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Borne #1.5

The Strange Bird: A Borne Story

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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.

96 pages, Kindle Edition

First published August 1, 2017

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About the author

Jeff VanderMeer

237 books13.2k followers
NYT bestselling writer Jeff VanderMeer has been called “the weird Thoreau” by the New Yorker for his engagement with ecological issues. His most recent novel, the national bestseller Borne, received wide-spread critical acclaim and his prior novels include the Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance). Annihilation won the Nebula and Shirley Jackson Awards, has been translated into 35 languages, and was made into a film from Paramount Pictures directed by Alex Garland. His nonfiction has appeared in New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Atlantic, Slate, Salon, and the Washington Post. He has coedited several iconic anthologies with his wife, the Hugo Award winning editor. Other titles include Wonderbook, the world’s first fully illustrated creative writing guide. VanderMeer served as the 2016-2017 Trias Writer in Residence at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He has spoken at the Guggenheim, the Library of Congress, and the Arthur C. Clarke Center for the Human Imagination.

VanderMeer was born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, but spent much of his childhood in the Fiji Islands, where his parents worked for the Peace Corps. This experience, and the resulting trip back to the United States through Asia, Africa, and Europe, deeply influenced him.

Jeff is married to Ann VanderMeer, who is currently an acquiring editor at Tor.com and has won the Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award for her editing of magazines and anthologies. They live in Tallahassee, Florida, with two cats and thousands of books.

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5 stars
2,437 (39%)
4 stars
2,465 (39%)
3 stars
1,082 (17%)
2 stars
175 (2%)
1 star
35 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 743 reviews
Profile Image for Mindi.
803 reviews269 followers
March 2, 2018
The Strange Bird is a story that takes place in the Borne universe during the same timeline as the original novel, but from the perspective of a different character called the Strange Bird. Part human and part bird, VanderMeer's world gets a different perspective as the Strange Bird escapes her laboratory prison and learns about the world outside its walls.

I don't want to give too much away about this story because it would lessen its impact, but I was definitely crying by the end. I will say that the Strange Bird encounters all of the characters from the original novel, and it's interesting to see that world from the perspective of a new character. I was so invested in her explorations of the cruel new world outside. The universe of Borne is not a kind one, and I was seriously on the edge of my seat for the majority of the story.

This story is heartbreakingly beautiful. If you enjoyed Borne and would like to revisit the world of Mord, Rachel, Wick, and the Magician I highly recommend it. It's a lustrous story from start to finish.
Profile Image for Jerry.
37 reviews17 followers
November 30, 2018
I'm not sure that I can adequately put into words how I feel about this story or the Borne world as a whole. The word "enveloped" came to mind when I was adding a progress update here. The life and the consciousness of The Strange Bird enveloped me. I was able to see directly into the strange soul of this life and the world abound. I understand it, but can not explain it. Start with Borne. Follow thru with this one. Five stars. Not sure why.
Profile Image for Claudia.
954 reviews535 followers
September 20, 2020
If I were to compare it to Borne, this novella is even more touching. Add to it a heartbreaking story and you've got yourself a winner.

However, I made the mistake to read it right after Borne, who is still in my heart, with no room left for another from this universe for now. That's why I did not root for the Strange Bird as I know I would have had I read it any other time.

Leaving aside this quirk of mine, the story is exquisite: beautiful writing, compelling story (despite being slowly built but after half unputdownable), hearbreaking moments, a surprising twist, puzzle pieces which complete Borne novel, and a fitted ending.

I am listening some music while writing this and Sonique' Sky captures perfectly the essence of this novella:

🎶"I wanna touch the sky, I wanna fly so high"🎶
Profile Image for Vivian.
2,839 reviews393 followers
June 27, 2020
Cannot be read without having read Borne. Can be read without reading Dead Astronauts. There is usually a moment when I think, 'Aha, only three stars this time, VanderMeer!' Only to be proven wrong by an end that just brings it home. Fab.
She sang for joy. Not because she had not suffered or been reduced. But because she was finally free and the world could not be saved, but nor would it be destroyed.
Profile Image for Donna.
541 reviews182 followers
March 26, 2018
What did she hope for? To find a purpose, and for kindness, which had not yet been shown to her. Where did she wish to come to rest? A place she could call home, a place that was safe. A place where there might be others of her kind.

The Strange Bird has lived in a lab all her life, enduring experiments that may have invaded her manufactured body, but not her spirit. Her resilience was due in part to a special bit of DNA in her unique make up and from something extra and very purposeful added to her by her creator. She lives in a post apocalyptic world in which technology and its misuse was humankind’s downfall, and when people tried to correct the problem by backpedaling, they only made things worse. So when The Strange Bird is finally freed from the lab under tragic circumstances, she finds herself thrown out of the frying pan and into the fire in a world seemingly without rules or reason. She has never even glimpsed the sun before now and is certain it will burn her as it rises on her first day of freedom. But she soon discovers it is totally harmless, unlike most of the surviving humans and creatures she encounters as she searches for that elusive place called home.

