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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.

Wick is a special kind of supplier, because the drug dealers in the city don’t sell the usual things. They sell tiny creatures that can be swallowed or stuck in the ear, and that release powerful memories of other people’s happier times or pull out forgotten memories from the user’s own mind—or just produce beautiful visions that provide escape from the barren, craterous landscapes of the city.

Against his better judgment, out of affection for Rachel or perhaps some other impulse, Wick respects her decision. Rachel, meanwhile, despite her loyalty to Wick, knows he has kept secrets from her. Searching his apartment, she finds a burnt, unreadable journal titled “Mord,” a cryptic reference to the Magician (a rival drug dealer) and evidence that Wick has planned the layout of the Balcony Cliffs to match the blueprint of the Company building. What is he hiding? Why won’t he tell her about what happened when he worked for the Company?

323 pages, Hardcover

First published April 25, 2017

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About the author

Jeff VanderMeer

231 books13.2k followers
NYT bestselling writer Jeff VanderMeer has been called “the weird Thoreau” by the New Yorker for his engagement with ecological issues. His most recent novel, the national bestseller Borne, received wide-spread critical acclaim and his prior novels include the Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance). Annihilation won the Nebula and Shirley Jackson Awards, has been translated into 35 languages, and was made into a film from Paramount Pictures directed by Alex Garland. His nonfiction has appeared in New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Atlantic, Slate, Salon, and the Washington Post. He has coedited several iconic anthologies with his wife, the Hugo Award winning editor. Other titles include Wonderbook, the world’s first fully illustrated creative writing guide. VanderMeer served as the 2016-2017 Trias Writer in Residence at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He has spoken at the Guggenheim, the Library of Congress, and the Arthur C. Clarke Center for the Human Imagination.

VanderMeer was born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, but spent much of his childhood in the Fiji Islands, where his parents worked for the Peace Corps. This experience, and the resulting trip back to the United States through Asia, Africa, and Europe, deeply influenced him.

Jeff is married to Ann VanderMeer, who is currently an acquiring editor at Tor.com and has won the Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award for her editing of magazines and anthologies. They live in Tallahassee, Florida, with two cats and thousands of books.

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Profile Image for Kevin Kelsey.
405 reviews2,201 followers
December 4, 2019
Posted at Heradas Review

VanderMeer’s writing is engaging, difficult, and worth the effort required to read. It takes me a little longer to finish his novels than I feel like it should. It’s the kind of writing that makes me a better reader. It’s challenging and uncomfortable. Something about his prose makes me have to go back and reread sentences to make sure I understood what was being said. It reminds me of William Gibson’s writing in that way. Of course, VanderMeer and Gibson write in entirely different styles, but I have to do the same thing with Gibson novels as well. I kind of love it. There is a lot going on in each sentence, and I feel that it gives his novels tremendous reread value.

Onto Borne specifically. First off, whoever designed this cover is brilliant. Not only is it gorgeous, and visually hard to pin down, perfectly describing the character of Borne itself, but there is also a glossy spot coat image printed across it that is entirely hidden until the light hits it just so. I’ll leave the mystery of exactly what is revealed in the light intact for you to discover when you see it in person. But it is a story element, and it’s very clever. Little touches like this really sell me on having physical copies of books over digital. Bravo FSG.

All of the VanderMeer story staples are here in full force: Ruinous ecology, strange bioluminescent life, forgotten memories, a misplaced sense of self-identity, life that might not be human, animals that (maybe) used to be human, a hint of something much larger happening on the periphery, a creepy company meddling in things they shouldn’t, and a perfect mix of mystery and resolution in the story. All told through beautiful prose that itself lends an eerie literary landscape for the rich characters to inhabit.

The most obvious comparison here is VanderMeer’s Area X/Southern Reach trilogy, being his most recent work. I can guarantee that if you enjoyed those novels, you’re very much going to enjoy Borne. Maybe even more so. I could even make a case that it is entirely possible, and doesn’t take all that much head canon, to connect Borne to the Southern Reach novels. I’m really looking forward to the publication date to see what fellow readers think here.

Unlike the Southern Reach trilogy — one story broken into three parts — Borne is a complete story in and of itself. It’s also a literary universe I would not at all mind returning to in the future. The story is told in a first person narrative, and the reader is acknowledged to exist. So it’s got that slightly post-modern thing going on. There are only a handful of characters, only one of which I found slightly underdeveloped, and they’re all unique. Nobody is one dimensional here. The story itself deals with themes of nature versus nurture, self identity, parenting, childhood, survival and the different forms that love can take. It’s violent, disturbing, endearing and quite a feat of imagination. At some points it felt so vivid and alive that it somehow became visually stunning. This is of course not a common description of a written work, but it absolutely applies here.

Jeff VanderMeer is a literary author, writing almost exclusively speculative fiction. He’s at the center of that illusive Venn diagram containing Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Literary Fiction, and belongs in whatever section of your bookshelf Octavia Butler, Adam Johnson, Ursula Le Guin, Dexter Palmer and Gene Wolfe inhabit.
Profile Image for karen.
3,979 reviews170k followers
June 24, 2018
We all just want to be people, and none of us know what that really means.

oh, jeff vandermeer…. to my shame, i have yet to read the southern reach trilogy, although i own all three, and have owned them for a good long time now. and while we’re on the subject of my many personal failings, i actually own a TON of his books, including three copies of city of saints and madmen, in at least two different versions. many of these are in storage right now, after bedbug-overreaction 2015 sent so many books off into limboville, but they were here, accessible, for so many years without my getting around to reading them. he’s an author i knew i would love just based on his reputation, the reviews i’ve read both by and about him, his tasteful curation of anthologies and other books he’s championed.

all of that to say that i can’t really tell you how this compares to his other books, or if there is any connection between this one and the southern reach trilogy, but i do know that i liked this one a lot (as i knew i would), that it was more challenging a read than it appeared at first glance, and that it took me much longer to read than i’d expected.

it takes place in an unnamed city after an ecological catastrophe, where what remains of humanity struggles to stay alive in a ruined landscape revolving around the headquarters of a mysterious Company, through which their leftover biotech roams; either genetically altered animals, hybrids of creatures and tech, or creatures once human transformed into monsters - jury’s undecided. threats include a japanese movie monster-sized flying bear called mord, a woman with advanced tech known as the magician, and their acolytes - the magician’s band of feral children with genetically-modified inhuman accoutrements, and the mord proxies - normal-sized humanoid bears, as well as the unaffiliated clever foxen, poison rain and assorted scavengers trying to acclimate to inhospitable conditions, made dangerous through fear and the effects of alcohol minnows and mind-altering beetle-drugs. in short - many dangers.

the central (human) characters are a couple: the empathic rachel, our narrator, who remembers her life before in isolated fragments: a submerged island, a birthday party, her parents’ protection, but not what happened to them or how she got to the city. her companion is the dour and secretive wick, a former biotech engineer who worked for The Company who spends his days gloomily fiddling in a lab with a very icky pool, reduced to the status of drug dealer and keeping secrets about his health and past. the two of them have carved out a life for themselves in the relative safety of a crumbling apartment complex which the paranoid wick has safeguarded with baroque security measures, allowing them the freedom to live undetected but vulnerable in this ‘wealth’ should anyone ever discover them.

the writing is in many ways capricious, where so much of the big picture is left undefined - the name of the city, the nature of the disaster, the generically named Company - but those are just details - the heft of this story is attached to the human drama, or more to the point - the drama of the person.

and for all the unwritten details, there are so many beautifully lyrical passages that make you wanna stop and reread ‘em:

Most nights now there was some kind of cacophony and a rawness, and such a sense of covert movement. So much noise out there - and echoes of noise - and a keening or growling or the sound of something or someone being killed. That was the sound of a city that no longer believed in one ruler or one version of the future.

and as many instances where the lede is buried in passages that seem less important than they are at first glance.

the tone is also tricky to pin down but it’s admirably complex, made up of a number of moods that should be contradictory but somehow all work together without clashing: melancholy, hopeful, helpless, brooding, funny, sentimental.

