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Borne: A Novel Hardcover – April 25, 2017
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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“Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy was an ever-creeping map of the apocalypse; with Borne he continues his investigation into the malevolent grace of the world, and it's a thorough marvel.” ―Colson Whitehead
"VanderMeer is that rare novelist who turns to nonhumans not to make them approximate us as much as possible but to make such approximation impossible. All of this is magnified a hundredfold in Borne . . . Here is the story about biotech that VanderMeer wants to tell, a vision of the nonhuman not as one fixed thing, one fixed destiny, but as either peaceful or catastrophic, by our side or out on a rampage as our behavior dictates--for these are our children, born of us and now to be borne in whatever shape or mess we have created." ―Wai Chee Dimock, The New York Times Book Review
“The conceptual elements in VanderMeer’s fiction are so striking that the firmness with which he cinches them to his characters’ lives is often overlooked . . . Borne is VanderMeer’s trans-species rumination on the theme of parenting . . . [Borne] insists that to live in an age of gods and sorcerers is to know that you, a mere person, might be crushed by indifferent forces at a moment’s notice, then quickly forgotten.” ―Laura Miller, The New Yorker
"Borne, the latest novel from New Weird author Jeff VanderMeer, is a story of loving self-sacrifice, hallucinatory beauty, and poisonous trust . . . Heady delights only add to the engrossing richness of Borne. The main attraction is a tale of mothers and monsters--and of how we make each other with our love." ―Nisi Shawl, The Washington Post
"Borne, Jeff VanderMeer's lyrical and harrowing new novel, may be the most beautifully written, and believable, post-apocalyptic tale in recent memory . . . [VanderMeer] outdoes himself in this visionary novel shimmering with as much inventiveness and deliriously unlikely, post-human optimism as Borne himself." ―Elizabeth Hand, Los Angeles Times
"Borne, the latest from sci-fi savant Jeff VanderMeer, begins innocently enough: Girl meets strange plantlike creature. But if you haven't read his haunting Southern Reach trilogy, prepare yourself--this is Walden gone horribly wrong." ―Esquire
"VanderMeer's apocalyptic vision, with its mix of absurdity, horror, and grace, can't be mistaken for that of anyone else. Inventive, engrossing, and heartbreaking, Borne finds [VanderMeer] at a high point of creative accomplishment." ―Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle
"Beautiful . . . VanderMeer's fiction is not preachy by any means. Rather, it probes the mysterious of different lifeforms and highlights our human ignorance at the life around us." ―Lincoln Michel, Vice
"VanderMeer’s follow-up to his acclaimed Southern Reach trilogy is fantastical and strange, but with a sincere heart beating at its core. " ―Jaime Green, Google Play
"Borne maintains a wry self-awareness that's rare in dystopias, making it the most necessary VanderMeer book yet." ―Charley Locke, Wired
"With Borne VanderMeer presents a parable about modern life, in these shaky days of roughshod industrialism, civilizational collapse, and looming planetary catastrophe . . . Think of Borne as a retelling of Steven Spielberg’s E.T, or the character arc of Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s the story of humanity making contact with something strange, alien, artificial, but yet possessed of a personality, a sense of humor, a drive to find love and friendship and community, to be a part of something―and to be respected―respected the way immigrants, refugees, the oppressed the world over have always wished to be respected." ―Brian Ted Jones, The Rumpus
"A triumph of science fiction . . . Borne will dazzle you with its wonders and horrors, revealing itself as another piece of the puzzle, a reflection on the terror and beauty of being alive." ―Matt E. Lewis, Electric Literature
"Just as VanderMeer subverted your expectations for each sequel to Annihilation, with Borne he’s written something completely different and unpredictable ― not just in terms of the story, but also with regards to language, structure, and point of view." ―Adam Morgan, Chicago Review of Books
"VanderMeer offers another conceptual cautionary tale of corporate greed, scientific hubris, and precarious survival . . . VanderMeer marries bildungsroman, domestic drama, love story, and survival thriller into one compelling, intelligent story centered not around the gee-whiz novelty of a flying bear but around complex, vulnerable characters struggling with what it means to be a person. VanderMeer's talent for immersive world-building and stunning imagery is on display in this weird, challenging, but always heartfelt novel." ―Krista Hutley, Booklist (starred review)
"Supremely literary, distinctly unusual . . . VanderMeer’s deep talent for worldbuilding takes him into realms more reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's The Road than of the Shire. Superb.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"VanderMeer, author of the acclaimed Southern Reach trilogy, has made a career out of eluding genre classifications, and with Borne he essentially invents a new one . . . Reading like a dispatch from a world lodged somewhere between science fiction, myth, and a video game, the textures of Borne shift as freely as those of the titular whatsit. What’s even more remarkable is the reservoirs of feeling that VanderMeer is able to tap into . . . resulting in something more than just weird fiction: weird literature.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
From the Back Cover
“Am I a person or a weapon?” Borne asks Rachel, in extremis. “You are a person,” Rachel tells him.
