cw: mental illness, personality disorder, weight gain, weight loss, body image, medication use, suicide ideation
Although I’ve only read two physical books by Jeff VanderMeer before, because both of those books were absolutely massive and contained three and three to like six or seven (depending how you count) separate novels, I’ve actually read one hell of a lot of the writing by this American speculative fiction/ slowburn supernatural horror author.
This, a 2017 novel which was his first following the completion of the Southern Reach Trilogy (that may not be true but if you’re coming to TriumphOfTheNow.com for facts rather than opinions you’re a fool) gave me far fewer nightmares than VanderMeer’s earlier books, even though I have the emotional stabilisers off (no psychiatric medication atm).
It gave me far fewer nightmares.
Far fewer nightmares.
VanderMeer presents, in his typical style, an alternative reality which could possibly be our reality in a terrifying post-apocalyptic world following a rampant evolution of genetically modified highly intelligent living things, known in the book as “biotech”.
The protagonist-narrator is – uniquely humanly – named Rachel, and she lives in the ruins of a city destroyed and polluted and now ruled over by a giant godlike flying bear and its smaller non-flying (but still giant) clones.
Her boyfriend sells refurbished memory tech (which functions as a long-term hallucinogenic intoxicant) to other survivors, many of whom are also genetically modified beings created by a non-euphemistically named organisation referred to as “The Company”.
The major antagonist, though, is “The Magician”, a former employee of “The Company” who broke away from after helping to build many of their most dangerous creations. “The Magician” wants to recruit Rachel and her boyfriend to her growing tribe of acolytes and supporters (including some prepubescent Clockwork Orange type torturer gangs), but Rachel resists because she is just old enough to remember life before ecological and sociological collapse and so yearns for more traditionally satisfying human interactions, and her boyfriend resists due to a secret in his past that he would rather “The Magician” not expose. (Spoiler: The secret is that he is an artificial person; not real, a biotech version of a gifted scientist, a blade runner (if “blade runner” meant robot person, it’s been a long time since I watched that).
Into this scenario – which is, I think, kinda already enough for a novel – arrives the creature known as “Borne”, whi Rachel finds growing on the fur of the sleeping giant bear who is kinda boss of the city.
Borne starts off looking like a sea urchin slash plant and he slowly starts to grow and transform until he is a super-giant, talking, shapeshifter who eats/absorbs almost all living things he comes across and eventually decides to threaten the giant bear for control of the city.
Is Borne (the character) a metaphor for the way in which technology/digital ubiquity may have looked cute and innocent when it was new, but always held the potential to destroy the world and gobble up everything else? Is there a meaning in Rachel’s friendship with Borne that can be read as “just because something doesn’t kill you specifically, doesn’t mean that it isn’t killing absolutely everyone else in the world around you”? Or is Borne just a fictional monster, meant to confuse and attract, to horrify and prompt thought?
Compared to Ambergris and The Southern Reach Trilogy, this is much less disgusting, much less creepy, though this feelings may just be because I’ve been desensitised to VanderMeer’s imagination.
As with Ambergris, Borne contains sinister mysterious people who live underground and emerge to attack; as with Southern Reach, there are awful deformed animals and humans who are ruled by aggression and other unknowable and unpredictable motives.
Is this an alien world? Is it an alternative reality? Is it existing in a fictional plain with no connection to our own?
I don’t know.
Did I like it? I don’t know.
I certainly connected with it a lot less than those two previous BIG VanderMeers I read…
Being off both SSRIs and antipsychotics means that I’m feeling feelings again and – hence why I was taking them – those feelings are all fucking unbearable.
After six weeks or so totally med-free (as in all out of the system, bebbe), tho, I am – just – no longer technically overweight (though I do still look like shit lol) so I suppose that’s one positive?
I also feel far more incentive to make changes to my life, tho I also feel utterly overwhelmed by time and age and regret, which makes concentration difficult. Whoops.
It’s like waking up after hitting snooze over and over and over and over again and not just being late for something but having missed it entirely.
I’m in my mid-30s (which is embarrassing in itself) and tho my life isn’t “a mess” in any meaningful sense (which is perhaps part of the problem with it being boring?), it absolutely is absent of any meaning, any joy, any hope.
I hate my day to day existence with a raging intensity and tho there are moments of respite, these moments are moments when – like before – I have withdrawn into myself through books, film, TV, making bad music (which is something I always forget how much I enjoy), but that doesn’t count, right? If the moments of meaning are only the moments when a fictionalised meaning is entered into temporarily, that is – as I’ve said before – an existence absent of real meaning, certainly of meaningful meaning.
Yes. There isn’t much to persist for, and without the medication massaging me into accepting this dull meaninglessness, there’s very little incentive to stay alive. Without the calming effects of medicalised chemicals, can I finally harness my energy and make something liveable out of the near-wreckage of my life, or will I continue hating every day and continue living this unsustainable fucking cacophony of disinterest?
I thought the absence of feelings made the boredom more acute (I suppose it did, by masking and making less felt the internalised rage and despair?), but I’m too bored of my life and of living it as if I’m too fucking boring to change, which makes me worry that I am too fucking boring to change and so I need to fucking escape this misery either by drastically changing the circumstances of my day to day existence (pretending to myself that there’s a chance there’s a better life to be had somewhere else, even though not only do I believe that to be a fallacy, I very nearly know it to be so) or by doing the right thing, the sensible thing, the smart thing, and just messily kill myself while listening to ABBA at some point in the very near future.
Alas, as time proves, I will likely just continue plodding through this intolerable existence hating myself for neither changing it nor killing myself sooner.
Maybe I should get a bank loan and head out to Dignitas?
Governments should really make assisted dying a legalised, regulated, thing worldwide. I don’t want to traumatise other people with the sight of my corpse, and – I suppose – it is when I stop feeling that compassion that I will finally be ready to be free.
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