The Strange Bird, Jeff VanderMeer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 978-0-374-714932 $2.99, 86pp, eb) July 2017.
Jeff VanderMeer’s short novel The Strange Bird is a spinoff from the novel Borne, with the same background: a wrecked, far-future Earth, now being devastated by techno/magical, quasi-mythic Company Wars. The title character was conjured in a lab where what had been a woman is turned into a creature that’s part avian and capable of flight. Though the lab won’t release its creations, she finds a way to escape, and early episodes chronicle her brief freedom.
All too soon she gets wounded, and seized by new captors: first The Old Man (a sadist with a manic compulsion to write on a typewriter that doesn’t really type); next the bizarre “bat-faced man”; then that creature’s boss, someone we’ve met before. The Magician seems to be a mad scientist, and plays a major role in Borne. Lying helpless in her lab, Strange Bird endures probes to show “what you’re made of.” Later experiments seem more like deconstruction, reducing Bird to something like a robe designed for camouflage.
Yet even ill-used remnants hold onto shreds of past consciousness – thanks to surreal “Dreams” where she is still a woman, talking with a close friend. One object from those dreams also makes the leap into waking life: an enigmatic “compass” that serves more like a beacon or alarm, calling for help. Eventually, what’s left of Strange Bird get caught up in the Wars, with surprising results. To say more would be a spoiler.
Faren C. Miller, Contributing Editor, worked full-time for Locus from 1981 to 2000, when she pulled up stakes and moved to Prescott, Arizona (a “mile-high city” not as widely known as that one in Colorado) with the man she subsequently married, Kerry Hanscom. She continues to review SF, fantasy, and horror — enjoying, analyzing, then forgetting all the details on a regular basis — and hopes to keep doing it for many years to come. Author of one fantasy, The Illusionists (Warner 1991), she is working on another which she’s confident will be finished before the next millennium rolls around.
This review and more like it in the October 2017 issue of Locus.