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Literature / Veniss Underground

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Quin is a child in the dark who teased the weave and warp of flesh into the medium of our desires.
Quin is the kiss in the dark from the creature you cannot quite glimpse from the corner of the eye — a cyberquick message sent from the light to the dark.
Quin is the sigh of anticipation on a lover's lips, foretaste of pleasure, surcease of pain, the end of matter.
Quin is the man living in the belly of a giant fish who remakes the world in his own image but is trapped in its jaws.

Veniss Underground is a 2003 novel by Jeff VanderMeer.

In the socially stratified future city of Veniss, where the very rich live in towering skyscrapers and the desperately poor are confined underground, rumor tells of an extraordinary shop which only the most well-connected can access: Quin's Shanghai Circus. Quin is a master of genetic engineering, and sells spectacularlly engineered organisms which can serve as aesthetic Living Art or functional Organic Technology. Most famous of all are his sentient humanoid meerkats, intelligent but humble creatures which live to serve.

The novel follows three characters: Nicholas, an unsuccessful holo artist; Nicola, his more responsible twin sister; and Shadrach, a mutual friend of the two who works for Quin. Falling into a slump after robbers steal his unsold artwork, Nicholas decides to seek out Quin's Shanghai Circus and buy a meerkat. When he fails to return, Nicola begins searching for him. And Shadrach, feeling responsible for directing Nicholas to Quin's Shanghai Circus, sets out to find Quin himself, in his lair deep underground, and demand answers.

This novel includes examples of:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Veniss was governed by artificial intelligences for a time in the past, but they went out of control and had to be destroyed, severely damaging much of the city's computerized infrastructure in the process.
  • Beast with a Human Face: Quin's Shanghai Circus includes miniature orangutans with female human faces. The dog packs in his lair also have human faces.
  • Body Horror: Much of Living Art falls into this category, ranging from the merely uncanny to the truly grotesque.
  • Distinguishing Mark: Nicola has a birthmark in the shape of a rose between the thumb and forefinger of her left hand. When Shadrach sees it on Lady Ellington's transplanted hand, he realizes that Quin has taken Nicola to his organ farm to be used for spare parts.
  • Driven to Suicide: Nicholas kills himself rather than live as the monster Quin turned him into.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Quin, who wants to wipe out humanity to pave the way for his "superior" meerkats.
  • Half-Identical Twins: Nicholas and Nicola.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Quin shows his meerkats holovids of humans committing atrocities against animals and against one another. It's meant to indoctrinate the meerkats with the belief that humans are bastards are meerkats are the superior race; and Nicola, after seeing the meerkats' hidden garden, doesn't entirely disagree.
  • If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: Nicola invokes this when pleading Salvador not to kill her:
    Nicola: Do you want to be as cruel as those humans in your holograph show? To be no better than the worst of what we are?
  • Innate Night Vision: Quin's genetically engineered meerkats can see in the dark.
    John: It's not dark — your eyes are just pathetically bad at retaining light.
  • Kill All Humans: When Quin first began experimenting with genetic engineering, he didn't have any particular goal in mind; but as he grew to hate humanity more and more, he eventually decide to kill off the human race and replace them with meerkats.
  • Losing Your Head: Urban assassin class meerkats are engineered to be capable of surviving for several days as just a head. Shadrach thus reduces Salvador to just a head to render him harmless and portable, and renames him "John the Baptist".
  • Mind Probe: There are professionals called Psychewitches who can extract memories from people in stasis and show them to others. Unusually, the process is more dangerous to the mind of the person receiving the memories than the mind of the person being probed.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Some of Quin's creations include beetleworms, eelgoats, and camelapes.
  • Organic Technology: Most of the technology in Quin's lair is made of living creatures, including the maps and the boats.
  • People Farms: Quin runs one, using the parts for his Living Art creations.
  • Police Are Useless: The police in Veniss city operate as a pay-to-hire business, and ignore the missing persons report Nicola files for Nicholas because she isn't rich enough to make searching for him worth their while.
  • Ray Gun: Nicola and Shadrach both arm themselves with laser guns.
  • Second-Person Narration: The second section of the book, which focuses on Nicola, is written in this manner.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": The Gollux insists on calling itself the Gollux, because it is the only one of its kind that Quin made.
  • Starving Artist: Nicholas starts the novel as an unsuccessful holo artist, dependent on loans from his sister.
  • Stop Worshipping Me: Quin originally set himself up as a God to his creations, but later came to believe that their worship of him is stunting their development, and so has begun killing his own priests.
    Crucified meerkat: I am a priest of the Church of Quin. Quin no longer wants priests for his church.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The novel is split into three sections. The first focuses on Nicholas and is written in first person; the second focuses on Nicola and is written in second person; and the third focuses on Shadrach and is written in third person.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Quin wants Shadrach to kill him so that the meerkats will view him as a martyr and be inspired to rise up against humanity... or something. He's gone somewhat crazy, and seems to change his mind about whether or not he actually wants Shadrach to kill him several times.
  • Third-Person Person: The Gollux usually refers to itself as "the Gollux" in its speech.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: Quin sells genetically engineered sentient meerkats as servants, planning for them to eventually rise up and overthrow their masters.
  • The Unpronounceable: Salvador/John's real name is a chirping sound that only meerkats can properly pronounce.
  • We Will Use Lasers in the Future: Laser guns are ubiquitous in Veniss, having pretty much replaced kinetic firearms.