There are few authors with whom you can put your entire trust as a reader. Few writers who have never done wrong. Jeff Vandermeer is an author with whom you can always place your trust. A writer who keeps his vast imaginary worlds an enigma even to those who finish reading his books. Who can shift styles wildly even within a single book like City of Saints and Madmen. Who can create a masterpiece like Borne.
A world ravaged by an unknown disaster (or series of disasters), a city is trapped in fear of an enormous flying bear named Mord and his ‘proxies’ (smaller ferocious bears who hunt in place of him). A scavenger, Rachel, who lives in a network of caves with her lover, a chemist turned drug manufacturer called Wick. On a scavenging mission she finds a small plant-like creature which she names Borne and raises as a pet/surrogate child, all against Wick’s orders. As Borne grows, he begins to question his nature and his purpose. Is he a weapon? The way he devours and absorbs everything he comes across suggests he might be. Is he the key to stopping Mord? Or could he be something worse?
Vandermeer’s success is down to his tight focus. In Annihilation, the first book in his Southern Reach trilogy, he placed the focus on a single character navigating a surreal, unknown environment and by doing so, he made it clear that the purpose of the story was not to understand the world (how could we understand such an alien landscape?) but to understand the character. Likewise, Borne is not about Mord, or Wick, or even Borne, but about Rachel, and therein lies its success. Rachel isn’t concerned about what caused the world to be the way it is. She is concerned first and foremost with her own survival. “I want no great power, no power at all, only power over my own life.” She says towards the end of the book, and when confronted with the possibility of understanding the events that shaped her world she comments, “It doesn’t matter.”
This is far and away Vandermeer’s best novel and one of the best science-fiction books of the year. Vandermeer is an author at the top of his game and Borne demonstrates a wealth of imagination and a deep trench of humanity that most authors only dip into briefly.
Any Cop?: This is one of the best books of the year so far. An outright masterpiece of fiction.