Guernica Magazine

Jeff VanderMeer: Life Apocalyptic

The writer dubbed the “Weird Thoreau” on ecological fiction and the cult of climate-change denial.
Photo: Kyle Cassidy.

Over a prolific thirty-year writing career, Jeff VanderMeer has generated a radically creative body of science fiction and fantasy novels that grapple with humanity’s place in the universe and our relationship to the natural world. A winner of Nebula, World Fantasy, and British Fantasy awards, and dubbed the “Weird Thoreau” by The New Yorker, VanderMeer is at the vanguard of the burgeoning genre of climate-change fiction, or “cli-fi.”

His latest novel, Borne, is set in an unnamed city of the post-apocalyptic future, over which looms the ruins of a corrupt biotech firm referred to only as the Company. The narrator, Rachel, is a refugee of a nebulous but far-reaching ecological disaster, and she and her partner, Wick, scavenge for sustenance and usable technology along with the rest of the city’s inhabitants. The story focuses on Rachel’s relationship with a sentient piece of biotech she finds that looks at first like some kind of plant (later he morphs into a color-changing squid, and more) and that she names Borne. Rachel comes to think of him as her child, delighting in teaching him, playing word games with him, and protecting him from the evils outside of her compound, which include a giant flying bear called Mord, another piece of biotech gone awry. This might seem like the ideal setting for a children’s comic-book series, what with a talking techno-squid and a flying bear. But VanderMeer wields the strangeness into a poignant and ultimately hopeful meditation on love and parenthood, one that honors human perseverance even in the face of abject scarcity and devastation.

VanderMeer is perhaps best known for his Southern Reach trilogy—the novels , , and . Inspired by the sights and sounds of hiking trails around his home in Tallahassee, Florida, the trilogy revolves around “Area X,” a hypnotic, mysterious wilderness of human creation. Multiple teams of scientists and explorers are sent to understand Area X over decades, but they all return damaged, if they return at all. Vandermeer’s personification of the wilds in the Southern Reach trilogy is ominous and creepy, but it also forces us to consider nature’s insidious power, starring Natalie Portman and directed by ’s Alex Garland, is set for release in 2018.

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