Review: Dead Astronauts

dead-astronauts_cover.jpgTitle: Dead Astronauts (2019)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Pages: 323
Series: Borne #2

I will spare everyone an attempted plot summary as Dead Astronauts cannot be tidily synopsized. Just know that it features a messianic blue fox, a giant immortal fish, and human-ish characters seeking to end the reign of an evil organization across multiple dimensions…I think.

I had been frustrated by Borne’s lack of penetrability, so I recalibrated my expectations before reading this one. That was the right move. This book is trippy, oftentimes incoherent, but all sorts of enthralling. There is an apt quote in the earlygoing which references “things that could pull a mind apart if examined up close.” That was a good encapsulation of this book for me – you’ll lose your mind if you get bogged down trying to parse every tiny detail. Let the words and passages wash over you. The writing itself is quite mesmerizing with VanderMeer spinning some real poetry on each page.

Dead Astronauts is certainly not for everyone, and I don’t even think it’s for me, but I did like it? Maybe? Perhaps it’s just fun to see what oddities VanderMeer can think up and bring to life. Not to mention, this may be the best book cover I’ve laid eyes on. I wasn’t sure that I was going to read this, but the dust jacket really sold me.

★★★¼ out of 5

Review: The Strange Bird

The Strange Bird.jpgTitle: The Strange Bird (2017)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Pages: 109
Series: Borne #1.5 (Series Tracker)

I had a difficult time connecting with Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this novella set in the same world. The Strange Bird herself is an odd amalgamation – part bird, part human, part machine, part other. She’s sentient and self-aware, but ultimately disoriented. Her understanding of the world is fragmented, much like the composition of her body. 

The way VanderMeer describes bird flight in the story is evocative and beautiful. His love and appreciation for birds and their characteristics is obvious (check out his Twitter feed for further confirmation).

Overall, The Strange Bird is a moving and haunting story that reignited my interest in this world in anticipation of Borne‘s pseudo-sequel, Dead Astronauts, next on my to-read list.

★★★★½ out of 5

Review: Borne

passport_Borne-A-Novel-1519296-9fdd0708c6a0d663eb92Title: Borne (2017)
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Pages: 325

Rachel is a young woman scavenging the ruins of a dilapidated city. She comes across Borne, a sea anemone-like creature affixed to the side of monstrous bear that patrols her territory. Rachel must contend with Borne’s growing sentience (and size) as her world crumbles around her.

Borne shares a lot of stylistic DNA with Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, one of my favorite books of all time. This novel did not jibe with me in the same way, unfortunately. While Annihilation dealt with the slow creep of the unfamiliar into our known world, Borne shows a world already gone — a world filled with biotechnological monstrosities and a destroyed civilization. It’s a full embrace of the New Weird genre that VanderMeer has helped popularize, but it ultimately lost me along the way.

There are nuggets of really interesting ideas found within the pages of this novel, but I found the writing style to be ultimately inaccessible. Borne lacked a cohesive narrative and a compelling mystery, which made it difficult to stay invested. In the end, all the discordant sequences coalesced into something coherent, but it wasn’t enough to rectify the disinterest and confusion that came before it.

★★¼ out of 5