the real story begins when rachel, on one of her scavenging missions, discovers something unusual stuck to the sleeping mord’s fur - something that appears plantlike and perhaps decorative, but turns out to be borne, whose presence in her life will change absolutely everything.

what is borne…? he’s… well… here is the author’s drawings of borne, if that helps:

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and he is initially described (with one of those buried ledes) as:

…a hybrid of sea anemone and squid: a sleek vase with rippling colors that strayed from purple toward deep blues and greens. Four vertical ridges slid up the sides of its warm and pulsating skin. The texture was as smooth as waterworn stone, if a bit rubbery. It smelled of beach reeds on lazy summer afternoons and, beneath the sea salt, of passionflowers. Much later, I realized it would have smelled different to someone else, might even have appeared in a different form.

but borne is… malleable - he changes size, form, shape, and rachel soon discovers that he has the capacity to learn, to move, to communicate, he’s appetite given form, but his origins are shrouded in mystery, along with his intentions, his purpose, his capabilities.

none of this prevents rachel from forming a bond with borne that’s somewhere in between maternal and whatever the adjective is that pertains to the relationship between a human and a pet (or, as rachel wonders - What was the word for raising an orphaned intelligent creature?), with that specific conditional pain of loving something you cannot fully understand/communicate with, but feel responsible for and love nonetheless.

...I realized right then in that moment that I’d begun to love him. Because he didn’t see the world like I saw the world. He didn’t see the traps. Because he made me rethink even simple words like disgusting or beautiful.

That was the moment I knew I’d decided to trade my safety for something else. That was the moment.

hers is a selfless, all-encompassing love, even when borne’s behavior is problematic:

”Those are three dead skeletons on the wall, Borne.”

“Yes, Rachel. I took them from the crossroads. I thought they would look nice in here.”

wick is suspicious of borne’s presence in their lives, which is warranted, but rachel gives herself over to his care, encouraging his education, attempting socialization, experiencing the full spectrum of motherhood in a highly-concentrated timeframe - proud when borne makes progress while feeling the pain his increasing independence from her leaves behind.

but as borne changes and experiences more of the world, their relationship also changes, becomes more guarded as rachel begins to love and fear borne in equal measure, wanting to protect borne from the world and protect the world from borne.

it may seem like i’m giving a lot away in this review, but this is barely scratching the surface. there’s so damn much that happens here, and it’s a deceptive creeper of a book that sneaks up on you unexpectedly.

there are some gorgeously gutting moments as the book skews darker - rachel’s most precious memory of a childhood birthday where her parents presented her with a cake around which adorable biotech creatures danced is tainted by her experiences in this world:

Nor could I stop thinking of the perfect little biotech slaves that had paraded themselves around my special cake in the fancy restaurant. In my mind, they kept spiraling that cake for years, as it decayed into black mold and then nothing, and they had to keep trudging around that cake, around and around, singing, until they died in mid-step and their flesh rotted and then faded away, revealing their sad, delicate skeletons.

Which kept dancing.

and the descriptions are quietly devastating. the detail of post-apocalyptic tales that has always affected me the most is the idea of … stoppage. that nothing else will ever be produced, everything that remains is a time capsule/amber relic of a past that many survivors never experienced. this description of scavenging is haunting:

Beyond the park, I came across the exposed ground level of a skating rink or storage hangar and watched from the threshold as five scavengers sorted through a rich mélange of probably worthless debris. They had a glowworm trapped in an hourglass to see by, and when the sand ran out I assumed they’d move on. Their quarry included filthy plastic bags filled with nothing, old barrels, boxes sagging from water damage and mold, and a few piles of upended garbage that had been there long enough to have already been gone through and to have stopped stinking. But each generation lowered its expectations.

and since i had the added benefit of vandermeer’s post-it notes (one of which i had to chase into the middle of the road when it blew away before i’d had a chance to read it), i might as well share a couple that made me smile:

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according to many of the post-its, there is more to come from this world and its characters and situations, so be on the lookout for that - and maybe now that i’ve broken the seal, i’ll actually get around to reading them!

tl;dr with all apologies for the mess that is this review - i’m trying to get my reviewing legs back, but i’m all scattered in the brain. all you need to know is that this is a quietly brutal, but ultimately hopeful, story of love and survival and the shifting definition of humanity in the face of extraordinary times. also, giant flying bear.


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my THIRD quarterly literary fiction box from pagehabit!!!! this one is the most exciting one yet!

maggie got very brad pitt about it, "what's in the booooooxxxx??"
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but she was pretty unenthusiastic once it was clearly not something delicious for cats.

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me, on the other hand - i am VERY enthusiastic! best day ever! diving in.... NOW!

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
February 8, 2020
”The closer I approached, the more Borne rose up through Mord’s fur, became more like a hybrid sea anemone and squid: a sleep vase with rippling colors that strayed from purple toward deep blues and sea greens. Four vertical ridges slid up the sides of its warm and pulsating skin. The texture was as smooth as waterworn stone, if a bit rubbery. It smelled of beach reeds on lazy summer afternoons and, beneath the sea salt, of passionflowers. Much later, I realized it would have smelled different to someone else, might even have appeared in a different form.”

The city has been reduced to rubble; conflict and drought have thinned out the population. With desperate hope, people turn to The Company to save them. Science is the religion of hope, and for a short time, it looks like the mystical arts of biology, chemistry, and medicine are going to save the world, but then the very things The Company develops to help stabilize civilization become the very things that crush the last vestiges of it.

Mord the bear, who is the size of King Kong, and his minions of bears seem to be everywhere, searching to kill anything that isn’t one of them. The Magician, a woman of uncanny abilities, is warring with Mord for control of the territory. It seems creatures will even fight over rubble. The area is full of biotech that is usually hazardous and sometimes even lethal, so when Rachel plucks Borne from Mord’s fur, she is taking a chance that this colorful, vase-like structure will turn out to be one of those death-dealing gizmos.

She tells her companion Wick about it. Wick doesn’t trust Borne. He wants to open him up and use the nanotechnology to fix other things, but Rachel is attached to this creature who eats every chance it gets, but never poops. “It” is growing exponentially. Is it a living thing, or is it a piece of sophisticated engineering?

She teaches Borne to talk.

”He was born, but I had borne him.”

While you are considering all this, have an alcohol minnow or three.

Wick and Rachel live in the Balcony Cliffs, a haven away from the power struggle over the remains of the city. Wick designs traps and levels of protection that will hopefully keep away intruders. They are forced to the ground to scavenge. There are always strange new things appearing. ”Three dead astronauts had fallen to Earth and been planted like tulips, buried to their rib cages, then flopped over in their suits, faceplates cracked open and curled into the dirt. Lichen or mold spilled from their helmets. Bones, too. My heart lurched, trapped between hope and despair. Someone had come to the city from far, far away---even, perhaps, from space! Which meant there were people up there. But they’d died here, like everything died here.”

That lurch in Rachel’s heart is the same lurch I felt in my own. I grew up in the space age, and astronauts were my first heroes. Whenever anything or anyone was launched into the air, my family would gather around the TV set to watch the plume of jet fuel on fire and the rise of the tin can into space to search for what was out there to find. To think of these astronauts lying there broken on the ground, the scene so vividly written, I was...shaken. If our astronauts are dying, truly the world is dying.

Borne continues to grow and learn so unnaturally quick that even Rachel has doubts about who or what he is and whether he will prove trustworthy. Wick has secrets from Rachel. Rachel has secrets from Wick. Trust is hard to come by when the candle of life is a puddle of wax and the flame is flickering at the end of the taper.

And death is only a misstep away.

”The bear had ceased its demolition of the wall. The murderous eye held to the widening crack to pin us with its stare. Bloodshot, self-aware, taking our measure. I couldn’t look away….”

