It’s odd to admit but I’ve recently realized that I have somehow stumbled into a reader relationship with Jeff Vandermeer. It all started because I, an unpublished fantasy author, began to worry that my young adult fantasy wasn’t – well – weird enough. I can’t really remember how I found Vandermeer’s Wonderbook. Maybe it was through a targeted Amazon search or perhaps browsing at my favorite book store. Either way I was entranced by the creativity on the cover and found within. Wonderbook was weird, but beautifully so. I can remember going through some of the Wonderbook exercises and wondering if Mr. Vandermeer had written any fiction. Or did he just teach the craft of creativity, rather than putting that skill into practical use
Not long after the Wonderbook purchase I found myself watching the film Annihilation. The ambiguity of the story bothered me so I sought the source material and low and behold I came across Jeff Vandermeer again! In a surprising coincidence Vandermeer was the author of the book Annihilation. I eagerly consumed the book hoping for a clearer understanding around some key events in the movie. Ultimately, I was left with more questions than answers and, lucky for me, realized that the book was the first part of a trilogy. A seeming endless supply of Jeff Vandermeer! I dove into Books 2 and 3 with gusto, determined to answer some of my outstanding questions and inspire my own writing.
I have reviewed the Southern Reach Trilogy in another blog post but suffice it to say there were things I admired and those that I didn’t, along with questions that remained unanswered. However, Vandermeer’s world was so unique and his writing so enchantingly odd that I was determined to push past my reservations and keep an open mind. That’s when I picked up another of his books entitled simply Borne.
A basic synopsis is simply this: A scavenger trying to survive in a world decimated by a biological experiment(s) gone horribly wrong finds a strange organism and decides to claim it as her own. She names this creature Borne.
What I loved about this story was the intimacy of the lead character Rachel and her life partner Wick, and how the introduction of Borne throws a major kink in their ordered yet precarious existence. Borne is a fascinating character, unsure what he is for most of the story he grapples with the riddle of his existence. There is an innocence about Borne that is almost immediately endearing. There is danger though too. In this world creatures with terrible purpose were created and released into the wild, both to keep order and create chaos. Which is Borne? Rachel thinks she knows but Wick suspects otherwise. It is this tension that drives much of the story.
Also fascinating is the world in which they inhabit. How did everything so wrong? The fall of society is left somewhat unclear, sensing (rather than outright being told) that the scarcity of resources led to the creation of certain “biotech” that might have hastened the world’s demise. Rachel, Wick, and Borne live in a harsh reality and their efforts to survive such a hostile environment are compelling enough on their own, regardless of the triangle that erupts between them.
The story is told from Rachel’s perspective and she must ultimately resolve her conflicted relationship with Wick and Borne. Where does her loyalty lie? Why does she have to choose? Can they find a way to coexist in harmony and work together to overcome a multitude of external threats in this dangerous new world? These questions are answered but not in a predictable manner and with plenty of surprises thrown in along the way. After all, who doesn’t have secrets in a post-apocalyptic world?