VanderMeer returns to the hallucinatory world of Borne, where an all-powerful company has ravaged a metropolis known only as the City, in this lackluster novel. Into this unpredictable landscape come three astronauts, Chen, Moss, and Grayson, determined to explore their otherworldly environment, which is watched over by a mysterious blue fox that seems capable of transcending time and space. After the first few chapters, fragmentary subplots bubble up: there is Charlie X, a rogue astronaut from the expedition fighting to hold on to his memories amid a creeping amnesia; a massive sea monster awaits its death; a mysterious journal containing knowledge of demons that foretells the coming of the monster Behemoth is passed between survivors; a total darkness called Nocturnalia threatens to engulf the dead city; and a shapeshifter confronts a cosmic duck over ownership of the journal. If this sounds overstuffed, it’s because it is. It’s certainly among VanderMeer’s most experimental work, but the novel never coalesces; the characters and concepts are too loosely sketched and the prose is both grandiose and oddly humorless, punctuated by lines such as “A fox is a question that must be answered” and “The duck represented a paradox.” This diffuse novel reads like unused notes from Borne and feels incomplete. (Dec.)
Praise for Dead Astronauts
"[A] darkly transcendent novel filled with phantasmagoric visions, body horror and tortured beings traversing a blasted desert hellscape . . . terrifying and so compelling."
CHELSEA LEU, The New York Times Book Review
"A Mobius strip of a novel, with each chapter containing worlds upon nested worlds, all of them dreamlike and dark. In this shattered landscape, VanderMeer explores urgent ideas about capitalism, greed, and natural destruction."
ADRIENNE WESTENFELD, Esquire
"VanderMeer is a master of literary science fiction, and this may be his best book yet."
Kirkus (starred review)
"For any adventurous fan of sci-fi, fantasy, and/or horror, this book offers not only a rewarding read but, like, a thing to possess."
ROBIN SLOAN, author of Sourdough
Praise for Jeff VanderMeer
“Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy was an ever-creeping map of the apocalypse; with Borne he continues his investigation into the malevolent grace of the world, and it’s a thorough marvel.”
COLSON WHITEHEAD, author of Nickel Boys
“Creepy and fascinating.”
STEPHEN KING, on The Southern Reach Trilogy
“[Jeff VanderMeer] makes the horrific beautiful.”
NISI SHAWL, The Seattle Times, on Annihilation
“Unsettling and un-put-down-ablelike an old-fashioned adventure story, only weirder, beautifully written and not at all old-fashioned.”
KAREN JOY FOWLER, BookPage, on Annihilation
“More than just a horror novel; there’s something Poe-like in this tightening, increasingly paranoid focus. But where Poe kept his most vicious blows relatively oblique, VanderMeer drives them deepalbeit in a corkscrewing way that is not less cruel and exquisite.”
N.K. JEMISIN, The New York Times Book Review, on Authority
VanderMeer (The Strange Bird, 2018, etc.) continues his saga of biotech gone awry and the fearsome world that ensues.
David Bowie had just one dead astronaut, poor Maj. Tom, in his quiver. VanderMeer puts three in the middle of a strange city somewhere on what appears to be a future Earth, a place where foxes read minds and ducks threaten their interlocutors: "I'll kill you and feast on your entrails," one duck says, and, on being challenged about his lab-engendered ducky identity, spits back, "You are not a whatever you are." All very true. In the ruin of the world that the nefarious Company has left behind after its biotech experiments went south, such things are commonplace, and nothing is quite as it seems, although everything dies. Sometimes, indeed, everything dies even as it lives, which explains why those three astronauts, a nicely balanced blend of ethnicities and genders, are able to walk and talk even as their less fortunate iterations lie inert. Says one, Chen, of his semblable, "Keep him alive. He might have value," an easy task given that one version of Chen has been blown "into salamanders," as our duck can attest. Other creatures that flow out of the Company's still-clanking biotech factory have similar fates: They are fodder for the leviathan that awaits in the holding pond outside, for the behemoth that stalks the land. "Bewildered by their own killing," muses Grayson, one of the three. "Bewildered by so many things. To be dead without ever having lived." Much of the action in VanderMeer's story is circumstantial, but it provides useful backstory to his previous books Borne and The Strange Bird, delivering, for example, the origin story of the blue fox and emphasizing the madness of a humankind that destroys the natural world only to replace it with things very like what has been destroyed. Or at least that's their intention, creating instead a hell paved with the results of mad, bad science.
VanderMeer is a master of literary science fiction, and this may be his best book yet.
In a City with no name, ruled by a dangerously dominant Company, the fate of Earth—and other Earths—is at stake as rebels battle the reigning powers, a madman looks for an invisible monster he created for unknown purposes, a homeless woman finds the key to all things, and a blue fox heads out on a mission through various realms of time and space. This is billed as literary fiction, which fits VanderMeer's exceptional language, but of course the fantastical story is no surprise coming from the author of the New York Times best-selling "Southern Reach" trilogy and the Nebula and Shirley Jackson Award-winning Annihilation. All types of readers for this one.