I’ve been reading Jeff Vandermeer since his premiere novel, Veniss Underground, exploded my brain. I can remember thinking as I read it that I had never read anything like this before. His world building is one of his best strengths as a novelist, and he certainly delivers in this novel as he has in every novel of his I’ve read. His descriptions of strange creatures or devastated landscapes are so vivid that I don’t need an artist’s rendering. It is as if I’ve gazed upon it with my own eyes. His Southern Reach Trilogy is very accessible to the uninitiated reader, but I also found Borne to be strange and wonderful and highly readable. Enter a new world if you dare!!

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,977 followers
June 15, 2018
Re-read 6/14/18:

It never ceases to astound me how much one day's blow-me-over imaginative fiction can suddenly be a warm and cozy blanket to carry me through a chilly night. Or, I should say, an enormous bear-hug to destroy whatever is left of a dystopian-ravaged city to give my belly a good belly laugh.

But it does, and strange is the new comfort food. :)

It may not be as great the second time because I knew what the reveals were going to be, but I still enjoyed the sheer beauty of the imagination going on here. So good. :)

And yes, I still think this is a better, even if more accessible, novel than the Area X ones. :)

Original Review:

This is probably going to be one of those times where I rail against the universe and popularity norms because this novel is an exemplary piece of imaginative fiction that goes well above and beyond the call of any duty to amaze, wonder, and offer up a meal of monstrously epic proportions.

First, I should say that no matter how much I loved the weirdness and the atmosphere of VanderMeer's previous trilogy, nothing quite prepared me for just how good this was going to be. In fact, if I didn't already have an ultimate favorite for the year's best SF already, I'd be pushing this one to the fore. But that's not going to stop me from nominating it for the Hugo, mind you. :)


It's deceptively simple and very engaging at first, but as life and growth become a bit more complicated, as it always seems to get, or when your lover starts getting jealous of your rescued intelligent abandoned biotech creature, then you have to make a few decisions.

Add that to the fact that this whole world is a brilliant biopunk nightmare dystopia where most people have died and minnows are alcoholic and a gigantic bear eclipses the night, dropping monsters and salvageable biotech down onto the broken city, and we've got ourselves a recipe for a piece of imagination that will rival most books anywhere. Add to this a very wonderful and generous dose of wit and charm, delightful characterizations and dialogues between Rachael, Wick, and our loveable ubermonster, Borne, and I'm shot over the moon.

The devil is in the details, of course, and there are enough details for any fan of Geoff Ryman, early Greg Bear, and the more recent Robert Jackson Bennett.

So what's my complaint, again? The fact that I love this so much? No, of course not... it's the fact that it's WEIRD.

I love weird! I love it to freaking death! I live for weird! And it's a weird that rides on the coattails of originality, too!

I mean, sure, we've seen a lot of oddball and screwy (read cute) biotech monstrosities in the world of fiction, from Heinlein to cartoon shows, but few will do as smooth a job of turning an ubermonster into a delightful child to be raised, who never needs to poop or pee, and which focuses all its energies on what it means to be a person when there's no such "thing" left in this world.

At least, of course, until it all goes wrong... or what that means to the rest of the city, Rachel and Wick's relationship or the fact a series of godzilla-like battles will rage across the world.

Pretty, no?

Yeah, this is the good shit, man. This is the stuff I live for. Now if only I could get everyone else in the world to see this my way. :)
Profile Image for Hannah.
592 reviews1,052 followers
October 13, 2017
World building


I absolutely adored many things about this book but I think ultimately I admire Jeff VanderMeer's craft more than I enjoyed reading it.

He has a brilliant way with words and the pictures he paints are vivid, frightening, sad, and scary. I enjoy the fact that he is not only clever but ultimately trusts the reader to be clever, too. He lets you fill in the blanks yourself, he doesn't dumb down the story and he knows you will follow him wherever he will lead you. I adore that in fiction. The world Jeff VanderMeer has created here is plausible and fleshed-out; the story told is believable and always grounded in what we know about the world even in its weirdest moments.

This is Rachel's story: in a future after climate change and maybe other things have left the world in shambles, she lives in a city in ruins that is dominated by a massive flying bear in one corner and a woman and her army of technologically modified children in another. She has managed to carve out a small corner for herself and Wick (her partner/lover/only connection to humanity/not somebody she really trusts), when she finds Borne - a plant-like, intelligent, weird creature - and builds a connection to him that will change everything about her already crumbling world. Even though there are many things happening in this book it is at the same time slow moving, contemplative and a meditation on what it means to be a person and a good one at that. This pacing worked well for me in the beginning but the middle dragged on for me and it always felt like I wasn't making any headway while reading it. It is not a particularly long book but some reason it felt like it.

Ultimately for me my rating (and enjoyment) came down to one thing: I usually enjoy books in a more Aristotelean tradition more than those written in a Brechtian way - which is my pretentious way of saying: I like my books to make me feel things. Jeff VanderMeer leaves his readers (or me at least that is) at a distance, the story is told in a very remote manner (even though it is told in a first person narrative) and I never got a more emotional connection to Rachel or Borne or Wick. However, even with all the things that made this book difficult for me there are so many things that I adore and that made this unique to read; I am still beyond impressed with this book and will surely read more of Jeff VanderMeer's body of work.

Edit: I have changed my rating because the book has stuck with me; the things that didn’t work for me faded and the genius stayed.

I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Harper Collins UK, Fourth Estate in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!
Profile Image for Nnedi.
Author 151 books15.1k followers
February 7, 2017
Gloriously bizarre. The world building is incredible. Within the first night I started reading this, I had nightmares. There's an icky flying bear that is sort of a GMO cautionary tale. The biotech is wicked (heehee, there's a pun in there, but you have to read the book to get it). This novel grows as you read it, just like it's titular character Borne.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
745 reviews11.9k followers
July 4, 2022
“We all just want to be people, and none of us know what that really means.”
It’s a weird story, off-kilter and bizarre, of a world so surreal and fragile, almost like a fever dream, an unsettling hallucination precariously teetering on the edge of a nightmare and occasionally dipping into sheer insanity.
“The real reality is something we create every moment of every day, that realities spin off from our decisions in every second we've alive.”
Imagine a nightmarish ruined city which is yet so alive and full of strange biotech from the Company (nothing good can ever come out of a company named “The Company”) — a city ruled and terrorized by a monstrous colossal Godzilla-scale flying bear and its smaller bloodthirsty “proxies”, where a Magician (who mutilates feral children into mutant killers) is wrestling for control with that godlike bear, “autonomous meat” can sometimes be found hanging out in the streets, with poisonous river running through it, scavengers scouring the streets trying to survive, and local biotech fauna including medical worms, attack beetles and alcohol minnows. If you want to survive, you hide and set traps and hope you don’t get mauled.
“In the city, the line between nightmare and reality was fluid, just as the context of the words killer and death had shifted over time.”

“Come close, I could smell the brine, rising in a wave, and for a moment there was no ruined city around me, no search for food and water, no roving gangs and escaped, altered creatures of unknown origin or intent. No mutilated, burned bodies dangling from broken streetlamps.”

This is the place where Rachel, a scavenger for biotech and food, with little memory of how she got to the City, and Wick, a biotech maker and drug dealer, add a new member to their makeshift family — the titular Borne, “like a hybrid of sea anemone and squid: a sleek vase with rippling colors that strayed from purple toward deep blues and sea greens”, not quite a plant and not quite an animal and definitely not human — but certainly a person. And maybe a weapon — because persons can also be weapons, can’t they?
“That’s the problem with people who are not human. You can’t tell how badly they’re hurt, or how much they need your help, and until you ask, they don’t always know how to tell you.”
It’s a strange world, indeed.

Strange setup aside, the story is actually pretty simple and straightforward. What makes it stand out, though, is a focus on unusual and yet deeply familiar to us humans parental bond (“I mourned the child I had known who was kind and sweet and curious, and yet could not stop killing”) as Rachel finds herself basically an interspecies adopted mother to Borne, with the love and sacrifice and heartbreak that go along with it. Borne is a person that makes Rachel see beauty in devastation and brings purpose to the world of survival. It hurts seeing a child grow up too quickly as innocence, of course, cannot last.
“I’d been teaching him the whole time, with every last little thing I did, even when I didn’t realize I was teaching him.”

