Beware the monster bear: ‘Borne’ by Jeff VanderMeer

Posted in Blog by - November 04, 2017

BorneBorne by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jeff VanderMeer is a poet of the postapocalypse. His Southern Reach trilogy (its first book, Annihilation, is becoming a movie starring Natalie Portman, helmed by “Ex Machina” director Alex Garland; its third, Acceptance, is reviewed by me here) is set in a wilderness where nature has turned monstrous and malevolent. His latest novel is an urban counterpart.

The ravaged cityscape of Borne makes Mad Max’s Fury Road look like the tonier blocks of Park Avenue. Buildings have been reduced to rubble, food and potable water are scarce, a poisoned river suppurates with pollution, and feral children prowl and pounce.

This fine kettle of synthetic fish has been brought to you by the wonderful folks at a defunct company referred to simply as the Company, who were none too careful cooking up artificial life and cleaning up after themselves, resulting in all manner of misshapen quasi-life forms crawling, shambling and otherwise infesting the vicinity. The largest of these is a monstrous, ursine creature called Mord that rules the ruined city like an angry god. We are talking about a bear as big as Godzilla, and not as nice. That flies.

Against this cataclysmic landscape is set the none-too-tender romance of Rachel the Scavenger, a young woman with sketchy memories of her parents and a world that used to be better before it descended into chaos, and Wick, who used to work for the Company and still cooks up his own biotech from Rachel’s pickings. In a collapsed apartment building they’ve fortified with false entrances and traps, they scrabble for survival and make desperate love.

One day, from a foray into the fur of the slumbering Mord, Rachel brings home Borne. At first Borne seems little more than a potted plant or a virtual pet, but he develops, and thereby hangs VanderMeer’s tale.

VanderMeer has a highly specific vision of horror that I surmise is rooted in his personal connection with nature. Out of his fecund imagination spring and slither monstrosities that would give Bosch and Lovecraft the heebie-jeebies.

But VanderMeer also has a knack for damaged but resourceful female protagonists in the tradition of Ellen Ripley of the Alien franchise. Borne succeeds both as cautionary science-fiction and a compelling survival thriller.

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Rick Schindler grew up in the idyllic northern suburbs of Buffalo, N.Y., a psychic stone’s throw from Archie Andrews’ hometown of Riverdale. His writing career began at age 15 when he won a New York Times award for a short story published in his high school literary magazine. At 19 he interned on the copy desk of the Buffalo News, where he discovered a knack for headline writing that has served him in good stead until the present day. He went on to a checkered media career that has included stints at HBO, TV Guide and NBC News Digital, where today he is a writer and editor for the website of the venerable American TV show TODAY. Schindler shared a 2012 Sigma Delta Chi award in online reporting with NBC News’ Bob Dotson for the “American Story with Bob Dotson” features on He also won two 2012 awards in headline writing from the American Copy Editors Society, another in 2014 and two more in 2015. Schindler lives in White Plains, New York.