Monday, June 12, 2017

Borne by Jeff Vandermeer

(Ok, fine. I admit it. I chose to read this book because of the cover. I mean look at it. There I was, processing new books for the library and I cam across this eye catching, bizarre-o cover with its cool colors and illustration of a...bird? A heart? A tropical plant of some kind? And then there was the unassuming, mysterious title. "Borne." I was immediately intrigued. 

For the second time in two weeks, this is a genre I don't normally read. The last sci-fi I read was for a series I was copywriting and that was military, hard sci-fi. This was not that. But I hope sci-fi aficionados will forgive the review any naivete.)

Rachel is a scavenger in a destroyed city on a wrecked and ravaged planet that is terrorized by an enormous, brutal, flying bear named Mord. She spends her days combing the ruins of the city in Mord's shadow, hoping to find useful items to bring back to her shelter, which she shares with her lover, Wick.  An organization called "The Company" has created technological creatures and released them into the world as experiments. Many of these inventions became sentient and led to the destruction of the world; one of these creatures was Mord. Mord has violent proxies that act on his behalf, killing and mutilating everything they come across. The ruined city is also at the mercy of The Magician, a powerful woman who has designs on control of the city and of Rachel and Wick's stronghold. 

One day, as she is scavenging, she finds an odd creature in Mord's wake and is immediately drawn to it. She takes it back to her shelter and names it Borne. She instantly feels maternal, finding in the ashes of her violent life, something to care for and to teach. As time passes, she comes to realize that Borne, like almost everything she finds in the shambles of the world outside her shelter, is not at all what she expected. Borne begins to talk to her and she realizes that he is more than than his small size and innocent seeming questions let on. In fact, she comes to understand that Borne is extremely powerful and she finds herself torn between caring for him and running away from his unpredictable power. Meanwhile, both Rachel and Wick know that their shelter is in danger of being invaded on all fronts, if not by Mord, then by his proxies or the Magician. And having Borne there with them is proving more dangerous than any outside force could be. 

Ok, phew. That was really hard to summarize. And I'm not even that confident that I explained myself well. 

I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Rachel is a character that is both strong and vulnerable and hearing the story told in her voice kept me in the action and engaged in her personality. The extraordinary and truly original story of finding a sentient, nearly inexplicable thing and caring for it and nurturing it was made completely believable to me in a way that was wholly unexpected. In fact, not being a sci-fi reader, my connection to this story is a welcome surprise. I don't know if it was Rachel's isolation, her constant struggle, her vulnerability or what, but I found her unforgettable. The world building in this book is effective; I spent most of the book anxious and filled with dread. (That was the point, non?) And, without providing spoilers, I found the ending of this book to be one of the most satisfying endings I've read in a long time. 

There is plenty of action, ranging from chases to escapes to violent killing sprees. Despite that, I would not call it a quick read. There is a lot of internal conflict that we follow Rachel through but her story is worth it. I'd recommend this to fans of dystopian fiction, futuristic fiction, and of course, science fiction. 

For NYC locals, the author is going to be talking at the Strand (to Eric Bogosian!) on June 29th. And my peoples, how badly I want to go to this! Imma hafta see if I can swing it but I'll need my special "can I take off two hours early from work" mojo to work overtime to make that happen. If you go, can you message me and tell me how it was? I'll buy you a drink. 

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