VanderMeer's stories are clearly influenced by the magical literature of Borges, Garcia Marquez, and Calvino, and like theirs, VanderMeer's muse is equally at home in places real (Peru, Cambodia, Florida) and fantastic. The collection opener, "Secret Life," is the history of a five-story building, surrounded by desolation, that houses thousands — from the janitors in the basement to the mysterious "Shadow Cabinet" on the fifth floor — and is brought down by a vine; ingredients including murderous rage over a presumably stolen pen and VanderMeer's revealing endnote on inspiration make the piece delicious. In the closer, "Experiment #25 from the Book of Winter: The Croc and You," a story won't cooperate with its writer because it has been inspired by an image that is irresistible but impossible to fit into a plot. In between, "The Sea, Mendeho, and Moonlight" provide a vital legendary background for VanderMeer's imaginary city, Veniss (see Veniss Underground [BKL Mr 15 03]), and other lovely, fantastic places are so well conjured that their most surreal elements seem veristic.
— Regina Schroeder
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