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Starred review from February 6, 2017
VanderMeer, author of the acclaimed Southern Reach trilogy, has made a career out of eluding genre classifications, and with Borne he essentially invents a new one. In a future strewn with the cast-off experiments of an industrial laboratory known only as the Company, a scavenger named Rachel survives alongside her lover, Wick, a dealer of memory-altering beetles, with whom she takes shelter from the periodic ravages of a giant mutant bear named Mord. One day, caught in Mord’s fur, Rachel finds the bizarre, shape-shifting creature “like a hybrid of sea anemone and squid” she calls Borne. Rachel adopts Borne and takes on its education over Wick’s objections. But Borne proves a precocious student, experiencing more and more complex transformations, testing Rachel’s loyalty as it undertakes a personal mission that threatens Rachel and Wick’s fragile existence even as it brings painful truths to the surface—truths like Wick’s mysterious past with the Company, the identity of the mercurial rival he calls the Magician, the origin of the feral children who roam the wasteland, and even the circumstances of Rachel’s own interrupted childhood. 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.
- Narrator Bahni Turpin brings a haunting melancholy to VanderMeer's enormous weird world, transforming what initially seems an outlandish dystopian tale into a deeply personal journey. In a ruined and polluted city persecuted by a vicious giant bear, Rachel survives by scavenging--which is how she first discovers "Borne." As Borne begins to grow, move, and learn to speak, Rachel begins to care for him more than she should--especially when the real danger that Borne poses becomes chillingly clear. Though she manages this challenging narrative with aplomb, Turpin doesn't differentiate between characters, so the dialogue can be difficult to follow. She manages, however, to build a palpable and audible bond between Rachel and Borne that makes this story gripping, unsettling, and thoroughly memorable. B.E.K. � AudioFile 2017, Portland, Maine
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