And so what if living creatures sometimes disappear when Borne is around?

“That was the moment I knew I’d decided to trade my safety for something else. That was the moment. And no matter what happened next, I had crossed over into another place, and the question wasn’t who I should trust but who should trust me.”

Another theme that struck a chord with me is not just the mother-child relationship between Rachel and Borne but also a tenuous, fraught relationship between Rachel and her partner Wick. Initially it seemed like a alliance of convenience, made for resources and survival and need for companionship, but along the way it slowly developed into something a bit more, an actual partnership and a bond that survives the tumult of Borne and the City and deceit and family dysfunction.

What makes a person is a question at the heart of this book, as well as the allures and perils of parenthood and parental bond, and it’s explored constantly — even to the point where it gets to be a little bit of a metaphorical dead-horse-beating situation. But what rescues it from the occasional veering into macabre Hallmark-ish territory is constant injections of weirdness where VanderMeer doesn’t hold back in creating the hellscape of the setting. I can’t help but feel parallels with Stephen King’s Dark Tower Mid-World with its post apocalyptic alternate-reality afterlife-like atmosphere, and Strugatsky brothers “Roadside Picnic” with the monstrous strangeness and toxicity, and a bit of Miéville’s New Crobuzon, and, of course, VanderMeer’s own “Annihilation” with all of the above. Plot to me was really secondary to the exploration of this world’s entrancing toxic strangeness.
“He knew now that he could be harmed. He knew now that he was vulnerable. No joy would be the same for Borne. No playfulness, either. Because behind it would be this certain knowledge: that he could die.”

Perfect this book certainly isn’t. There are quite a few plot threads that led nowhere, and a lot of strangeness that was hinted at but never really explored (), not to mention the completely anticlimactic presence of . But the atmosphere made up for plot shortcomings and overall I enjoyed the weekend spent in the company of Borne and Co.
“Those are three dead skeletons on the wall, Borne.”
“Yes, Rachel. I took them from the crossroads. I thought they would look nice in here.”

4 stars.

Recommended by: Britton
Profile Image for Adina ( A lot of catching up to do) .
826 reviews3,244 followers
June 13, 2017
I’ve wanted to read VanderMeer for some time and my plan was to start with the Southern Reach trilogy, his most known work up to date. Then Borne came along and, after consulting with GR friends, I decided that the most recent novel would be the better place to start my incursion in the author’s oeuvre as it is a standalone story.

Borne has many of the usual dystopian elements: a post-apocalyptic world, characters fighting for survival, raw behavior feelings and, a nostalgia for the former times, extraordinary villains that try to take control of the chaos. However, there are aspects that were unique to VanderMeer. From what I read, he has an incredible talent to create non-human life forms with human emotions although their appearance is less so. I will expand further on this subject later. Moreover, he put accent on the environmental destruction, the novel being part of the so called eco-fiction. (From The Southern Trilogy deals with the environment but the other way around, nature overcomes humans).

The novel is set in the aftermath of an environmental, biotech, political bloodbath. The city where the action takes place lives under the specter of The Company, a bio-tech facility who built myriads of bio-engineered creatures, some of them monsters that led to the partial destruction of their creator. The most notable creation is Mord, a gigantic flying bear, once human, who rules the city together with his smaller but equally frightening Bear proxies. The city is severely polluted, the river that crosses it is a “stew of heavy metals and oil and waste that generated a toxic mist.” Even the people that still inhabit these harsh surroundings are altered one way or another in order to adapt and thrive.

The narrator of the story is a 28 years old woman, Rachel, who lives together with her lover, Wick, in an abandoned apartment building. Rachel is a scavenger and a trap master whereas Wick, former Company employee, is an expert biotech and drug manufacturer/ dealer.

One day, while scavenging on Mord’s huge fur, Rachel encounters a strange object, “dark purple and about the size of my fist,”. It looked like “…a hybrid of sea anemone and squid: a sleek vase with rippling colors that strayed from purple toward deep blues and greens. Four vertical ridges slid up the sides of its warm and pulsating skin. The texture was as smooth as waterworn stone, if a bit rubbery. It smelled of beach reeds on lazy summer afternoons and, beneath the sea salt, of passionflowers. Much later, I realized it would have smelled different to someone else, might even have appeared in a different form.” She decides to pluck it from the bear’s fur and take it home. Although at first Borne acts like a plant, she inexplicably founds him conforting and attaches to him, refusing to hand it to Wick for experiments.

Borne grows larger every day and it becomes apparent that all the living creatures around him disappear. Then, at one point, it starts to speak. The evolution of Borne is similar to the growth of a human baby. He (as Rachel thinks of it), starts to ask silly and uncomfortable questions just like any toddler and child would, He even grows to the teenager stage when he thinks he no longer needs his “mother ” and moves alone. The only difference is that Borne does not look like a human being and is a hungry consumer of everything alive. Borne is lovable, sometimes naive (or wants to be perceived like that) and makes Rachel see the world in a different light, like children manage to transform their parents. The first time Rachel realizes she loves born was “Because he didn’t see the world like I saw the world. He didn’t see the traps. Because he made me rethink even simple words like disgusting or beautiful. That was the moment I knew I’d decided to trade my safety for something else.” Rachel, becomes like a mother for Borne, obvious even from the moment when she name him (“he was born, but I had borne him”) and is shattered by doubts when she realizes that he might be dangerous for her and not only.

The world VanderMeer creates is full of interesting, miraculous and scary creatures that defeat plausibility. There is no scientific explanation for any of creations in the novel , with some of them physically impossible (the flying bear). This is one reason that I believe this is not proper Science Fiction but more Fantasy.

I cared for the characters; I thought they were complex and well rounded, especially Borne. Although the title character was non-human the story has a human dimension and puts accent on feelings and about what makes something/someone a person.

My only problem was with the pacing. There were moments when I felt the action dragging and then everything was happening too fast.

I will read more of VanderMeer’s novels because I am impressed with the author’s writing and creativity.

Many thanks to Jeff VanderMeer, HarperCollins UK, 4th Estate and Netgalley for this copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews869 followers
April 18, 2023
“We all just want to be people, and none of us know what that really means.”

Jeff VanderMeer Amends the Apocalypse | The New Yorker

There's something very fantastical about the dystopian world Jeff VanderMeer creates in Borne; this is especially evident in the novel's title character. It's interesting to see Borne develop through the protagonist's eyes. However, for all the discussion and questioning about how the world came to be filled with biological mutations, like Borne, I feel there is a lack of depth to this exploration. I may be overly critical here because I kept being reminded of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake (which I think is absolutely fantastic), and thought Borne suffered by comparison. That said, while the novel started slow, overall, I liked Borne a lot! 3 .5 Stars.
Profile Image for William.
675 reviews325 followers
July 28, 2020
Ten Stars

Ask not for whom the bell tolls.
It tolls for thee.

Exquisite and extraordinary... A poignant and terrible vision, an astounding dystopia, so plausible, so actually probable now. This is a book you LIVE, not just read. This is a life you anticipate.

All through this extraordinary and wonderful book, I found myself nearly in tears as I watched Rachel (my "grand-daughter" in this story) suffer and struggle in the wreck of a world we are creating for her now. I find Rachel’s terrible future to be our future, and Rachel’s remembered past to be what we are living now, and will lose so very soon.

We are both gods and fools, and have consigned our children to the hell that should be reserved for us, and for our greedy leaders whom we allow to poison and abuse our future.

Full size image here

In the early 1/3 of the book, Rachel's attachment to Borne "her son" is magical, and full of newly parental insight and growing love. The unspoken questions and needs are so poignant here, so human and sad. Such a wonderful book.

As Borne grows older and more independent, Rachel is slowly losing her child, just as all mothers experience. We live this confusion and loss with her. Her great wish is to teach her child, who is already a stranger, who is so focused on his new world that he fails to see her needs. We are reminded that we don’t own our children, they are only on loan to us.

