Rachel scavenges a post-apocalyptic city, rife with traps, mutated child tribes, and monstrous bears. She searches for food, water, and bio-tech. One day, she comes upon Borne, an enigmatic blob with a taste for lizards, and decides to raise him as her own. What is Borne? Where did he come from?
Under the veneer of a rip-roaring adventure, oozing with weird inventions and narrow escapes, Borne is about relationships. How they swell, disintegrate, evolve, transform – much like Borne himself.
As others have mentioned, this is more straightforward than Annihilation. The book is cut into three parts, which mark Borne’s stages in evolution, and perhaps the stages of motherhood. Rachel deals with infancy, adolescents, and empty-nest-syndrome, while Borne grows and grows and grows.
Everything here has purpose, even the most obscure bio tech, so I applaud Vandermeer for wasting no narrative space.
Stylistically, I found some sections overwritten, others underwritten.
The writing in Annihilation is more concise. Take for example, the opening sentence: “The tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats.”
Whereas Borne contains quite a few modifiers and extended similes: “I found Borne on a sunny gunmetal day… clinging to Mord’s fur like a half-closed stranded sea anemone.”
Some will accuse Vandermeer of purple prose, but I find it tasteful and evocative enough.
On occasion, Vandermeer’s full poetic and rhetorical force comes to bare, resembling something more akin to the sprawling style of Cormac Mccarthy, whom Vandermeer has occasionally been compared. These instances are few, but their rarity sets a powerful contrast to the prosaic sections. Here’s one I adored:
“A coldness colonized me seeing them so small, from above, their footprints and paw prints and hoof-prints and boot prints leaving such a dance of marks in the dust, and our own not betraying us only because the children had frothed up like flames to obscure all that had come before, so that seeking, they had only the evidence of their own lives all around.”
There is a certain fight between two characters near the end that begins and ends in a single line of text. I was hoping for more conflict here and wondered why Vandermeer didn’t put his descriptive prowess to work. Maybe I’m missing the point. An earlier battle scene, between a giant bear called Mord and “the Magician” left me hungry for more. Here, the character’s watch a large-scale conflict from a distant tower, a device which allows the author to zoom in and out of the battle, much like in a film. I reread this section multiple times.
Annihilation was more to my taste — the prose, the psychology, the abstraction, the sublime. But Borne is a solid stand-alone novel, perhaps further bridging the gap between mainstream and slipstream.