Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on May 22, 2017
"The world is broken and I don't know how to fix it." - from Borne's journal.

****

Jeff VanderMeer is America's closest answer to China Mieville, a crafter of weird new stuff (I won't hang the "New Weird" label on him, but his work is certainly weird in new ways). His previous work, the "Southern Reach" trilogy, has been translated into more languages than J.R.R. Tolkien invented, and is being filmed (or at least the first book, _Annihilation_, is). His newest novel is _Borne_.

_Borne_ is currently something of a nine-days' wonder, appearing on many "recommended summer reading" lists, some of them quite unlikely. Yet this is completely appropriate, and I add my own small recommendation. Read it.

What it's about is quite complicated. Rachel (the only name given for her) was born on an island nation that, due to rising seas, no longer exists. She ekes out a life in a post-disaster city as a scavenger. The city (also no name) is ruled, if that's the word, by a giant (many stories tall), vicious flying bear named Mord.

One day Rachel scavenges among the fur of the sleeping Mord and finds a ... thing. Sort of like a plant; sort of like a squid: she names it Borne and keeps it against the advisement of her lover and sort-of partner Wick, himself a biotech craftsman of some repute. Before everything fell apart, Wick worked for the Company (which also made Mord and then lost control of him).

Oh dear. I've not gotten past page fifteen or so, and a lot of what I've just said is backstory that *isn't* known that early. But it's the only way I know to even begin to explain what a tangled, glorious mess _Borne_ is. Plotlines include simple survival; a siege by Mord's proxies; Wick and Rachel struggling for trust; a struggle for control of the city between the forces of Mord and of the Magician; and Borne himself, who grows and grows. All this and much, much more, in little more than 300 pages.

Borne seems to take food in but not to excrete in any way. He learns to talk, to change shape, and to (maybe?) love. He wants to fix the broken world. (There may be an allegory there, but probably not.)

Rachel has a voice of her own, and VanderMeer hews to it faithfully. More to the point, she has a _soul_ of her own, as do Wick and Borne - not so much the other "characters," who are by-and-large only there, at least as we see them, for Rachel to respond/react to. She narrates the novel's many eyeball kicks exactly as she perceives and receives them. Even mediated through her voice, they are strange indeed.

This is a book that will take time and rereadings for me to truly grok. It isn't difficult in the sense of "what is going on here?" but in the sense of "what does what is going on here *mean*?" Surely it must mean something, for all the work VanderMeer put into crafting this dense text ... Or must it? Consider the Voynich Manuscript; consider _A Humument_. Sometimes a work of art simply _is_. And whatever else _Borne_ may do to its readers, it certainly _is_, complete and whole and self-contained.
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