The Strange Bird—from New York Times bestselling novelist Jeff VanderMeer—is a digital original that expands and weaves deeply into the world of his “thorough marvel”* of a novel, Borne.
The Strange Bird is a new kind of creature, built in a laboratory—she is part bird, part human, part many other things. But now the lab in which she was created is under siege and the scientists have turned on their animal creations. Flying through tunnels, dodging bullets, and changing her colors and patterning to avoid capture, the Strange Bird manages to escape.
But she cannot just soar in peace above the earth. The sky itself is full of wildlife that rejects her as one of their own, and also full of technology—satellites and drones and other detritus of the human civilization below that has all but destroyed itself. And the farther she flies, the deeper she finds herself in the orbit of the Company, a collapsed biotech firm that has populated the world with experiments both failed and successful that have outlived the corporation itself: a pack of networked foxes, a giant predatory bear. But of the many creatures she encounters with whom she bears some kind of kinship, it is the humans—all of them now simply scrambling to survive—who are the most insidious, who still see her as simply something to possess, to capture, to trade, to exploit. Never to understand, never to welcome home.
With The Strange Bird, Jeff VanderMeer has done more than add another layer, a new chapter, to his celebrated novel Borne. He has created a whole new perspective on the world inhabited by Rachel and Wick, the Magician, Mord, and Borne—a view from above, of course, but also a view from deep inside the mind of a new kind of creature who will fight and suffer and live for the tenuous future of this world.
The Strange Bird is another chapter in the Borne novel, and reading Borne first is strongly recommended.
I have been thinking about The Strange Bird and the journey that she makes through this novella. The Strange Bird is made in a laboratory, and she is a bird mixed with several other strands of DNA, including human DNA. This gives her a consciousness and a voice. She escapes, gets attacked, gets captured, escapes almost, escapes again, gets caught, gets disassembled, gets torn apart, gets reassembled, and escapes one last time. This seems like it is quite an adventure for the Strange Bird in a short period of time, but the most interesting thing about this novella and VanderMeer’s writing this time around is that there is so much expansion in such a small space. The universe and life seems infinite. The story is much more vast than the actions of the strange bird, much more time is spent feeling the sense of sadness and dread that all of the characters have for the world that no longer exists in the way that anything can flourish besides nature, animals, and time. The humans know that they are dying out, and the only real things that are thriving in this ruined city are the biotech animals.
There are watchful eyes in every aspect of this story, a sense of curiosity from the blue fox that follow the Strange Bird through the city, but also a sense of possession from the humans. The people who try to possess the Strange Bird are so used to loss that they want to hold onto something, anything, for a period of time. This turns the idea of the Strange Bird into a story about a prisoner, someone who is trying to escape those who are trying to imprison her. We can see that those who want to possess the Strange Bird do not always have the best intentions, and so we feel like hope is the only thing that she has to hold onto, making her on equal to everyone else living in this world.
It is a dynamic that VanderMeer approaches with a sense of caution but also with a confidence that these characters and his writing can convey the feeling of hope, even if the world is bleak, decaying, and a miserable place. This new bird’s eye view of the city with no name, with sightings of Mord, Rachel, Wick, and of course The Magician, changes some of the perceptions that we have of the world VanderMeer originally created in Borne. Sometimes through the darkness comes a light, and finding this light is all that everyone in the world of Borne universe can search for. The Strange Bird is that light, and this is why this story is an important addition to this world.