Jeff VanderMeer, . . Prime, $40 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-9668968-8-6

A master of postmodern game playing, VanderMeer (The Exchange) here gathers all the fiction published in his earlier trade paper collection (also titled, in a typically Borgesian maneuver, City of Saints and Madmen), plus an equal amount of new material. Set in the haunted city of Ambergris, with its Borges Bookstore, these stories feature bizarre recurring characters and intensely self-referential plots. Among the highlights are the World Fantasy Award–winning "Transformation of Martin Lake," the tale of a talented painter who's obsessed with a great composer; "The Strange Case of X," which concerns an incarcerated lunatic found wandering the streets of Ambergris carrying the very book being discussed in this review; the wonderful new story "The Cage," in which an antiques dealer becomes infected with a fungus that's slowly taking over much of the city; and, oddest of all perhaps, an untitled short story, which fills the entire dust jacket and concerns an unnamed traveler who has a close encounter with a giant squid in the river that runs through Ambergris. Other pieces take many forms, including a history of the city complete with footnotes, psychiatric records from a local hospital, an amazingly funny work of pseudo-biology entitled "King Squid" and entirely bogus bibliographies and glossaries. This beautifully written, virtually hallucinatory work isn't for every taste, but connoisseurs of the finest in postmodern fantasy will find it enormously rewarding. (May)

Forecast:Recently named by Locus On-Line as one of the 10 best short-story writers in the field, VanderMeer has avoided doing the kind of thing the big, increasingly commercial houses are willing to take on. Serious review attention could break him out—though it will take a novel that makes some concessions to the marketplace to lure a major publisher.