Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Strange Bird by Jeff Vandermeer

Jeff Vandermeer has been a favorite for a while. Even though I love the early Ambergris novels best, his new stuff is consistently fascinating, often great, and I’m very glad that he’s grown to such prominence. This is a very short novel set in the same world as the recent novels Borne and Dead Astronauts. Those two novels could each be read as stand alones, though reading Borne first would let you find some easter eggs in the other. Dead Astronauts is my favorite of his non-Ambergris novels. The Strange Bird could work without reading Borne first. But it might be confusing as its action is concurrent with the earlier book, and the recurring characters would make slightly less sense, I think. Taken together the three books comprise an elegiac and beautiful portrait of the end of the world.

In my review of Dead Astronauts, I compared it to the poetry of Robinson Jeffers; Vandermeer’s tales of altered biology and the end of humanity share a little of the perspective that comes from an understanding of the impermanence of people as a species and one’s self specifically. There is a stronger sense with Vandermeer that we’ve already crossed the point of no return ecologically speaking than with Jeffers, but I experienced some of the same emotions reading both. The Strange Birds has more of a narrative than Dead Astronauts, but still . It is told in a second person stream of consciousness style that really works with the weird tale/ecological horror content. A genetically altered bird, containing some human and cephalopod DNA among other things escapes from a lab with a purpose, but falls into the hands of some of the villains from Borne. The central conflict of that book is playing out in the background of this one. There is a real horror here both in the experience of the strange bird and in knowledge that the human world is ending. But it is not a despairing book, which is a difficult feat, and what makes me file it in the same folder as Robinson Jeffers’ poetry. I like the other two in the series more, but this is an excellent story that fills out the world.

Highly Recommended, though you should read Borne first.

Owned But Previously Unread 2020 27/75

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