VanderMeer brings us into this living world, and instills us with quiet desperation and fear. The prose is easy yet deep, each chapter drawing us deeper into the daily struggles and sometimes joys of Rachel, Wick and Borne.

The love between Rachel and Wick is, at first, one of shared need and shared fear of tragedy. They hold back their inner secrets and traumas, both from shame as well as from fear of abandonment. Their need is intense, but they have lost their worlds, and do slowly bind themselves to each other in every way without revealing their core secrets or shame. The only way forward is the joy of allowing themselves to trust in spite of the loss of the world, in spite of their past shame, in spite of their deep terror of what they really are. In many ways, this is the real journey of the book, a quiet discovery of who they can be in spite of their pasts. Wonderful.

The people and beings that Rachel and Wick encounter here are heart-rending, especially in Rachel's meeting with the doomed children scavengers, and the little boy, Teem. Who are we? What gives us the right to condemn them to such a world as this?

A truly marvellous and wonderful achievment. A Must Read book for everyone with a strong heart.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.
As I read, I am moved to write this -
Now I have tears for Teem,
and the other children,
who are really our grandchildren,
lost in the wilderness we have created of our earth.

Not with a bang, but a whimper.
Our children festering on the corpse of our glory,
descending into starvation
and the terror of encroaching madness.
We witness here the final release of the death
of who we might have been.

The book ends on a hopeful note, with some hopeful events, and relating a small and diminished peace and happiness for Rachel and Wick. The book itself is not dire, it’s full of positive struggle and love. Rachel and Wick are small heroes, good and strong.

And throughout we are immersed in VanderMeer's incomparable, exquisite prose. A joy, a wonder.

Thank you, NetGalley for providing this book to me!

Borne and Mord fight

Full size image here

Throughout, VanderMeer provides wonderful, gentle humour -
To tell me this, Borne had made himself small and “respectable” as he called it, almost human except for too many eyes. But, really, “respectable” meant he looked like a human undergoing some painful and sludgy transformation into a terrestrial octopus with four legs instead of tentacles.

Human insight -
Wick’s hazel-green eyes had grown larger, more empathic in that shrunken face as he pondered the puzzle of what I had brought to him. Those eyes saw everything, except, perhaps, how I saw him.

And this poignant prayer -
Names of people, of places, meant so little, and so we had stopped burdening others by seeking them. The map of the old horizon was like being haunted by a grotesque fairy tale, something that when voiced came out not as words but as sounds in the aftermath of an atrocity. Anonymity amongst all the wreckage of the Earth, this was what I sought. And a good pair of boots for when it got cold. And an old tin of soup half hidden in rubble. These things became blissful; how could names have power next to that? Yet still, I named him Borne.
Profile Image for Philip.
500 reviews673 followers
October 9, 2017
4.5ish stars.

Post-apocalypse but instead of zombies or raiders or corrupt governments, this is full-on wackiness. Gigantic flying bear, Mord, is Lord of the city and has a brood of regular terrifying bears that act as proxies for carrying out his royal bearship's horrific rule. Little kids with bee eyes and wings and all sorts of other gruesome "modifications" run around maiming and killing for fun. The city has been wasted of its natural resources and survival is only possible by scavenging through what remains of the Company's cast-off biotech.

And then there's Borne. He's a little bit of everything. Creepy or cute? Who's to say? Some of my favorite parts of the book are the ones when Rachel, the wonderful heroine and narrator of the story, is "raising" Borne- teaching him new words, being goofy and bizarre. It gives a lot of depth and humanity to a being that initially seems very non-human.

VanderMeer isn't exactly subtle in his exploration of how humans abuse "nature" in its different forms and the effects the abuse can take. The Company has destroyed the city with its pursuit of developing newer, ever more dangerous biotech, and the whole world is presumably in a similar situation. What initially may have seemed beneficial to humanity ultimately went too far without anyone realizing in time. What at first seemed unnatural and incredible became commonplace. At what point does our meddling and modifying cross the line?
“There comes a moment when you witness events so epic you don’t know how to place them in the cosmos or in relation to the normal workings of a day. Worse, when these events recur, at an ever greater magnitude, in a cascade of what you have never seen before and do not know how to classify. Troubling because each time you acclimate, you move on, and, if this continues, there is a mundane grandeur to the scale that renders certain events beyond rebuke or judgment, horror or wonder, or even the grasp of history.”

AI is a common theme in science fiction literature and it represents something different in every case. Sometimes it's the nature of humanity and intelligence. Sometimes it symbolizes the "other" and equality. Sometimes it explores our relationship with technology. How is Borne, as a being, meaningful? What does he embody? Maybe the debate of nature vs. nuture? Can Borne, a simple piece of biotech created as a weapon overcome his nature through Rachel's "motherhood?" Does his own self-identity mean anything?
"We all just want to be people, and none of us know what that really means."

Despite the explicit craziness, VanderMeer still manages to be mysterious (or lazily incomplete?). Full details aren't revealed until the very end, and even then, a few cards are kept hidden, letting us guess or decide for ourselves. The writing is eerie, odd and creative, and I strongly connected with it. It challenged me and for that I have to respect it.

Posted in Mr. Philip's Library
Profile Image for HaMiT.
166 reviews29 followers
December 19, 2020
آخرای خرداد 99 بود که نشر تندیس در مورد انتشار این کتاب خبر داد و اول از همه با دیدن طرح جلدش کنجکاویم گل کرد. بعد از اون اسم مترجم رو دیدم و با توجه به تعریف‌هایی که از کیفیت ترجمه‌های رضا اسکندری آذر شنیده بودم، تصمیم گرفتم قبل از خرید در مورد این کتاب کمی تحقیق کنم و بعد متوجه شدم که جف وندرمیر نویسنده‌ی کتابی هست به اسم نابودی (انایلیشن) که سال 2018 الکس گارلند از کتابش یک اقتباس سینمایی با بازی ناتالی پورتمن ساخته بود. فیلم چندان مورد توجه قرار نگرفت ولی دیدنش برای من فوق‌العاده بود. یه فیلم علمی تخیلیِ بیولوژی معناگرا در مورد سرطان با ترکیبی از جلوه‌های بصری هراس‌انگیز و زیبا
آپلود عکس
و در ادامه‌ی تحقیقات فهمیدم که بورن هم تقریبا همون فضای انایلیشن رو داره و تصمیمم برای خرید کتاب قطعی شد
چند روز بعد هم از سایت ایران کتاب یک کد تخفیف صد هزار تومنی برنده شدم و باهاش لاک لامورا رو خریدم و همین بورن و توی کل این مراحل من اینطوری بودم :))
بگذریم.. توی یه شهر بی‌نام شرکتی بوده که مواد و موجودات عجیب و غریبِ بیوتک تولید می‌کرده. طبق معمول اوضاع به فنا می‌ره و همه‌چی از هم می‌پاشه و مواد و موجودات توی شهر پخش میشن. یکی از این موجودات یه خرسه به اسم مورد. بعد از گذشت مدتی مورد اندازه‌ی یه برج چند طبقه میشه و میتونه پرواز کنه و یه جورایی حاکم شهر هست. مورد به راحتی مردم و موجودات مختلف رو تیکه پاره و ازشون تغذیه میکنه. ولی اون فقط عامل ترور جسمی یا روانی افراد شهر نیست. مورد توی دیوار شرکت برای خودش یه کنام درست کرده و وقتی ازش بیرون میاد، به بدن بزرگش همیشه انواع غنائم دارویی، غذایی و.. میچسبه و وقت‌هایی که چرت میزنه و می‌خوابه، شکارچی‌های غنائم از بدنش بالا می‌رن و تا جایی که می‌تونن از این غنائم برمی‌دارن
ریچل شخصیت اصلی داستان یکی از همین شکارچی‌های غنائمه. یه روز که توی موهای بدن مورد دنبال غنائم می‌گرده به موجودی شبه دریایی برمی‌خوره که به حالت چشمک‌زن از خودش نور منتشر می‌کرده
ریچل تصمیم میگیره این موجود رو به پناهگاهش ببره و اسمش رو میذاره بورن و ادامه‌ی داستان
( اگر تصمیم به خوندن کتاب داشتید، خلاصه‌ی گودریدز یا پشت جلد رو نخونید)
در مورد سبک نگارش کتاب
داستان به صورت اول شخص و از زبان ریچل به حالتِ نگاه به گذشته و مرور خاطرات بیان میشه و بیشتر از طریق توصیفات پیش میره
توصیفاتی که بعضی وقت‌ها اینقدر چالش‌برانگیز میشد که حس میکردم داره ازم انرژی میگیره. و بیشتر از کتاب‌های چهارصد صفحه‌ای دیگه از آدم وقت میگیره چون نیاز به تمرکز زیاد و حتی چندبار خوندن بعضی از بخش‌ها داره. پس فکر اینکه برای سرگرم شدن برید سراغش رو از سرتون بیرون کنید
هشدارهای لازم رو دادم ولی با همه‌ی این‌ها وقتی به صفحات آخر رسیدم و وقتی کتاب رو بستم پیش خودم گفتم این لعنتی ارزشش رو داشت
به نظر بنده هر داستانی که آدم رو به چالش بکشه ا��زشش رو داره
و در پایان اگر فکر کردید سخت‌خوان بودن کتاب ممکنه بخاطر ترجمه باشه باید بگم اصلا اینطور نیست. نظرات انگلیسی رو هم اینور و اونور خوندم و از این بابت مطمئن شدم
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,606 reviews2,051 followers
March 29, 2017
I really enjoyed ANNIHILATION, the first of the Southern Reach books, but found my interest waned after that for reasons I could never quite put my finger on. VanderMeer is great at mood but I felt like there was something I needed that was missing, particularly in the later books. So I was very interested to read BORNE while also approaching it with a little trepidation.