“But like a person, you can be a weapon, too.”
In Borne, the epic new novel from Jeff VanderMeer, author of the acclaimed bestselling Southern Reach trilogy, a young woman named Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined, dangerous city of the near future. The city is littered with discarded experiments from the Company—a biotech firm now seemingly derelict—and punished by the unpredictable attacks of a giant bear. From one of her scavenging missions, Rachel brings home Borne, who is little more than a green lump—plant or animal?—but who exudes a strange charisma. Rachel feels a growing attachment to Borne, a protectiveness that she can ill afford. It’s exactly the kind of vulnerability that will upend her precarious existence, unnerving her partner, Wick, and upsetting the delicate balance of their unforgiving city—possibly forever. And yet, little as she understands what or who Borne may be, she cannot give him up, even as Borne grows and changes . . . “He was born, but I had borne him.”--This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
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There are three stories being told. The first is about how the city became destroyed, what's it's like to live in such a condition, and how can things be improved. The second is the relationship of the two main characters, Rachael and Wick, and how that relationship can survive in the midst of so much fear and horror. The third is Rachael's relationship to Borne, a biotech creature whose purpose is unknown. As Rachael raises Borne from a tiny infant "plant" to...whatever it is he becomes. As he grows his very existence and his unknown nature come between Rachel and Wick.
This book absolutely deserves five stars, I'd give it more if I could. It is incredibly creative. Shockingly so. The pace is fast but considered. The reader is pulled in, struggling to keep up, and yet also following the subtle nuances of the interpersonal relationships and the morphing of their environment.
The world VanderMeer builds for this story is gorgeously unsettling. Rarely in post-apocalyptic scifi do we have so little of the world explained to us. I admire greatly his courage in leaving so many questions not only unanswered but unacknowledged; the lack of understanding he allows the reader feeds directly into the sense of unease he cultivates for this story.
For me, at least, this book was a strong departure from my norm and I struggled with every page. The language is so gaunt, the worldbuilding so spare, the pacing is at times frenetic and others meandering. These qualities combined to keep me deeply uncomfortable throughout my experience with this book - and yet I could not stop reading. The world he creates is as captivating as it is deadly. As much as I wanted to return to the safety of my usual fare, I needed to know what VanderMeer had in store for Rachel, for Borne. For me.
You have to employ a willing suspension of disbelief. The most destructive of the biotech is Mord, a building-sized, flying bear who tyrannizes the city. The title character is a talking, shape-shifting, self-reflective, hilarious squid-like creature. They work because of VanderMeer's skill at world building and his humorous touch.
On another level, the book is an insightful examination of the motives that build and break relationships: love, trust, jealousy, betrayal, and forgiveness. The emotional center is the relationship between Rachel and Borne. Rachel salvages Borne, finding him matted in Mord’s fur and hiding him under her shirt, where he "beat against [her] chest like a second heart.”
Rachel raises Borne, experiencing many of the typical joys and fears of parenting as well as deep uncertainty about Borne’s nature. Their relationship turns into something else, something I can’t quite define, something like friendship, but deeper. When, despite her lessons (or maybe because of them), Borne becomes something other than what she wants, her heart is broken. Prepare yourself to be hard hit emotionally; I cried more than once.
I found Rachel's relationship with her partner, Wick, to be less compelling. He is not a likable character, but this isn’t a fault of the writing: Rachel herself often paints him in a less-than-flattering light. Wick’s explanation at the end for much of his behavior—including his jealousy of Borne and betrayal of Rachel—left me cold. I think that's one of VanderMeer's points: expecting people to be as we want them to be is futile.
On yet another level, the work is a meditation on the questions that we all want answers to: why are we here? Is each of us unique, and does that mean we are alone? What is our purpose? Do we even have a purpose? What does it mean to be a person, and is that synonymous with being human? Is there sentient life that isn’t human? Why do people commit evil? What becomes of us if we knowingly commit heinous acts just to survive? Where do we go when we die? Much of the emotional resonance comes as Borne grapples with these questions with a child-like simplicity and struggles to be good despite irrefutable evidence of what he is.
How he answers at least some of these questions and finds peace … wow. So poignant. Buy this book now and find out for yourself.
The book doesn't give a lot of answers-- just enough to tie the big loose ends. A lot of it is because Rachel just didn't care about the answers I wanted-- so we never get them. Still, I enjoyed this book a lot.