...when I term Borne the author’s best work yet, it’s precisely for this untrammeled inventiveness. VanderMeer has brought off a fiction that takes him again and again to his strength, namely, imaginative spectacle. Better yet, while the freak show tends to horrors like the factory massacre, the violence isn’t unrelenting. Rather the plot alternates between fireworks and stillness, and many of the quiet moments might be called romantic interludes ... insofar as I had misgivings, they arose from a sense of overflow, of too much. In the final chapters, I was glad to learn just what Borne was, but I could’ve done without the additional backstory for Wick and Rachel. Still, I’d never argue the end was less than thrilling—or that thrills are the whole point. VanderMeer never stints on the humanity of his players, not even the one who isn’t human.
Their world is a version of the lost and longed-for territory of fantasy and romance, genres that hark back to an elemental, folkloric past roamed by monsters and infested with ghastly wonders ... Borne is VanderMeer’s trans-species rumination on the theme of parenting. 'It' becomes 'him.' Borne learns to read and to play. He asks the thousands of maddening questions familiar to any adult who has spent much time with a four-year-old ... The novel’s scope is of human dimensions, despite its nonhuman title character. But VanderMeer’s take on the postapocalyptic fantasy is not without subversive ambition...The novel insists that to live in an age of gods and sorcerers is to know that you, a mere person, might be crushed by indifferent forces at a moment’s notice, then quickly forgotten. And that the best thing about human nature might just be its unwillingness to surrender to the worst side of itself.
VanderMeer’s undeniable skill as a writer keeps what could be an unwieldy blur of a plot from devolving into grim melodrama or atmospheric nihilism ... Rachel, a brown-skinned, kinky-haired refugee woman, will also satisfy readers eager to see marginalized figures move to the center of an adventure novel. And there’s enough allusiveness in this story to satisfy a whole conference of literary critics. Ultimately, though, these heady delights only add to the engrossing richness of Borne. The main attraction is a tale of mothers and monsters — and of how we make each other with our love.
Borne, Jeff Vandermeer’s lyrical and harrowing new novel, may be the most beautifully written, and believable, post-apocalyptic tale in recent memory ... Vandermeer outdoes himself in this visionary novel shimmering with as much inventiveness and deliriously unlikely, post-human optimism as Borne himself ... Rachel wonders of Borne. 'Are you a person or a weapon?' In Borne, Jeff Vandermeer has created a world where questions like this are asked. In doing so, he reminds us that our own world may soon be providing us with answers we don’t want to hear.
VanderMeer is that rare novelist who turns to nonhumans not to make them approximate us as much as possible but to make such approximation impossible. All of this is magnified a hundredfold in Borne ... Here is the story about biotech that VanderMeer wants to tell, a vision of the nonhuman not as one fixed thing, one fixed destiny, but as either peaceful or catastrophic, by our side or out on a rampage as our behavior dictates — for these are our children, born of us and now to be borne in whatever shape or mess we have created. This coming-of-age story signals that eco-fiction has come of age as well: wilder, more reckless and more breathtaking than previously thought, a wager and a promise that what emerges from the 21st century will be as good as any from the 20th, or the 19th.
By veering the weird toward what does not belong, readers will find unexpected wonders in Borne, including the unsettling pleasure of witnessing status quo objects and systems grow obsolete ... VanderMeer’s capacity in Borne to conjure the weird by describing its sensual presence is astonishing.
...a surprisingly beautiful book ... VanderMeer’s focus on the magical and the miserable moments of motherhood is so fine that by the time Borne is grown, it feels like a life has been lived, and an unbreakable bond formed ... At heart, Borne is a small story, a sweet story, a sad story; a cunningly punning, playful and flavourful exploration of parenthood more interested in feelings and in fun than fungus. It’s definitely one of the weirdest books I’ve ever read, and it may well be one of the best. Bravo.
Beyond its post-apocalyptic people-eaters, Borne maintains a wry self-awareness that’s rare in dystopias, making it the most necessary VanderMeer book yet ... Borne, through its relatable family structure, offers a dystopia that feels both foreboding and familiar ... Borne contains bleak moments, but it also holds goofiness—as you might expect when the titular character both consumes people and turns into a lamp ... childish hope in the face of a dystopian future is something everyone can use—even if it’s delivered through one of the many mouths of a feathery, pseudopodic terrestrial octopus.
Reading like a dispatch from a world lodged somewhere between science fiction, myth, and a video game, the textures of Borne shift as freely as those of the titular whatsit. What’s even more remarkable is the reservoirs of feeling that VanderMeer is able to tap into throughout Rachel and Wick’s postapocalyptic journey into the Company’s warped ruins, resulting in something more than just weird fiction: weird literature.
This novel is a stunning example of science fiction, but more than that, it is the most human book I’ve read in years ... Borne is a spectacular, meticulous, and gorgeous novel — much like the creature Borne itself, it is utterly complex and yet presented in relatable and riveting form ... This is Science Fiction doing what it does best. VanderMeer has created a narrative familiar and close to the hearts of many — the struggles of parenthood — and enmeshed the reader emotionally in these characters, despite the weirdness of the premise. His master-stroke waits down the line, as he takes this amazing world he has built and manipulates it in gut-wrenching ways ... I have no doubt that Borne will be considered a giant of Science Fiction, alongside masterpieces like Dune, the Lilith’s Brood trilogy, and Childhood’s End.
The crucial question for them becomes, 'Is Borne a person or is he a weapon?' VanderMeer’s answer is urgent and harrowing. Borne seems to be an anomaly, one who desperately seeks some kind of kinship, always frustrated when he can’t find anyone or anything remotely like him. Borne speaks to the universal need for connection and the quest for love and acceptance. VanderMeer’s apocalyptic vision, with its mix of absurdity, horror and grace, can’t be mistaken for that of anyone else. Inventive, engrossing and heartbreaking, Borne finds him at a high point of creative accomplishment.
VanderMeer marries bildungsroman, domestic drama, love story, and survival thriller into one compelling, intelligent story centered not around the gee-whiz novelty of a flying bear but around complex, vulnerable characters struggling with what it means to be a person. VanderMeer’s talent for immersive world-building and stunning imagery is on display in this weird, challenging, but always heartfelt novel.
That the genetic basis for life is nothing to tinker with is plain throughout, especially in the moments where VanderMeer’s deep talent for worldbuilding takes him into realms more reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road than of the Shire. Superb: a protagonist and a tale sure to please fans of smart, literate fantasy and science fiction.
VanderMeer presents a parable about modern life, in these shaky days of roughshod industrialism, civilizational collapse, and looming planetary catastrophe ... Borne is about two processes—the process by which Rachel and Borne forge a relationship, and the process by which Rachel learns the secrets of the city, the Company, of Wick and Mord and the mysterious figure named the Magician, who appears to be waging some kind of desperate war with the bear. I’ll not get into the particulars of that second process—that’s where the novel’s immediate, propulsive joy is at work, and I sincerely don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of it. But the first process is where the novel’s heart is, and where it derives its real power.
As usual, VanderMeer’s worldbuilding is concrete, and to read this book is to take a small vacation into another world. I instantly fell in love with Borne, and also Borne the character, and I’ve no doubt in my mind you will as well. This is a must-read.