by Jeff VanderMeer, 4th Estate, £8.99
VanderMeer’s strange, brilliant novel extends his meditation on the central question of non-human sentience. The alien intelligence in the Southern Reach trilogy, seen in the film version Annihilation, was capable of profound biochemical mimicry that shone a harsh light on the primitive nature of human cognition. Now, splicing together the DNAs of Godzilla and Frankenstein’s monster, we have Borne.
In a world laid waste by a biotech company, a massive flying bear is terrorising survivors. These include humans, mutants and hybrid creatures. Rachel rescues a creature “like a hybrid of sea anemone and squid” and christens him Borne.
Borne is truly protean; he can mimic his surroundings and other creatures. It turns out that human systems of knowledge are not the only things he absorbs.
No one writes a postapocalyptic landscape like VanderMeer, so detailed and strange in its lineaments and topography, a wasteland and yet seething with the weirdest flora, fauna and biotech. His recent work has been Ovidian in its underpinnings, exploring the radical transformation of life forms and the seams between them.