Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer review – gloriously innovative
Space quest, climate polemic and literary experiment collide in a challenging and visionary epic
A genuinely innovative artwork requires time to fulfil its effect. Jeff VanderMeer’s Dead Astronauts is one such work – bewildering, perplexing, original – and I would recommend that readers allow it the concentration it demands. The opening third poses as a quest narrative, a fantastical variant of the classic western: three battle-scarred gunslingers set out across an ecologically ravaged landscape in pursuit of an enemy. Our heroes are Grayson, a black woman and sole survivor of a disastrously failed mission to explore deep space; Chen, an indentured worker bound in perpetuity to an invasive corporation known only as the Company; and Moss, whose name was once Sarah, now a complex, composite organism who has been partially absorbed into the structure of the worlds they move through. The enemy they seek to defeat is the Company itself, and more specifically its agent, a deranged Dr Moreau-type biologist named Charlie X. The three are helped along their journey by Charlie’s failed experiments: the blue fox, the duck with the broken wing, the leviathan called Botch, a hive-mind of salamanders.
This kind of formal innovation is pure catnip, an indication that as a mode of expression the novel is still vigorous Continue reading...
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