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Dead Astronauts
by Jeff VanderMeer

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted November 5, 2019

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I was again able to obtain an e-ARC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Jeff VanderMeer's Dead Astronauts will be published in four weeks, December 3. I hesitate to review it since I'm not exactly sure what I just read. It was like a strange, incomprehensible dream, or else a bad acid trip.

It may be set within the same city as his previous novel, Borne, or maybe it's in an alternate city in which similar events took place. There is mention of a shape-shifting creature, but it isn't identified as Borne. There is a giant bear-man, but no one calls it Mord. There is a duck that is later bio-engineered into what is called the dark bird, but I have no idea if it may be the same as the Strange Bird in the Borne companion novella. If Grayson, Moss, and Chen, the three "dead" astronauts in this book, are the same people referenced in the earlier novel, as bodies found in the city by Rachel and Wick, then it is possible the events in this novel cover an earlier time period. Or later.

It appears there are multiple time-loops going on, with multiple versions of the characters repeating actions. In some cases a character encounters another version of themselves. A possibility in Borne, which seems to be the case here too, is the interaction between various different alternate realities, and it might the the cause of The Company's collapse. Another confusion stems from the use of first, second, and third-person narrative forms, and it's not easy to keep straight who the "I" is that is narrating a section, or the "you" they are addressing. There is more than one chapter that consists of the same short phrases repeated again and again, going on for several pages. In addition to the dead astronauts and the duck, there is also a blue fox, who may or may not have originally been human, at least partly. It's possible it's part alien, since at least one version of it came back to Earth with the astronauts, from a moon base, but maybe not our moon. There's also a large sea creature, alternately called the Leviathan, or Botch by name, in the nearby tidal pools. And weird salamanders that rain down from the sky (?). Any and all of these were likely created as bio-tech creatures by the scientists at The Company.

Everything about this novel is vague and confusing, but I'm not saying that is necessarily a bad thing. I think it will take several more readings to figure things out. It is quite possible the fault lies with me and inadequate comprehension skills. While I can't give this a recommendation at this time, I am also not trying to dissuade others from reading it. Either it just wasn't what I anticipated, or what I wanted to be reading at this particular time, or else I'm not intelligent enough to figure it out. Take your pick.


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Jeff VanderMeer

December 3, 2019

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