MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26.00, 323 pages, ISBN 978-0-374-11524-1
With their uncanny ability to somehow tap into the future, science fiction writers have been stimulating readers minds for the past hundred and fifty years . . . usually with tales of science which benefits the human race as it propels us the stars, and spreads our kind throughout the universe. But there’s an alternative point of view, that factors in the potential for uncontrolled science to wreck havoc on all. They fall into a category know as dystopian—the end of civilization—and this week the MBR has an absolute epic of that genre.
Borne, by Jeff VanderMeer imagines a time and place that’s been utterly destroyed as a result of bio-engineering run amok when the mysterious company that produced it, fails to safeguard the creatures and loses control of them. The result is a nightmarish world in which humans are reduced to living no better than animals, fighting for survival, existing like rats in a destroyed city where there’s less to live on every day . . . a city being terrorized by a giant Godzilla-sized bio-engineered renegade bear named Mord. He’s stomping what’s left at the city to rubble and eating any and all life-forms, including humans . . . especially humans . . . unlucky enough to come into contact with him. The narrative begins when we meet Rachael. She’s a scavenger, slipping into the city, collecting anything useful, whether it’s flesh, plastic, metal or some other article which can be re-engineered or provide sustenance. She brings everything back to the hideout she shares with Wick, her bio-engineer lover and compatriot who’s somehow connected to the mysterious company that’s responsible for humanity’s plight. He repurposes it into something more useful, like diagnostic worms that live in the human body and emerge from a wrist with health dat?? about their host, or beetles, which come in many varieties and do everything from battle to memory. Then, in a daring raid in which she climbs into the gargantuan beast’s fur, Rachael finds a purple and green ball that changes color. Not knowing if it’s plant or animal, alive or dead, useful or junk, Rachael takes it home where—contrary to her usual custom—she puts it on a shelf and keeps it secret from Wick, who has secrets of his own. A few days later, she realizes that the thing has moved. It’s not where she put it. She names it Borne. Notices that small things are missing from her room . . . and that Borne is getting bigger. Then he speaks, and the world comes more unglued than ever in this compelling and fascinating piece of dystopian fiction that will make every reader think long and hard about the cutting edges of science in our own genetically modified, roboticized and bio-engineered present day world. One last caveat: like Dante’s lost souls who are advised to abandon hope; readers of Borne will have to suspend all their ideas about rational science and accept the premise the author posits to fully enjoy it. That said, the novel is a walk on the wild side that you’ll remember long after you’re done reading it. It’s a masterful blend of science-fiction and conjecture that’s a compelling read and impossible to put down!