Borne by Jeff Vandermeer
I just adored Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (see here). His ability to create a genre-defying, strange but real feeling version of our world is unparalleled, and he does it again with Borne. The setting is in the future after some kind of devastating event, involving the Company – a mysterious organisation somewhat akin to the Southern Reach Authority – that has unleashed havoc on the area, in the particular form of a giant flying bear known as Mord, the result of a biotech project gone wrong. Mord is both feared and revered by those who remained in the area.
No one, not even Wick, knew why the Company hadn’t seen the day coming when Mord would transform from their watchdog to their doom – why they hadn’t tried to destroy Mord while they still held that power. Now it was too late, for not only had Mord become a behemoth, but, by some magic of engineering exorted from the Company, he had learned to levitate, to fly.
As the novel opens, Rachel, a scavenger has dared to climb onto the sleeping bear, and she spots a small green globe, a piece of biotech stuck on his fur. She takes it home to the building she shares with her partner Wick where they do their best to hide from the rest of the world, barricading themselves in from those who’d seek to rout them out. Wick used to work for the Company making biotech, Rachel doesn’t really ask what and rather than give up the globe to him to examine, break down and incorporate into the drugs he sells, she keeps it in her quarters, christening it Borne.
It’s not long before she notices differences in Borne. It grows, it moves, it starts eating the lizards and insects around the place, and then Borne starts to talk. Borne continues to grow and absorb knowledge from Rachel and books. Borne can morph shape, size, smell, but Borne also needs to feed. Borne begins to pester Rachel to go outside. Wick can’t understand her growing parental-type attachment to the creature, while gradually Borne’s hidden capabilities start to become clearer.
Meanwhile the environment outside is growing more unsafe every day. Mord now has biotech ‘proxies’, vicious, killing mini-Mords, and Borne has to save Rachel’s life from them. Also the Magician, another dealer is expanding her domain, and the Balcony Cliffs where Rachel and Wick live is perilously close.
Vandermeer manages to construct a touching coming of age story for Borne, alongside a futuristic thriller that is full of the fantastic and the horrors of what really happened deep inside the Company. Borne tries hard to be good for Rachel, and she is rather resistant to acknowledging his true nature, unlike Wick who thinks that Borne could destroy them all. The tension between Borne – Rachel and Rachel – Wick help to build the suspense further. Borne is always questioning Rachel:
“Am I alone, like Mord?” …
I had no real answer to that question But I remember I didn’t like Borne comparing himself to Mord. I didn’t know what that meant or where that could lead.
Borne is a clever, thought-provoking, mind-bending and genre-defying novel – I adored it. It also has just enough of a fantastic and horror element to it to be a first read for RIP XIII. (10/10)
Source: Own copy.
Jeff Vandermeer, Borne, (4th Estate, 2017), 368 pages.
Buy at Amazon UK below. (Affiliate link)