Jeff VanderMeer's New Novel Makes Dystopia Seem Almost Fun

WIRED | 4/25/2017 | Charley Locke
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WHY IS WATER wet? Is it important to be nice? How do you know if you’re a person, or a fox? Toddlers ask the darndest things—especially when said toddler is a shape-shifting piece of biotech that learns about the world by eating people.

And that’s just the beginning of Jeff VanderMeer’s new novel. Part sci-fi, part family drama, Borne envisions a world shaped by both technology and the supernatural. It’s a story of domesticity and tension under absurdist circumstances, as its three protagonists form an unlikely bond while being tyrannized by a massive flying bear and gangs of feral, genetically modified children. The book, out today, is a significant departure from the author’s previous work. But fans worried that its human-devouring namesake and far-future setting mean it’s lightyears away from his beloved Southern Reach trilogy should fear not. Beyond its post-apocalyptic people-eaters, Borne maintains a wry self-awareness that’s rare in dystopias, making it the most necessary VanderMeer book yet.

Borne - Narrator - Rachel - Scavenger - City

Borne’s narrator is Rachel, a scavenger in a city ravaged by ecological disaster and the sinister creations of the Company, a now-defunct biotech firm. Along with her partner, Wick, a radioactive biotech dealer, she lives in abandoned warrens, surviving each bleak day for the next—until she meets Borne, an amorphous plant-turned-sentient-creature, which she heedlessly nurtures. (Clearly, Rachel has never seen Life.) As Borne becomes a teenager, it does away with childish things like “thinking” and “reading,” and instead chooses to learn by “sampling” living things, absorbing people and their experiences whole.

Borne’s pedagogical process is a neat summation of VanderMeer’s creative one this time around. While the author published an intricate map to help readers navigate the Southern Reach trilogy, this time around he amplified the micro over the macro: the book’s central city remains unnamed, but VanderMeer instead created an intricate taxonomy of...
(Excerpt) Read more at: WIRED
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