Ah...science fiction I can actually follow. It is good stuff I must say. Jeff VanderMeer's Borne tells of a world where cities have been trashed, no one is safe, and to care about anyone or anything is to not only risk your own safety, but your sanity as well as all things can be taken from you. Sure, it is another book exploring a dystopian alternative, but with an interesting spin on it.
The Situation: Rachel lives with Wick in the Balcony Cliffs. Together they have carved out a sufficient existence as she scavenges for materials, and he creates and maintains valuable biotech that adds to the security, food source, and quality of their lives. For the most part they trust each other, but whether they did or not, they must depend on each other for survival. The city around them is more or less a wasteland, with every being for themselves, human or otherwise. There are plenty of threats around, the greatest of which being Mord, a created monster that terrorizes the city, and the Magician, a woman who seeks to contend with Mord for ultimate control of the area and its resources. For a long time, Rachel and Wick have only had to worry about each other, but that is until she finds Borne. He is small, seemingly helpless, and could be valuable, so Rachel takes him and keeps him, with no idea as to what she has possibly gotten herself into.
The Problem: Rachel has no clue what Borne is or what he is capable of, and neither does Borne. As time goes on and as Rachel cares for him, Borne will grow, get bigger, and learn language, among other things. From day one Wick is not a fan, and Borne knows it. He repeatedly demands that Borne be given to him so he can be taken apart, destroyed, as salvage. Wick continually asserts that Borne is dangerous, but Rachel will hear none of it. But as Borne gets bigger and bigger, it becomes difficult for any of them to ignore what is happening. Plus, Borne is not their only concern. Mord is still ruling the city with teeth and claws, while the Magician is pulling her own tricks in an attempt to gain total control. Meanwhile, Rachel and Wick fight more often, keep more and more secrets from each other, and Borne continues to grown and learn at a terrifying rate. The already delicate balance that they kept over their lives is beginning to tip, and not in a good direction.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a science fiction novel set in an unknown time in an undetermined location, because ultimately, neither of those things matter, given the state of the world. The city where Rachel and Wick have made their home in the Balcony Cliffs is no longer recognizable as what it once was. An entity only referred to as the Company is often mentioned, mostly for its hand in the destruction, as well as its creation of Mord, a terrifying giant bear-like creature that roams the city and eats/destroys what it pleases. And if avoiding Mord is not enough of a task, there is also the Magician, who seems to serve not only as Mord's rival, but Wick's as well. Both of them are worth avoiding, but their growing presence make it fairly obvious that life in Balcony Cliffs cannot last forever. When Rachel finds Borne, she seems to find another purpose of life beyond scavenging. Eventually she will admit to seeing Borne almost like her child, which explains her compulsion to defend him endlessly against Wick, despite her longer relationship with the latter, and the obvious danger behind the growth of the former. In this book, what you see in someone or something is not necessarily what you get. Everyone has secrets; everyone has a hidden history that even they may not know about.
My Verdict: While the story may be incredibly original, even despite the dystopian setting, something about the story's pacing or the amount of internal dialogue threw me off. I liked the setting, I liked the characters, and I liked the action that took place. But Rachel's constant need to pick apart every little instance, every interaction, every shrug, every question, every answer, every silence...it becomes too much. The surprises came out less surprising, and excitement was hard to come by. With that being said, it is still a great book with interesting characters and a compelling story that made me wander how the ever-growing issue of Borne was going to be handled or dealt with. VanderMeer presents a problem with a seemingly simple solution, but that solution is hard to execute when someone refuses to see the obvious truth in front of them, while the problem only gets bigger and bigger.
Favorite Moment: When Rachel is able to take firm action when dealing with the Magician.
Favorite Character: This is difficult, because Rachel's blindness and need to take care of something or have something of her own, despite the obvious issues, makes her hard to like. Wick seems more clear-sighted, but is difficult to trust. And Borne is innocent and ignorant, but also a troublemaker.
Recommended Reading: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel tells the story of a world after a terrible epidemic has wiped out most of humanity. There are not enough human beings to run the bigger cities, and survival is a tenuous thing.