Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Have you ever raised a child? You watched them as they grew from a small bean to a sentient creature within the world? You saw them learn, you saw them get hurt, and you watched them make their own decisions. And finally, you watched as they went off and fulfilled their own purpose?
This is the model of the critically praised, and highly lauded novel Borne by Jeff VanderMeer.
The eco-author, known for his Southern Reach Trilogy, tries his hand at the dystopian-future genre in his latest book.
But unlike the stereotypical dystopian-future novel, where the characters are simply trying to survive or figure out a way to reverse their dystopian environment, Borne focuses on the familial dynamic within this environment and what it means to be a parent.
The narrator is named Rachel, and she and her male-counterpart, named Wick, live in a bombed-out apartment complex where they have figured out how to survive in an environment filled with radioactive streams and animals that might be people that might be animals.
Within the first few pages, Rachel finds a small creature, amorphous blob is more accurate really, which she names Borne. She brings the creature back to her home and begins to raise it as a child, even though, you know, it’s a blob.
What ensues is more parent, self-help book rather than a science-fiction novel.
We watch as Borne begins to move around, ask pesky questions like “What does that word mean?”, and learn to morph into larger and larger sentient and non-sentient objects alike. You know, normal kid stuff.
And though Rachel does a good job with pretty basic parenting, Borne’s rearing begins to take a weird turn as we learn that it learns best when it eats things.
And by eat things, I mean totally consume them in what I can only imagine is similar to an amoeba eating something. Borne collects whatever he has eaten’s knowledge and says the things that have been consumed are not ‘dead’ despite all the evidence to the contrary.
The book is weird, but what do you expect from an author considered part of the New Weird authors? But for all its strangeness and oddity, it is a fun read which will make you think about life, parenting, and the intersection of technology with the natural world.
Oh, and did I mention there is a giant flying bear? Yeah, there’s that too.
4/5 cups of coffee