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Borne: A Novel Paperback – February 27, 2018
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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)
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The beginning starts tame enough. Just another day in the post-apocalyptic neighborhood, scavenging for biotech. Climbing giant psychotic killer bears and rifling through their stinking blood matted fur. Yes, that's the tame part.
Rachel brings home an odd piece of biotech she's never seen before and decides to name it Borne. He's an invertebrate sea anemone type creature who can change shape and size. Her lover and roomie Wick, an ex-biotech scientist and a memory beetle drug dealer, immediately wants to break him down, crack him open and see what's inside. But Rachel likes him. Rachel wants to keep him. Rachel puts him in the window like a decorative plant. This is where the fun begins.
Borne was far and away my favorite character here. I loved the way he spoke. I loved the way he learned and grew. I loved that you could never really trust him. I loved that when it came to Borne, Rachel wasn't exactly reliable. She loves him the way any mother loves her child, blindly. I enjoyed Rachel and Wick's characters as well, and I think Vandermeer did an excellent job making them all very human.
The story could be slow going at times. The action part of the plot is centered on day to day survival, while in the background the reader has all these mysteries propelling them forward. What is Borne? Can he be trusted? What is happening at the Company? What's wrong with Wick? Why can't Rachel remember what happened to her? The ending is ambiguous and will leave you with questions unanswered and many things to think about.
My only real complaint about the book, was that the world that all these characters lived in occasionally felt devoid of other humans. For example, Wick is a drug dealer. He sells memory beetles to people who can't cope with reality and just want to forget, or remember someone else's life instead of their own. I really would have loved for the author to have done something with this concept. The world is filled with monsters galore, but there were no other people (save for one other person, who I won't spoil). I just kept wondering, who is Wick selling all these memory beetles too? Where is everyone else? There is talk of territories between the drug dealers but it never seemed like there would have been enough humans to sell all these biotech drugs to.
Overall I enjoyed it. It was unique. It was weird. It was fun. It gave me something to think about. I'd recommend this to anyone looking for something different, a little change in their regularly scheduled programming.
"Borne" has rave reviews from both critics and casual readers. But I found it a HUGE slog. The plot of "Borne" is a shallow, paper-thin metaphor for the pains and perils of motherhood, as Rachel finds and then raises a weird piece of sentient biotech in a post-bioapocalypse near future. I found myself very put off by VanderMeer's characterization of motherhood as blind devotion in the face of all reason and self-preservation in an otherwise very savvy survivalist.
It feels like a short story that was stretched into a novel: very few characters, motivations that fall apart upon closer examination, and world building that is at once shallow and loud. Seriously, the book opens with a 7-story-tall hyper-intelligent flying bear, who was made by The Company and now rules over The City. Less laziness in world building, please. The "big reveals" about backstory at the end feel meaningless because the characters just shrug them off and don't change their actions or relationships as a result.
The last series I read was NK Jemison's "Broken Earth" trilogy, which has a lot of deep things to say about motherhood and loss and the end of the world. "Borne" truly suffers by comparison, splashing around in the kiddie pool of these ideas. NEXT.
This book is a break from reality. It is beautiful, violent, absurd, engaging, and always surprising. The characters are magnificent, the relationships satisfying, the implications horrific. This is a book that sticks. I did not want it to end, but the ending was beautiful. If you read the premise, you will likely walk away, but if you just let this book happen, you might be like me and walk away with something special.
It also lead me to The Southern Reach Trilogy, which is different and I loved it, but this book, this book is something else. For me it is all-time, ranked with the books that I will come back to again and again. Thanks for the recommendation Sci Fri!
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.
Top international reviews
Into such a dystopian setting, VanderMeer introduces an amorphous creature Rachel finds nested in Mord’s fur on one of her scavenging expeditions, and which she names Borne (inspired by Wick’s reminiscing about a creature he had created as a biotech engineer with the Company, “He was born, but I had borne him”). Possibly a plant/animal/mineral combination or none of these, Rachel becomes obsessed with taking care of him as he grows and begins to show human intelligence, and the rest of the novel seeks to examine the philosophical question of what makes a human being human, in the midst of the horror of the city, as they defend themselves from mutated children and other Mord proxies, smaller versions of Mord (which I pictured as monster Care Bears for some reason) and the ominous Magician who seems to have a hold over Wick, and his secrets that he had taken with him from the now-defunct Company, a corporate biotech lab with their Frankenstein creations running amok, and as Rachel pieces together for the reader parts of her past and how she came to become who she is.
Like the Southern Reach Trilogy for which he is best known, VanderMeer’s forte is in his brand of psychological horror (though there’s also a fair bit of blood, gore and violence in this novel) and the unconventional choice of words and phrases that somehow reveal the uncanny in the most profound way. However, as much as his writing captivates, Rachel’s maternal relationship with Borne and how that complicates things with Wick, which supposedly drives the plot, did not much move me.