BORNE was a really satisfying read and also helped me pinpoint the thing that I'd been missing in the Southern Reach novels: an emotional center. BORNE has this and it is what keeps you invested in the book. For a reader like me, who enjoys speculative novels but doesn't always connect with them, that emotional center was crucial as the setting and the surroundings got more and more bizarre. I always had a reason to keep moving forward, even when VanderMeer did that thing he's done before of not really giving you all the information and what he does give you comes in little bits here and there so you are off kilter and unsure much of the time.

If you are searching for a wildly dystopian dystopia, you should probably stop your search right here. This is weirder and wilder than Hunger Games or 1984 or The Road. I still don't fully understand the world BORNE takes place in, heavy with pollution, lurking with strange monsters. The person at its center is not your typical plucky everygirl protagonist. Rachel is a scavenger who has found temporary semi-safety after years of running from place to place as a refugee. The only person in her life is Wick, her roommate and sometimes lover. This is not the kind of world where you have a ragtag band who's come together. But into their temporary calm comes Borne, what Borne is is unclear and inconsistent, but Rachel bonds with him quickly, whatever he is. It is that bond, that need to focus and feel, as well as the uncertainty of what the thing you love actually is and what they're capable of, that pushes the book forward more than any of the larger villains and monsters lying in wait.

For readers who like their plots tied up in a neat bow, who prefer plenty of exposition to support worldbuilding, you may not be a good fit for VanderMeer. He doesn't like to explain. He doesn't want you to be steady or solid. Being as unrooted and disoriented as his characters is part of the experience of the book.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,947 reviews3,405 followers
June 14, 2018
This was my second book by this author and, in my opinion, it was less weird but still immensely rich in details.

We are in a nameless city. The city once housed a company (also just called "the Company") that created biotech. We learn that wars and global warming must have laid waste to this world, aided by the Company's experiments. Mord, a massive flying bear that was also created by the Company and that is more than five storeys high, is terrorising the survivors in the city.
Only three of the people living in this city are named (at first; ): Rachel, the MC, who scavanges. Wick, her lover and a former employee of the Company, who is now creating his own biotech in a swimming pool that is also his laboratory. The "Magician", a woman who wants to control the city herself and is therefore rumoured to be collecting bioforms as well as ammunition to fight Mord.
And then there are the "Mord proxies", hundreds of smaller Mord-like bear creatures who see the flying bear as their god and are driven only by a ferocious bloodlust.

This strange world is filled with glowing diagnostic beetles (part nanotech and part engineered animals who can enter a human body, run diagnostics and heel wounds or illnesses), humans, altered humans with poisonous claws or wings, transgenic species that can morph from human to bear, mutants, animals (some strange, some "normal") and hybrid creatures.

One day, Rachel climbs Mord's fur while he sleeps so she can scavange for Wick, thereby coming across a new and unknown lifeform that looks to be a mix of a sea anemone and a squid. She keeps the creature, won't let her boyfriend take it for parts, and soon discovers that it grows (both physically and mentally). We witness how she raises the creature that she names Borne ("he" is no human, no animal, no plant) and becomes a mother and a friend to "him". While she teaches Borne to read and talk and many other things, we explore themes of consciousness, being human/alive, giving up vs. putting up a fight, righting wrongs from the past, learning from the past, being a single parent and responsible for a life other than one's own. We also ponder with them if there is such a thing as "good" or "evil". Hope, love, betrayal, survival ... the city and its inhabitants offer enough of all of that.

Borne was magnificent and I'm pretty sure the way the narrator of this audiobook gave him a voice was only part of why. Him being like a little child at first, all while also being capable to not only trying to manipulate Rachel through words and batting non-existant eyelashes but also via changing his appearance (shape and colour) and emitting fragrances was really funny.

Once again, I'm awed by the kind of world this author was able to create and how light he keeps the tone of the novel despite the heavy topics. It's witty and deep but seems so effortless. Moreover, the world itself has a complete fauna and flora that is significantly different from ours and yet so much the same; very well thought-out and detailed as well. It's colourful and vivid and the perfect setting to grow as a person while reading, to explore with the characters, to feel for all of them. Some of the resolutions were not very surprising but I was more interested in roaming through the city streets and buildings anyway and seeing the foxes and glow worms and other creatures at work. It was about the interconnectedness of all things for me.
Profile Image for Maryam.
699 reviews112 followers
June 1, 2023
Since Annihilation I became a fan of Vandermeer. His writing is difficult for me to read, but I believe it is well worth the effort. In order to truly enjoy a paragraph, I often find myself reading it twice or three times. It's undoubtedly a better reading experience than the norm.

Borne happens in a post-apocalyptic world. The world as we know is ruined, rivers are poisoned, genetically engineered creatures roam the cities, even govern them and people are just trying to survive every day. Same as Southern Reach series characters are limited in this story, they present everything nonetheless. Rachel and Wick are two survivors/scavengers that built a shelter for themselves they like to think as fortress. Rachel scavenge and Wick build, using biotech. On one scavenging trips Rachel find Borne which looks like a plant at first ( I really than whoever did the cover for this book, as it helped a lot with picturing Borne). But he is not a plant, he is a child of somehow, soon starting to know his surrounding and interacting with it. He start to talk and asks lots of questions from Rachel and become Rachel child. He sometimes try to manipulate Rachel, respect her and tease her

To tell me this, Borne had made himself small and “respectable” as he called it, almost human except for too many eyes. But, really, “respectable” meant he looked like a human undergoing some painful and sludgy transformation into a terrestrial octopus with four legs instead of tentacles.

He grows larger in a very short period of time and creatures living in Balcony Cliff start to disappear. Wick believes he is a killer and should be taken apart but Rachel cannot accept that. She likes to think Borne is a person, a good person.

“Even as ghost facing Borne in that desolate place in the city, I’d come away thinking Borne was a decent person beset by a terrible affliction. No matter how I tried to push beyond that to a place where Borne was evil, horrible, a psychopath, I couldn’t do it.”

I easily engaged with the characters in this book and liked them, I cared for Borne probably too much just like Rachel. His personality has a quality that makes it difficult to let go.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,431 reviews988 followers
February 17, 2020
2.5 stars

A dystopian novel featuring a giant flying bear named Mord and a plant/person(?) named Borne shouldn’t have been so soporific that it literally put me to sleep nightly for two weeks. But hey, at least I’m now feeling well rested!

