Review: Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to flip this image.

This all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object. Employing an accessible, example-rich approach, Wonderbook energizes and motivates while also providing practical, nuts-and-bolts information needed to improve as a writer. Aimed at aspiring and intermediate-level writers, Wonderbook includes helpful sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names in fantasy today, such as George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Catherynne M. Valente, and Karen Joy Fowler, to name a few. —Goodreads

I’m going to start off by telling you that I didn’t finish this book; I’m also going to ask you to read through this review because this book is so awesome, and so good at what it does, that I’ve had it to review for months and I’m still not done. It deserves a review, especially considering it was published somewhat recently, in 2013.

For those of you not familiar with speculative/imaginative fiction, here are some examples of genre’s that all under that phrase: There’s Steampunk, an alternate history type of scifi/fantasy/horror fiction like Boneshaker by Cherie Priest or Gail Carriger’s Soulless series; we’ve got soft/hard science fiction (think: Star Wars and Arthur C. Clark, respectively); fantasy and horror. If you have any other examples, leave them in the comments below!

The Good: Pretty much everything. There are the inspiring images perfect for the speculative fiction writer; images that are educational; and they are all entertaining. From the very first page you’re hit smack in the face with SO. MUCH.GOING. ON. that you can’t hear a thought in your head. You’re bombarded by creatures and graphs that are readable while a few aren’t. But the reason this didn’t deter me is because it made it fun. Like, really fun.

The author is one I’m familiar with. He’s written several non-fiction/fiction-y books on Steampunk that were very fun to read. There were lots of pictures and, as you’ve noted up above with my CAPS on, the pictures in this book are creative and complement the book.

The craziness of the illustrations are very fitting for speculative fiction. When I read speculative fiction I expect to get carried away. I don’t want to think about life, that’s why I shy away from realistic fiction (I live it often enough, anyway). As much as I enjoy reading books on writing I’m often bored, or it can’t keep my attention. Not so with the Wonderbook (except when I came across exercises–though that’s their doing!). Reading Wonderbook was like reading science fiction, I was transported out of my world and into VanderMeer’s world, where creatures had one eye, five eyes, and were the colors of the rainbow. 

This was a fun book to read. The writing exercises, craft advice, author shout-outs and the exciting way these are all delivered are reason enough to buy this book. What makes this book even better is that it can totally be of use to fiction writer’s of any genre, though it caters to imaginative fiction.

I want to touch on the quality of the book. The binding is nothing special but it’s sturdy. What’s really cool are the pages. Each one is somewhat glossy and of a thicker material than the average $9.99 paperback book and is in full color. No, it’s not $10 but the price is pretty darn good taking into consideration all the elements of the book that I just raved about. The online price for both Amazon and Barnes and Nobel is about $17. Well worth the monies, I assure you.

Why I didn’t finish the book: I just haven’t. I’ve been reading at a snail’s pace. But this isn’t a book that needs to be read front-to-back at all; in fact, I would recommend against it. For starters, it’s incredibly detailed and includes writing exercises. Don’t get caught up in reading the book, stop and actually do them, they are well thought out and tailored for the imaginative fiction writer. It was taking me three times the usual time it takes for me to read a page of a regular fiction book.

That being said, the facts are intended to make you stop and think and, most importantly, remember what was being suggested.

The Bad: If you don’t like a book that is full of graphics that may be distracting, this book isn’t for you. The pictures are the highlight of the book so you have to be ready for them. Unfortunately, this does mean that this will take a long, long time to read. But, as I mentioned, maybe that’s not such a bad thing for you.

Quite honestly, those are the only “cons” I found with this book, and they’re all subjective. To me they weren’t cons but for someone else they may be.

Final Verdict: If you’re an aspiring intermediate writer of (speculative) fiction, or are interested in following that path, this is the book for you. While the target audience are those who are interested in imaginative fiction–as evident from the subtitle–

The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction

 it would work just fine for the general fiction writer.