Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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Surreal Botany Review

From Strange Horizons:

If Surrealism was a revolutionary movement representative of the liberation of a previously dormant collective imagination, A Field Guide to Surreal Botany, edited by Jason Erik Lundberg and Janet Chui (who also contributed striking illustrations), a lovely little book encompassing a vast collaborative collage of imagined plant specimens, is a quiet inversion, a patient investigation of the fantastic in literature. Too much attention to the actual tenets of Surrealism as a framework for understanding A Field Guide to Surreal Botany would probably do the book a disservice, as, due to its necessary subscription to formula, it doesn't necessarily align itself with the more disorganized, chaotically free expression of "the real functioning of thought" (as Andre Breton defined the movement in his seminal Surrealist Manifesto). Surreal, in this instance, is a stand-in for unreal, a signifier of the presence of the fantastic, and the book, counting among its contributors a number of writers closely associated with the community of speculative fiction, succeeds as an investigation of the idea of fantasy and its purpose, generally, within the literary community at large.

The book contains 48 entries, each written by a different author and describing a different variety of surreal plant, a project similar to that of Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts' The Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases which chronicles an imagined medical history playfully constructed by an impressive list of bestselling and award-winning writers. The entries in A Field Guide to Surreal Botany are perhaps not meant to be read all at once, or even in sequence, as the uniformity of presentation and often relatively minor deviations in content (for example, the dimensions of the plants themselves and the size and color of their leaves and flowers begin to feel redundant as one ventures further through the slim volume) undercuts the inherent beauty and import of the project itself. Reading the book cover to cover, as I did, invites the impression that the individual entries are perhaps inherently slight and the project itself too whimsical. As a whole, however, the endeavor assumes a general responsibility greater than the sum of its parts: that of the creation—through the accumulation of painstaking physical descriptions, elaborately contrived anecdotes, and clever origin stories—of a new world that strives to simultaneously infiltrate and fantastically reimagine the one in which we currently reside.

Also, it seems like I'm coming down with the flu, or sickness, or something resembling the first steps of a horrible death.

We can only pray it's the last.


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