This is still not a proper review like I usually do, because I couldn’t make it to our book club meeting again. A close friend got in a car accident not an hour before book club was to start, and I rushed over to help them and get them to the hospital and all that. They are fine physically, although the financial blow is going to suck. :/ And of course I didn’t get to discuss all the beauty and wonder that is Borne with my homies!
But here’s a few quick things anyway.
Synopsis – in a post-apocalyptic world were humanity is slowly dying out, our protagonist finds a new form of life (“Borne”) that she raises from infancy into adulthood.
Review – Gorgeous. Just fantastic. First, Borne is a Data-type character (overly literal and doesn’t understand how humans work. See also Spock, Anya (from Buffy), Castiel (from Supernatural), etc. I love these sorts of characters, and so this had my heart very quickly.
Secondly, the whole novel was so beautifully written that it was almost a book of poetry. This is what master-class word-smithing looks like. Polished, precise, perfect. And the emotion throughout was heart-breaking. As the humans died out and saw themselves being replaced by the things that come next, the ones that are suited for this world, the bug-eye children and bears and foxes and Bornes… it felt like a story of the old generation dying, and seeing the new generation coming up to take their place. An old woman passing the torch to her young granddaughter. Whose values she can barely recognize as her own. But what can you do? The world isn’t for you anymore. Sooooo pretty.
As usual, VanderMeer doesn’t quite hit the ending. Most (all?) of his novels don’t end in so much as they peter out and kinda grind to a halt. This was no exception. Still, totally worth it. Recommended.
Notes from others – I did briefly chat with a couple members from my book club later on. Not a full-fledged meeting, but there was an interesting counterpoint brought up: The world doesn’t make sense. There was no world-building done, and it shows. To quote:
“We’re told they’re mostly scavengers, but what are they looking for? Nobody hunts or finds canned goods or grows anything; what do they eat? …VanderMeer never even tries to convince me anyone would ever have thought it was a good idea to create a giant man-eating flying bear and a zillion regular-sized poisonous bears, he just wants to have them roaming about.”
This is all true, but it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel. I think there’s a couple reasons why.
First, I’ve come to expect it from VanderMeer. All his novels are equally incoherent, just with various levels of hand-waving, which has gotten progressively thinner. He basically eschewed the handwaving entirely for his latest, and he led me down the path to accepting this via reading his works in published order. Oops. Also, by starting right off with something as ridiculous as a giant, flying bear, and simply having us accept it or not, he smashed through the “this is supposed to make sense” barrier right at the front. So afterwards I was willing to go with basically whatever.
Secondly, this is one of those lyrical works that doesn’t try to build a coherent or realistic world, it just tries to evoke a particular sentiment in the reader. Many of Cat Valente’s works do the same thing, and I love those just as much. Heck, I even enjoyed the most recent Star Wars, and that has so much buffoonery that you have to actively repress your brain in order to not sprain something. I appreciate works that do put in the work of making a coherent universe much more. Perdido Street Station is in my Top 5 books, and Borne is not, and this is part of why. But I guess I don’t always require it to still enjoy the story. You can get away with a lot, for me, by being pretty.
But this may not appeal to rationalists due to the non-care for world building, so use your best judgement there. :)
I can’t give it a book club yay/nay, as I wasn’t there and don’t know how conversation went.
As a worldbuilder who regularly goes “the plot in this book is utterly predictable, the language average and the characters one´-dimensional, but there’s soooo many pretty details in the world-building, I love this book”, that does sound like very much not a novel for me. (this also affects my own writing – I tend to lay out 500 pages worth of world-building details for a short story and then still have almost no plot, so I scrap the project for years until I can finally think of something and by then, the worldbuilding has usually morphed into something hopelessly different from the original idea.) I’ve actually avoided VanderMeer for exactly that reason so far, even though I do love pretty language.
Gotta agree about Perdido Street Station, though, even if I did love the third part of that trilogy even more. Part 3 is waiting for me in the living room currently, being gnawed by my cat while I’m busy writing multiple thing simultaneously (actually trying my hand at writing humor for the first time, mostly, with a pretty ridiculous short-story based on a pun. not quite sure I have any grasp on the concept of humor, so far).
Also agreeing about the Data-type characters. When well-done, I do like them, but unfortunately, nowadays most of them seem to just be one trope after the next flat-and-repetative joke.
You’re probably already aware of the series, but you’d probably love Ada Palmer’s “Too Like The Lightning” (and the follow-up books). SOOOOO much world building!