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Review: Borne (Borne, #1)

In a ruined, nameless city of the future, a woman named Rachel, who makes her living as a scavenger, finds a creature she names “Borne” entangled in the fur of Mord, a gigantic, despotic bear. Mord once prowled the corridors of the biotech organization known as the Company, which lies at the outskirts of the city, until he was experimented on, grew large, learned to fly and broke free. Driven insane by his torture at the Company, Mord terrorizes the city even as he provides sustenance for scavengers like Rachel.

At first, Borne looks like nothing at all—just a green lump that might be a Company discard. The Company, although severely damaged, is rumoured to still make creatures and send them to distant places that have not yet suffered Collapse.

Borne somehow reminds Rachel of the island nation of her birth, now long lost to rising seas. She feels an attachment she resents; attachments are traps, and in this world any weakness can kill you. Yet when she takes Borne to her subterranean sanctuary, the Balcony Cliffs, Rachel convinces her lover, Wick, not to render Borne down to raw genetic material for the drugs he sells—she cannot break that bond.



As a fan of the Southern Reach trilogy, I was really excited to dive into another surreal science fiction novel with Borne, and this book exceeded each expectation I had. While Borne is less ethereal and metaphorical than Area X, it’s no less poignant in its prose and surrealism. VanderMeer takes on a new paradigm within the post-apocalyptic climate-disaster world, blends it with a world filled with biologically-enhanced technology, and creates a world of desperation, survival, and humanity.

“Once, it was different. Once, people had homes and parents and went to schools. Cities existed within countries and those countries had leaders. Travel could be for adventure or recreation, not survival. But by the time I was grown up, the wider context was a sick joke. Incredible, how a slip could become a freefall and a freefall could become a hell where we lived on as ghosts in a haunted world.”

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Our protagonist is Rachel, a scavenger with a traumatic past who just tries to survive in a city that is continuously threatened by a monstrous bear named Mord. A product of a biotech corporation, Mord terrorizes, eats, and lives while unearthing valuable items from city rubble piles that become free for scavengers in his wake. One day, Rachel finds something that looks like a little plant, but has an alien quality to it. She names it Borne, and affectionately gives Borne he/him pronouns.

This simple joy in life gives Rachel something to look forward to after her long days of scavenging, and Borne continues to grow until he can change shapes at will, talk, feel, and experience emotions just like any person is. Bombarded with a new life absorbing the world and asking a multitude of questions like “why is water wet” or “why is dust dry,” Rachel begins to question her own existential purpose. As Borne matures, he wants to know if he is a person, even though he is not human, prompting even more philosophizing in the middle of an action-packed post-apocalyptic cityscape.

“We all just want to be people, and none of us know what that really means.”

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

This book was a fast read. I quickly grew attached to Borne in a warmhearted way, much like how I felt as a kid watching The Iron Giant movie. The characters were all unique and complex with their inner conflicts, and the story progresses naturally. I didn’t see the final reveal coming, so I appreciated being surprised at every turn. I love the surreal prose of VanderMeer’s writing and how he manages to make the most alien elements have resonance within today’s reality. As a novel, Borne grounds itself in real climate-change consequences in a way that makes the story more poignant and meaningful, while adding in speculative elements such as biology-inspired technology that would be so cool to see in real life (minus the monstrous mutant bears, of course). Overall, this is a solid novel and I am planning on picking up the sequel, Dead Astronauts, sometime soon.

Rating: 4 out of 5.