the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for March 2018

Borne, by Jeff Vandermeer

published in 2017

where I got it: purchased new

 

 

 

I finally read Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne.  This book was on everyone’s Best of the Year list last year, so why did it take me so long to read it?  Uhm… i dunno. Took me a while to get out of The Southern Reach, I guess. Guess I needed the closure that was the incredible oversensoryoverload scene at the end of Annihilation more than I thought.  Anyway.

 

One of the nice things about read a book that had a lot of hype, a year after it came out, is that I can skip all the obligatory “what this book is about” crap, and get to the meat of what I wanna talk about in this not-a-review.

 

Seeing the Annihilation movie reminded me of how much I loved all the flashback scenes in the novel. I got to know the biologist through her flashbacks. Her character wasn’t only who she is right this second, while she is walking through Area X, but it’s all the things she did in her life that got her to be this particular person – the overgrown swimming pool, the tidepools, the isolated introvert-heaven projects, how she felt about herself and the world when she was outside. The biologist became who she is now, because of who she was then.

 

And that’s how I felt about Rachel.  The short flashbacks of her youth, of being a refugee, of how she wished her parents didn’t feel like they had to put on a happy face for her all the time, that is how I knew who she was. By who she was then, I had a better feeling for the depths of who she is now.  A well written flashback is a gem in a geode.

 

I’m a super tactile person.   I hate wearing shoes and i joke that when I walk around barefoot that I’m seeing the room with my feet. It’s only half a joke, because in a sense that isn’t seeing, I really am experiencing the texture of the floor through my feet, and that is being transmitting to my brain as a way of “seeing” the floor.   It’s a throwaway comment when Rachel mentions that she usually sleeps with her shoes on, that she hates taking her shoes off, something about an experience she had while she was a refugee.  When I read that, my gut reaction was “how sad, for her to be blind in that way”. I felt bad for her, that she wouldn’t be able to see a room through her feet.

 

Among other things that he might be, Borne is one gigantic sensory organ.  Once he starts talking and walking, and touching and tasting and “seeing the room through his feet”, he can’t stop. Well, he can’t stop doing those things just like he can’t stop doing some other things that he doesn’t like talking about.  Just like you can’t say to yourself “hmm, i’d like to shut off my sense of sight, or my sense of smell today”. You can’t stop either. But for you, not being able to flip a switch to stop seeing, or smelling, or tasting, is normal. So why would someone expect someone else to just be able to stop seeing the room through their feet?    Because we all want our kid to be fucking normal, that’s why.

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Borderline, by Mishell Baker

Published in 2016

Where I got it: It was a freebie at an event I attended (free book? SCORE!)

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You know the TV show Torchwood? Imagine if it was urban fantasy:  swap the aliens for fey creatures, swap the alien technology for magic, swap Cardiff for Hollywood, and double up on the snark and you’re on your way to having something a little like Mishel Baker’s Borderline.  I’ve got a weakness for snarky novels written in first person, so I was hooked on Borderline about 20 pages in.

 

Millie hasn’t got much going on these days.  Her stay at a psychiatric center is paid up for another six months, and she’s gotten pretty used to her prosthetic legs.  When a strange beautiful woman waltzes in and offers her a job, Millie says yes out of a combination of boredom and curiosity.

 

Upon arrival at what is known as Residence Four, Millie learns the first rule is “don’t ask”.  Everyone here has some kind of medical, physical, metaphysical, or mental health condition, and it is and disrespectful and rude to assume, presume, or make light of someone’s predicament.  You wait until someone feels comfortable enough with you to tell you about their personal life. And if they never feel comfortable enough? Well, that’s your problem, not theirs. Oh, and all these people work for a group that helps control the traffic between our world and the Fey world by ensuring Fey glamours are functioning, and that only authorized Fey are here on Earth and that there is no violence between the two groups. Part of the pact is that if we harm any Fey, they will slaughter us. Hmm… so I guess a little more like Men in Black than Torchwood? Also, how come no one will tell Millie who Elliott is?

 

Millie brought a lot more than her physical baggage to Residence Four.  She has Borderline Personality Disorder, she’s still working through the events that led to her failed attempt at suicide, she’s still getting used to her scarred and battered body that doesn’t look like how she feels, and now that she’s free of both film school and a psychiatric center she’s also interested in some end result based flirting.  None of which jives with the ad hoc family at Residence Four, so things are pretty awkward for her right from the get go. Through her first person perspective, we get a lot of “because of my Borderline Personality Disorder, I often . . . “, giving me just enough information to be really dangerous. I do some of those things, sometimes. Does that mean I have BPD?

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Finally!  I’m writing a spoiler-free post!    There might be some easter eggs in this post, but no spoilers.   that means you can’t put spoilers in the comments either.

 

We went and saw the Annihilation movie last weekend.  I knew it was going to be different from the book (and oh boy was it different), and I was nervous the screenwriter was gonna screw it up and that I’d hate it.

Good news!  I freakin’ loved it!

 

And now for a spoiler free discussion about some huge that is way different in the movie than in the book.  I am of course, talking about the ending. You know, that big climactic scene with the big climactic music where the biologist finally reaches the geographic goal of the expedition and gets some exposure to what the hell is actually going on.

 

This climactic scene is drastically different than anything that happens in the book, and there are two items in the scene that sort of take the place of other things that happen much earlier in the book.

 

Anyway.

 

The big climactic scene with the big climactic music?

 

I fucking loved it.

 

It was surreal, it was shocking, it was mindblowing, it was beautifully done, it was violent but somehow peaceful it was claustrophobically overwhelming it didn’t require or ask for my understanding.

 

ok, but why did I respond so positively to that scene?   I can’t get it out of my head, I really had this very strong reaction to it, like there was this weird magnetic pull, like I was staring into a black hole or a supernova. It felt like the first time I saw the Milky Way, that i had to grab onto something because I was afraid i was going to fall off of the Earth and if I did it would be ok because I’d be falling towards that.

 

I’ve been thinking about it, trying to figure out why that scene worked so well for me.

 

After thinking about it for a few days, I finally figured it out.

 

The big climactic scene has hardly any dialog.  It’s all non-verbal communication and physical movement, with moments that border on interpretive modern dance.  it was all motion and sound, no words to muddy anything.   I was drawn to that scene for the same reason I loved the first episodes of Samurai Jack: minimal dialog.

 

And I guess I often find words needlessly distracting, they box me in, I have to figure out what the inflection and context mean.  don’t get me wrong, i love words, i love books, i love reading. But spoken word sometimes doesn’t work for me (or it works too well – I get all distracted by the pitch of the person’s voice and the shape of the syllables). With minimal dialog in that climactic scene, I was finally able to focus on the bigness of what was happening.  I could focus on it on my own terms, with my own interpretation.

 

in my opinion, the lack of dialog was a brilliant choice.  Your mileage may vary.

 

Have you seen Annihilation?  did you like it?  If you didn’t read the book, and went and saw the movie, did it make any sense to you?   Even though it was very different from the book, I feel like the movie was a stack of easter eggs for fans of the book.

 

no spoilers in the comments, please.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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