The best part was the reveal of the letter. But I don’t think it was worth the effort/time to get to that point. Pass.

Profile Image for Lata.
3,609 reviews192 followers
June 7, 2017
3.5 stars. Dreamy, weird, curious, slow, meditative, amusing, beautiful, violent....Borne is all this, and a lot of tentacles. Definitely reminiscent of the author's Southern Reach trilogy in terms of the dystopia, environmental concerns, strange creatures, and the brutality coupled with the quiet, wistful, and almost remote and distanced feel of the narration.
Profile Image for Gerhard.
1,053 reviews529 followers
January 22, 2021
Boy, I really struggled to maintain my interest in this book. I hasten to add this is not an indictment of the author or his tale; it just did not ‘click’ for me. As far as I can tell, and this is probably a major assumption given how deliberately opaque it is, ‘Borne’ is a typical quest fantasy dressed up in apocalyptic biopunk gear.

The quest is to find the headquarters of the so-called Company, whose origins and actions are shrouded in mystery, and which did or did not decimate the nameless city in which the tale takes place (it is complicated, and besides that, there is not much plot, so VanderMeer is forced to string the hapless reader along for what turns out to be a very bumpy ride). Before this part of the tale kicks in properly though, we have another genre staple, a lovable alien creature that latches onto a person, thereby reaffirming our own humanity.

I don’t think Jeff VanderMeer is entirely successful in negotiating this hybrid plot, which is spliced together and occasionally very clunky. ‘Borne’ is also too similar to the Area X novels, I think, to work well as a standalone; there is simply too much bleed-over. Having said that, the author goes on to mine the rich strangeness of ‘Borne’ in ‘The Strange Bird’ and ‘Dead Astronauts’, the latter even being referenced as ‘Borne #2’.

I think the New Weird is at its most successful with China Miéville’s New Crobuzon, Max Gladstone’s Craft or Steph Swainton’s Fourlands sequence. VanderMeer obviously wants to include hard SF elements in his writing, like teleportation or alternate reality, but dressed up. Or dressed down, as it were. Hence the end result is almost unrecognisable, leaving the reader grappling to parse the reality of his shimmering mythos.

The recurrent use of nature or manmade motifs (like the ‘dead astronauts’ and the ‘strange bird’) could be a deliberate throwback to J.G. Ballard’s own peculiarly inward-looking apocalyptic writing. Ultimately VanderMeer is much less successful, I think, at creating something entirely new. ‘Borne’ just feels stilted somehow, wooden.

The book is simply too long for the rather perfunctory plot, which means there are huge swathes where nothing much happens. Occasionally when the narrative does stutter into life, it still seems removed from the main plot, or refracted through yet another lens of (un)reality. All of this could be entirely deliberate, of course, meaning that I am simply not in on the deeper meaning of the book, if there is one.
Profile Image for Matt Quann.
630 reviews382 followers
July 23, 2017
Five Forms of Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne

1. The Imaginative Dystopia

Borne is set in a dystopian world unlike anything else I’ve read (except, perhaps, other Vandermeer). Rachel, our lead, is a scavenger who hunts for food and supplies in a surreal landscape in order to keep her and her romantic partner alive. There are feral children with wasps that allow them to see flying about in their eye sockets. In a world where biologically engineered organisms (biotech) have been allowed to run wild, every encounter in this book is surprising and helps to build the absurd amidst the stark post-apocalyptic world.

2. The Ludicrous Playground

If you’re wondering if Borne is the book for you, ask yourself the following question: is a raving mad, flying, 20-storey tall bear a deal-breaker for you? Because Mord, the immense airborne ursine in question, is the force of nature that acts as an overarching antagonist throughout the novel. What’s more, the eponymous Borne is a shape-shifting sea anemone that stretched my mind’s eye each time he made an appearance on the page. To be entirely honest, this book is absolute madness. I’ve never read anything that was so recklessly implausible. It made for a refreshing read since I could almost feel Vandermeer’s smile bleeding through the words as he had fun letting his mind run wild.

3. The Hue Manatee Question

Amidst the Technicolor blitz of the world sits the book’s central characters: Rachel, Wick, and Borne. The book’s best passages are those in the immediate aftermath of Rachel removing Borne in his small form from the back of the hulking Mord. There is a surprisingly touching third of the book in which Rachel raises Borne into a creature that is both loveable and terrifying. As Borne interacts first with Rachel and Wick, and then the world at large, Vandermeer asks the reader to consider what makes a person a person. Through some late-game revelations, the book deftly turns the question back on the human characters asking of the reader to consider their personhood.

4. The Answer to The Southern Reach Trilogy

I believe I read Vandermeer’s breakout trilogy in the year before I began reviewing in earnest on Goodreads.* Those books are filled with dread, discovery, and at times seem to take a perverse joy in failing to answer the many questions posed throughout the trilogy. Borne, by comparison, answers more questions than its predecessor and takes a completely different tone. Where Annihilation slowly builds dread and mystery, Borne is more comfortable unleashing mayhem and absurdity towards the reader. It isn’t a bad choice by any means, but it makes for a novel whose soundtrack could be bombastic rock opera compared to the preceding trilogy’s atmospheric electronica.

5. The Socially Conscious Sci-Fi

One of the things I enjoyed about The Southern Reach trilogy was its commentary on our relationship with the natural world and how we consider ourselves at the top of the food chain without knowing what else is out there. It was an environmentally conscious read, and Borne takes a similar tact, showing a world not-quite-right after the meddling of the “company” that lurks on the book’s edges. Though I’ll need some time to stew on this one, I believe Vandermeer is asking us to consider to what extent we are comfortable meddling in the natural world with genetic engineering. For the most part, it works well, though the book’s outlandish scenery can sometimes detract from what I thought could be its core message.

The Conclusion

Borne is a book that is definitely worth reading. It is an adventure in imagination from one of the weird sci-fi genre’s preeminent auteurs. Vandermeer’s writing style took me a while to wrap my head around and the repetitive musings of his lead in this novel can make the book feel oddly paced. In my opinion, the last part of the book is the weakest of all three as it moves away from what made the start of the book so interesting in favor of a more traditional finale (feat. Kaiju-sized battles).

Verdict: I enjoyed my time with Borne and would give the green light to anyone looking for a trippy read with hidden depth.

Caveat: The book’s tone and pacing are not always consistent.

[3.5 Stars]

*For those wondering, Annihilation is the best book of the three and though I love the series as a whole, the second two books come with their share of frustrations. In the aftermath of the trilogy and the years since I’ve read it, I’ve come to appreciate Vandermeer’s work all the more for being so unlike anything I had read before.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews127k followers
July 11, 2017
Trust me: you are going to be hearing about this book for the rest of the year. It’s one of the best Sci-Fi/Dystopian hybrids to come out in years. Fans of VanderMeer’s The Southern Reach trilogy are going to eat this up. The book follows a scavenger named Rachel during the recent apocalypse. She and her fellow survivor Wick are threatened by Mord: an impossibly large (flying) bear who destroys everything in his wake. One day, Rachel finds a strange creature embedded in Mord’s fur. She becomes obsessed with this being, whom she names Borne. But who made Borne, and what is its purpose? I’m taking my sweet time reading this because I’m enjoying it so much, I don’t want it to end. The suspense, the dark comedy, the twisted Sci-Fi elements–I can’t wait to see how it ends.

–Jan Rosenberg

from The Best Books We Read in April 2017: http://bookriot.com/2017/05/01/riot-r...
Profile Image for Erik.
338 reviews268 followers
April 24, 2021
Up through the first third of Borne, I was enjoying it as four stars, a fine delicate glass sculpture of a book. It wasn’t meaty, even then, but I liked the possibility of the setting, a post-apocalyptic wartorn city, filled with bio-engineered terrors running amok and ruled over by a Godzilla-style flying bear named Mord. I liked the cool distance of the narrator, Rachel the Scavenger, as she searched for goods caught in Mord’s fur, always fearful of his awakening. And then she finds something, the eponymous Borne, a bio-tech creature, and thus begins their strange mother/child relationship, twisted though it is by the fact that Borne resembles a sort of giant eggplant with tentacles. Oh and that he feels an insatiable need to kill and consume.

