Review: “Dead Astronauts,” Jeff VanderMeer

Pros: Incredibly hallucinatory and weirdly addictive
Cons: Incredibly hallucinatory and confusing
Rating: 4 out of 5

I’m not entirely sure how to talk about Jeff VanderMeer’s Dead Astronauts: A Novel I read his Southern Reach trilogy and LOVED it. This… I mean, I’m glad I read it, and it’s certainly beautifully constructed, but I still feel like I have no real idea what actually happened in it.

The Company had tick-engorged itself across all timelines.

There’s a City, and a Company, and various timelines in which they exist. There are three rebels called Grayson, Moss, and Chen, all of whom are no longer entirely human. There’s biotech, and nanites, and a wolf-sized messianic blue fox that can travel between (worlds? Timelines? I’m not wholly certain). There’s a dark duck with bladed wings, and a Leviathan that can use its fins to walk from holding pond to holding pond in search of food. There are portals, and a desert, and the Company giving orders to the dark bird to kill its enemies. There are people filled with cancer and plastic dying off and leaving behind a rapidly shrinking livable world. There’s a salamander who saves a homeless girl named Sarah, only for her to become a part of Charlie X’s experiments. (I think. I got a little lost in there.)

“We shall fight the 3, we shall live within the 7.”
“We shall be the Company in both the 0 and the 10.”

Climate change has swept across the world. Many places are contaminated with poisons and biotech and belching smoke. Humanity is dying out and the world is changing. This really isn’t a preachy book–honestly, it would have to be more straightforwardly coherent in order to be preachy. Instead it’s all about the many versions of reality.

The Three (Grayson, Moss, and Chen) are fascinating characters even though they’re as much forces of nature (or perhaps artifice) as they are people. I would have liked to spend more time with them; the story moves on to other pastures part-way through the book.

A fox is a question that must be answered.

The blue fox’s narration is particularly difficult to read in some ways because there are several sections where whole passages are repeated over and over and over. There’s one section that’s two sentences repeated over and over for 9 pages (kindle version). It’s… I mean, it sets a mood, I’ll give it that. And it allows you to understand certain things (like just how many times the blue fox has been killed and resurrected) without having to be told. But it’s still… challenging.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend this book for everyone; I think it will be very polarizing. It’s brilliantly constructed, and hugely original/creative, but hard to make sense of. Content note for animal harm and death.

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