Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Feels like: The Blob meets Buffy.

Song pairing: “The Only Way” by Tricky

🐻”We held eachother for a time in that hideaway, that unexpected sanctuary, while the city smoldered and the world went on changing without us.” 🐻

I read the Annihilation Series a few years ago, in a fanatic spiral of science fiction and apocalyptic fervor. I was pretty sure I knew what I was in for with Borne: A lot of questions, postulations, assumptions, with just enough facts about the ethereal environment to make our half-formed guesses believable. Guess what? I was right. Welcome to a far more in-depth, character driven Annihilation Series. If you were a fan of those books, you’ll love Borne.

And I mean you’ll love Borne the thing, the person, the weapon, not just Borne the novel.

A brief and very incomplete synopsis: Borne is a biotech created by The Company, an organism that can take on the characteristics of whatever it consumes. It’s actually just The Blob of cinematic fame. In a lot of scenes which required Borne to expand beyond the unnatural shapes it rested in, I imagined The Blob flushing up against the phone booth, crashing through the car, blobbing at a slow pace but somehow catching sentient beings and consuming them. Borne consumes, or assumes, what he intakes. Rachel is a scavenger in an apocalyptic city on the precipice of total destruction. The city is populated by survivors, hiding in hovels, scrapping to get by, alongside biotech experiments created and abandoned by The Company, the faceless enemy who controls the decline of the city. They also control Mord, the gargantuan bear who posses the ability to fly, who stalks the city by order of The Company and mutilates, eats, and destroys at will. He is God, and God is vengeful.

Rachel the scavenger is strong-willed, stubborn and excels at making traps. She meets her foil and love interest Wick, a super paranoid scientist who creates biotech in his pool of cast-offs, and together they form some semblance of a life in their hideout they call Balcony Cliffs. On a routine venture outside of their safe house to gather supplies, Rachel finds Borne, a small amorphous anemone attached to the fur of Mord. She brings him home, names him, and watches his growth with a mother’s fascination and fear. Wick wants to dissect him and find out what he is, but once Borne’s grown enough to speak and ask questions, contemplate life, read and articulate ideas, Rachel loves her biotech child too much to sacrifice him to Wick’s probing. He gets bigger, and bigger, and his abilities become more problematic.

In a lot of ways, Vandermeer’s book is asking us questions about what it means to be human, but even more so what it means to trust someone. I enjoyed Borne even more than I enjoyed Borne. The novel achieved what I think Vandermeer had intended–a study about people, a story about why people carry on throughout impossible circumstances, why survival matters when there’s so little left to survive for. Of course, there are a thousand questions that don’t get tied up into a neat little bow, but that’s to be expected of this variety of novel. The ambiguity is a part of the grandiosity, the environment can be a myth but also our backyard. There were a couple of hints that Vandermeer gave us throughout the novel that I thought for sure I had picked up on and were going to pay off that definitely didn’t: Rachel describes most of the women she encounters as a version of herself. “She looks a lot like me” is a common refrain throughout the novel, and I thought FOR SURE Rachel was a clone, and every female character was another in the Rachel population thrown out by The Company. But no, that’s not it at all–and maybe hunting for the strings that might make sense will make you miss the entire point of the novel.

Memorable quotes:

👾”I was alive, and from past experiences I knew in time I would forget enough to again pretend that we could someday be free.” 👾

🚀”Three dead astronauts had fallen to earth and been planted like tulips, buried to their rib cages, then flopped over in their suits, faceplates cracked open and curled into the dirt.”🚀

🔬”That’s the problem with people who are not human. You can’t tell how badly they’re hurt, or how much they need your help, and until you ask, they don’t always know how to tell you.” 🔬


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