But from this promising start, as I continued to read Borne, my enjoyment continued to dwindle until I reached that critical point in a piece of fictional narrative in which I was no longer engaged. And then my great red critic's eye, lidless, wreathed in flame, opened and was displeased.

The utmost problem – and this is common in post-apocalyptic survival settings – is that none of the main characters are given any tangible motivations, quests, or goals beyond mere survival. This is not enough. Not nearly enough. Survival is status quo. It is static. A plot needs to be dynamic. It needs movement. Characters need to be pulled from their routine, preferably by some desire, healthy or otherwise.

I haven’t the slightest idea what Rachel the Scavenger, or her lover the biotech engineer Wick, or her weird adopted monster-child Borne wants or desires, beyond ‘don’t die.’ Borne’s a little more complex, but he’s so alien, it’s impossible to relate. When all’s said and done, I found the story boring. For the vast majority of the book, a solid 75% of it, they sit at home, a fortified apartment complex called the Balcony Cliffs, and just kinda hang out. I mean, really. Sure they have little excursions, some conversations that are interesting, but, ultimately, they’re just chilling on the couch.

Not surprisingly, aside from rather strange biotech creatures, the potential of the setting went largely unrealized. Even the Balcony Cliffs – where we spend so much time - never felt like a real place to me. And if asked to draw a map of the city, I would be largely at a loss to do so. In fact, of this city, I know of three locations: the Balcony Cliffs, a poison river, and to the south, the Company building.

And there’s other issues, too. Because the plot is so anemic, certain events become magnified beyond their actual value. Perhaps the most egregious, because it occurs near the end, is when they’re trying to enter a building and they enter a ‘crack.’ What proceeds is something like twenty pages of them navigating this. Excruciating reading. First off, how is there a crack in a building that takes HOURS to navigate? But whatever, let’s forgive how nonsensical that is, how heavily borrowed from a mountain-climbing (or cave-spelunking) thriller. It’s simply pointless. It’s an entirely pointless section that adds nothing to any element of the book.

Which, actually, is kind of how I felt about Borne as a whole. If I may be so bold, I’d say that the point of literature is to explore humanity. When I read a novel, I want to feel like I have learned about some fraction of the Human Soul, that great mega-soul of Humanity, the Brahman if you will. Maybe I learn something about myself or maybe I learn something about an alternative perspective, a different way of being human than my own. But you know what I mean – when I read a good book, I come away feeling somehow refreshed or renewed. As if my soul had started to drift from its anchor in my body, and the reading experience reeled it back in again.

I felt no such thing with Borne. Which makes sense, of course. It’s not a book about survival. But bare, basic survival is what powers the book. And it is when we are, day by day, month by month, become scavengers, mere survivors, that we are at our least human. Rather, we are more like rats. And bioengineered crazy rat or regular ol’ rat, a rat is just not that interesting.

[However, the book cover is completely rad. Props to whoever designed it.]
Profile Image for Ace.
433 reviews23 followers
July 8, 2017
Finally a Vandermeer novel that I not only enjoyed reading, but understood. It has a start, middle and an end. It’s not a part of a trilogy pretending to be a complete book. It’s a full story, a great yarn and a scary look at a possible future for us.

For the first time, I am gripped by a JV novel, glued to the pages and the spine chilling story. Those in the know will know what I mean when [she] walks into the pool room and Wick is talking to Rachel. Even though I knew it was coming, it still sent a giant shiver down my spine and rose every single hair on my scared little body. That is masterful writing.

When I first started reading this, I thought I was going to give up thinking I’d struck another JM weird (to me) book. Two lonely adults, one big monster and a little blob called Borne. I thought, ‘here we go again’…..... I am glad I stuck it out.
Profile Image for Gary.
442 reviews187 followers
February 14, 2018
The dystopian reality of Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne is occupied by an enraged, giant flying bear named Mord that hunts and slaughters feral, sociopathic children in a post-apocalyptic urban wasteland. Imagine what it would take under those circumstances to come across something truly bewildering. When Rachel, the novel’s protagonist and narrator, discovers the being she names Borne while salvaging through the forest of fur on Mord’s sleeping body, she is unsure if it is a plant or animal or anything valuable at all. She just knows she wants to possess it, if for no other reason than it looks interesting, and is there for the taking.
Shortly after Rachel takes Borne home, he begins to grow and change, learn language, form emotional attachments. As if only to manifest Rachel’s curiosity, he grows far too quickly from infant to child to adolescent to young adult, constantly questioning his own nature and that of the world he was born into, frustrated by the inadequacy of language and reason to define him. If Mord – initially created by “the company” as a sort of guard dog to protect their interests – is a signifier for the absurd excesses of late capitalism, then the existence of Borne is its multiplicity of meanings. For Rachel, Borne is the embodiment of her anxieties about motherhood in an inhospitable, uncivilized world. For Rachel’s partner Wick, Borne is yet another dangerous tool created by the company that threatens the fragile ecology that barely sustains their lives. For Mord, Borne’s just another living creature he wants to rip to shreds.
My admiration for Vandermeer’s writing has never translated to emotional investment in his stories. His prose is as sharp and lucid and erudite as any of the celebrated literary authors of our time, smelted in a cauldron of genre writing’s more perverse tendencies. But the dream-like intensity of his language can also have a distancing effect. Borne is a compelling figure in an expressively nonsensical circus of a world, making it even more confounding that I had little purchase in the success of his journey, or of Rachel’s. Vandermeer’s imagination and artistry are the selling points of Borne, and are just enough to make it a novel worth reading and discussing.
Profile Image for FotisK.
356 reviews158 followers
September 10, 2020
Ο VanderMeer επιστρέφει δυναμικά, με ένα εξαιρετικό έργο δυστοπικής φαντασίας.
Χωρίς ταχυδακτυλουργικές υπερβολές και πυροτεχνήματα προς εντυπωσιασμό, με μειωμένες ταχύτητες όπου και όπως απαιτείται, αφήνει χώρο στο κείμενο να αναπνεύσει, εμβαπτίζοντας σταδιακά τον αναγνώστη στον κόσμο του Μπορν.

Αν και τηρούνται οι βασικές αρχές που διέπουν ένα σοβαρό έργο του είδους αυτού, στον πυρήνα κρύβονται (σε κοινή θέα) τα θεμελιώδη υπαρξιακά ερωτήματα της ταυτότητας, των σχέσεων (των δύο φύλων αλλά και γονέα/παιδιού), του τι τελικά καθιστά ένα πλάσμα ανθρώπινο ον – τουτέστιν όλα τα συναφή που έχουμε μάθει να αναζητούμε και να ανακαλύπτουμε με τη μορφή παραβολών, συμβολισμών στη speculative fiction λογοτεχνία.

Κρίμα, βέβαια, που κι αυτό το βιβλίο θα πάει άπατο σε μια αγορά (την ελληνική), η οποία παραμένει επαρχιώτικη και σοβαροφανής για να θεωρεί παραλογοτεχνία τα βιβλία του είδους, αλλά όχι τις αηδίες των Μπούκερ, φερειπείν. Αλλά σταματώ εδώ, διότι δεν έχει νόημα να συνεχίσω.
Profile Image for Melanie.
273 reviews132 followers
February 7, 2018
2.5. This one is hard for me to rate. I am certainly an outlier here. The average rating is pretty high at 3.93. It took me quite a while to feel like I knew what the hell was going on in this (I think) post apocolyptic world. This is the 2nd book by VanDerMeer that's made me feel this way so I'm not sure if I'm just a dip or it's his writing style. I would have liked more back story as to why the world was in the state it was. I never felt very connected with the characters either. Maybe VanDerMeer wants it that way. Borne is the most bizarre character I think I've read about thus far. This is a very imaginative story though so it is weirdly entertaining (kind of slow pacing). Wishy washy thoughts I know.
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