Posted on April 23, 2019
The novel Borne by Jeff Vandermeer isn’t so much a science fiction novel as it is a Jeff Vandermeer novel. Really, of all the people writing speculative fiction these days, he is the one who has the most specific brand. What to call it, though? Biology Idolatry? Bio-Horror? Bio-Tech SciFi? Someone smarter than me will have to decide that. I just know that the four books I’ve read by him have all had a perversion of biology at their core.
Borne is about an unnamed city in an indistinct location (Florida?) that came under the unethical control of “The Company”, a shadowy entity that seems to have focused mostly on hubris and illegal human experimentation. In any event, the city has been destroyed and the survivors reduced to scavenging for edible biotech while hiding from a giant, genetically altered bear called Mord.
Rachel, the protagonist, finds a creature tucked into Mord’s fur one day and names it Borne. She takes this piece of biotech, which resembles a sea anemone, back to the hideout she shares with her lover/partner, Wick.
What is so wonderful about the other Vandermeer novels that I’ve read (the Southern Reach trilogy) is also true for Borne. The weirdness of nature, the perverted biology, the aftermath of ecological collapse is not the story. It’s just a fascinating backdrop for the story. Borne is actually about the three characters living together in that hideout.
The stress that Borne puts on their relationship soon begins tugging out hidden details of their lives and it’s the story of their lives that actually unwinds the tale of the city and the company and how things got this fucked up. It’s a story that is very much worth reading.