing the importance to VanderMeer of spy genres rather than science fiction, and exploring the influence of open-world digital gaming on VanderMeer's narrative technique. Themes that critics have identified as common to both spy fiction and digital gaming – including knowledge, power, and control – recur in VanderMeer, suggesting that in addition to his philosophical engagement with the "posthuman" or "nonhuman," he also takes up pressing social and political issues. In particular, I propose that VanderMeer's novels analyze the relationships between twenty-first-century citizen-subjects and increasingly unaccountable entities like multinational corporations, security agencies, and states. However, VanderMeer's reading of this "society of control" (Deleuze), seems to lead primarily to melancholic resignation rather than renewed critique. Linking his genre and medium influences, and foregrounding themes which have not been addressed in previous criticism, I show that VanderMeer's innovations in the novel have produced a post-critical or even post-political form of fiction. Copyright © 2019 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)414-427
JournalCritique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction
Issue number4
Early online dateSept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021


Clapp, J. (2021). Jeff VanderMeer, or the novel trapped in the open world. Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, 62(4), 414-427. doi: 10.1080/00111619.2020.1816890


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