borne

Borne (Review)

A despotic flying bear ruling over the decrepit remains of a city. A shape-shifting creature of unknown origin that can have multiple eyes; flatten itself along walls and picks up ideas and language like a toddler growing up in a hyper fast time lapse. Added to the mix is a scavenger named Rachel who ventures out into the city to bring back scraps of food and biotech to her lover and survival partner Wick to create material that can help fortify and hide their home, the Balcony Cliffs, from all around them. Their enemies include the flying bear Mord, the forces of the mysterious Magician who controls parts of the city, and other scavengers. To say that the city is unforgiving and difficult to live in would be an understatement. Rachel and Wick live in a constant state of alert and with good reason; one wrong move and any one of their enemies could attack.

Mord is the creation of The Company, a sprawling business that created new species and creatures out of biotech and released them into the city to see how they would fare. Mord was The Company’s biggest project, and its biggest failure. As it lost control over the giant bear after granting it the power of flight, The Company fell into disarray and its employees scattered or eventually became Mord’s lunch. Wick was one such former employee but refuses to share what he did at The Company with Rachel, straining their relationship as she occasionally snoops in his room for answers.

Against this backdrop of uneasy alliances, constant threats, and secrets, enters the titular character: Borne. Rachel originally finds Borne “clinging to Mord’s fur like a half-closed sea anemone” emitting a smell of a wave, the brine in the air causing her to think that were no “mutilated, burned bodies dangling from broken streetlamps” around her. Intrigued by the find she brings it home and refuses to let Wick break it down into parts that he could use to build more biotech. Borne quickly becomes more than salvage to Rachel; establishing himself as a creature of untold intelligence and possibility. When he reveals he can talk Rachel takes it upon herself to teach him as much as she knows, kicking off a strange mother-creature relationship that becomes the book’s main focal point. As she becomes increasingly attached to Borne, her relationship with Wick, who looks upon the new member of their family with suspicion, grows strained as they continue to work together to make Balcony Cliffs safe from the outside world.

After having devoured VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy where Annihilation lured me into the mystery of Area X, I was expecting a similar sort of dense narrative to wade through. Where the Southern Reach explored the relationship between the natural world and humans, an alien form of nature establishing a pristine unlived area where a coastal town once used to be, Borne grounds itself in its gritty urban setting where nature has been altered and mutilated by humanity’s unthinking and unabashed tinkering with it. Despite the terrible conditions the characters find themselves in, Borne is ultimately a book about triumphing over one’s own demons, what it means to be a family, and hope.

Borne, amorphous and inquisitive, endears himself to the reader with his child-like behaviour and constant questioning. Borne is, for a lack of a better term, a new born, and his views on the city breathe fresh life into Rachel’s stale and bleak outlook. In a memorable moment she takes Borne to the balcony of their home and shows him the city with its crumbling buildings and polluted river below. Gazing at the river Borne declares it “beautiful” and Rachel begins looking at it from a new perspective. As Rachel’s bond with Borne deepens, her desire to protect him from the horrors of the world clash with reality as the impossibility of that desire is constantly reinforced by attacks from feral Mord proxies and genetically altered children.

Featured on many summer reading lists by publications such as The Washington Post and receiving rave reviews from The New York Times and The Guardian, Borne is a testament to VanderMeer’s inventiveness and above all his ability to write realistic scenes of human interaction (even if that interaction is with a sentient glob) making it an incredibly emotional and evocative narrative, establishing VanderMeer as an expert in world building and writing.

In Borne there will be a final battle, secrets about The Company will be revealed and more importantly, secrets about Rachel’s own life, making it ideal summer reading; a fantastic adventure story that is incredibly inventive and incredibly human in its outlook.

Rohama Malik

Rohama Malik

the power

The Power (Review)

The cover attracted me as soon as we unpacked it, bright red with a hand-drawn black hand and silver vein-like tendrils tracing its outline. It seemed to embody Margaret Atwood’s declaration of “Electrifying!” and “Shocking!”

Shortlisted for the Bailey-Gifford Prize, the title refers to teenage girls suddenly finding themselves imbued with a strange electrical power they are unable to control that electrocutes those around them. The girls can awaken this power in older women, establishing the first hint of global sisterhood that other characters will eventually espouse. As each woman tests her limits they begin banding together, inciting mass rebellions in Riyadh and Delhi, breaking free from human trafficking and, in some cases, becoming rulers of entire countries, each woman fending for herself at times in extremely violent ways. The story follows four central characters: Allie, an abused foster child in America who reinvents herself as a religious figure named Mother Eve; Roxy, a powerful daughter of a London crime family; Margot, an ambitious American politician; and Tunde, a Nigerian journalist who was one of the first people to observe the power and made a name for himself as being one of the few men involved in these women-centric upheavals.

The world occupied by these characters is one that is incredibly similar to ours, the girls’ electrocution powers are at first the only difference present. However, as women worldwide begin to hone their skills, men become increasingly irate about the changing status quo, forming their own guerrilla groups aimed at protecting men from the tyranny of women (employing rhetoric not unlike the Men’s Rights Activists one finds on the internet today). A porn industry evolves around the use of the power while drugs are developed to enhance it. Men are advised not to wander alone at night or without a female guardian- a sentiment which evoked much schadenfreude as I read. To see real-life limitations on women turned on their head and applied to men underscores the ridiculous emphasis placed on what one must do to protect oneself from members of the opposite sex. As the book progresses men are deemed too emotional for their own good and unable to take care of themselves, and women begin to assert themselves as the ones to deal with directly.

A clever framing device in the novel shows the ‘present’ as an actual post-apocalyptic future where female superiority is unquestioned. A male author writing the story of Allie and company breaks the fourth wall to seek guidance from ‘Naomi Alderman’, his friend and celebrated author. Naomi guides him on how to make his book more palatable for what will be his predominantly female readership, supplying him with friendly advice that is again reminiscent of what women today hear.

Alderman’s work comprises of women from all walks of life, without coming across contrived. This is no small feat as the book subverts every conceivable gender norm, rewrites history, and reinvents the world as we know it in one of the most effortless ways I have seen in a while. The novel thus becomes historically and geographically global as the characters, fictional and real travel to countries, which are enchantingly depicted.

The Power is a roller coaster of a book. Some parts had me punching the air in triumph while at others my chest constricted so much that I was ready to yell at anyone who interrupted my reading. The last time this happened, I was eleven and Lyra was about to be severed from Pan in The Golden Compass.

This book bears the mark of all excellent speculative fiction by making you question everything about the world you live in, irrespective of your gender. Asking fundamental questions of what it means when a marginalized group is suddenly endowed with a mysterious power and what one would do in that situation, The Power is a book I would highly recommend to anyone and everyone looking for an excellent dystopia novel that shatters everything you think you know.

Rohama Malik

Rohama Malik