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“Borne” by Jeff VanderMeer

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Although I first encountered Jeff VanderMeer through the excellent anthologies he co-edits with his wife Ann, he’s better known for his fiction. His Southern Reach Trilogy and Ambergris novels are both beloved by fans of weird fiction. Borne is the first in a trilogy set in a post-apocalyptic city where people scavenge for biotechnological creations that have escaped into the wild while trying to evade a giant flying bear. No, that was not a typo, there really is a giant flying bear. His name is Mord.

The story kicks off when Rachel discovers Borne on a scavenging run. At first, he appears to be some kind of plant, but it quickly becomes clear that he’s far more than that. Rachel’s partner Wick is immediately suspicious of him, but Rachel refuses to let him dissect Borne. Over time, her bond with Borne evolves from that of owner and pet to that of parent and child.

Borne’s appearance is profoundly alien, as is his perception of the world. VanderMeer does a great job of portraying the difficulties Rachel has in communicating with him, while also dropping tantalizing hints about Borne’s nature and past. Borne’s transition from being a MacGuffin to a full-fledged character is handled very well.

VanderMeer also presents vivid imagery of a world where biotechnology has run amok, with many cool concepts for the different organisms created by Wick and the mysterious Company. From the quirky (alcoholic minnows) to the eerie (fox-like creatures that can flicker in and out of visibility) to the terrifying (Mord), the unnamed city where the story takes place is populated by a gamut of critters that aren’t your typical fantasy or sci-fi monsters. That gives Borne a really fresh feel.

There are two other books set in the same universe, though my understanding is that they aren’t precisely sequels. Both of them—Dead Astronauts and The Strange Bird—reference entities that we see or hear about briefly in Borne. The world VanderMeer has created is intriguing enough that I intend to pick these up and see what further stories he has to tell.