This story is a novella and a companion piece to last year’s excellent book Borne. It takes place in the same world and covers the same time period, but with that world seen through very different, avian eyes. You could read this as a stand-alone since the author seamlessly integrated his previous story and much world building into it to bring any new reader up to speed. But I’d recommend reading Borne first to get more out of this sad book. That was the overwhelming feeling I came away with after reading this story of endurance and perseverance, even though it had moments of grace.

I’m not sure if this additional story was necessary, and it was often gruesome. But the descriptive writing detailing that ugly world was often beautiful and so was the spirit of The Strange Bird.
Profile Image for Jamie.
224 reviews117 followers
July 27, 2017
I am blown away by how beautiful and atmospheric this was. I truly felt the despair and it makes you venture into the madness with this bird-seriously had left me feeling anxious multiple times throughout the book.

This is a little side story to Jeff VanderMeer's story Borne. We follow The Strange Bird in this novella; however, past characters like The Magician and Wick show up as well. I will say, I truly despise the Magician even more than before, and absolutely love Wick. When you read this, you will understand fully.

While I personally didn't love Borne, I adored this novella. I liked how VanderMeer concentrated on one main character in this story, not like in Borne, that had several main characters, and I just really didn't connect with any one in particular.

Overall, I would recommend this to everyone.

I received a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest opinion. My thanks to Jeff VanderMeer and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the opportunity to read and review this book.
Profile Image for Laura Noggle.
677 reviews387 followers
March 9, 2020
Five stars because: What. A. Trip.

"She spoke to the Strange Bird more and more, not knowing that the Strange Bird betrayed her now just by living."

Shocking, sickening, terrible, haunting, beautiful, sad*—ephemeral.

Not exactly what one might typically look for in a book but at the same time, utterly enchanting AND under 100 pages of tight prose.

The follow up to Borne, this one was the perfect "1.5" segue before the much anticipated Dead Astronauts.

"Yet what did it matter. For what are bodies? Where do they end and where do they begin? And why must they be constant? Why must they be strong? So much was leaving her, but of the winnowing, the Strange Bird sang for joy. She sang for joy. Not because she was finally free and the world could not be saved, but nor would it be destroyed."

*Yes, I teared up at the end.
Profile Image for Josh.
1,636 reviews148 followers
December 1, 2018
The Strange Bird, is a laboratory made creature comprised of avian, human, and other generically enhanced bio-form. As a concept, the character is flawless; inventive, emotionally complex, and loaded with geeked-out gadgetry. As the centerpiece to a plot driven by poetic-like prose and nonsensical threads, it's a let down.

Set in the same world as the post apocalyptic Borne, the novella would struggle to resonate with readers not familiar with its predecessor, even though the events span a timeline consisting of pre/present/and post Borne, the novella reads better with having read Borne as a prerequisite.

Whilst I enjoyed a number aspects to The Strange Bird, I never really felt connected to the story and found myself wanting it to end so I could go on to the next read. The seamless linkage with Borne in the later stages was a highlight as was the emotional roller-coaster of reading the Strange Bird's trials throughout the somewhat clouded plot.

My rating: 2/5 stars. Pick this up if you're a die-hard Borne fan; there's something here to like. If not, give it a miss.
Profile Image for Sarah.
636 reviews146 followers
June 22, 2018
This was okay. It was an interesting new perspective in the world of Borne. It is very short and can be read in about 2 hours.

The Strange Bird is a piece of biotech, escaped from the lab of the Company. I would not recommend reading it prior to reading Borne as it would not make much sense.

I did enjoy seeing some of the old characters again, although there was no Borne who was my favorite character from the original book.

I did guess very early on what the Strange Bird's purpose was, but I didn't guess how we would arrive at that conclusion.

Content warnings:
Profile Image for William.
675 reviews324 followers
December 23, 2018
More than 5-Stars!

Exquisite heart, exquisite prose. A small masterpiece.

A small miracle of light and joy and pain and, in the end, of love and life.

VanderMeer once again transports us to his dystopian world of "Borne".

Notes and quotes:

And even then she did not know that the sky was blue or what the sun was, because she had flown out into the cool night air and all her wonder resided in the points of light that blazed through the darkness above. But then the joy of flying overtook her and she went higher and higher and higher, and she did not care who saw or what awaited her in the bliss of the free fall and the glide and the limitless expanse. Oh, for if this was life, then she had not yet been alive!
The Strange Bird had perched for safety on a hook near the ceiling and watched, knowing she might be next. The badger that stared up, wishing for wings. The goat. The monkey. She stared back at them and did not look away, because to look away was to be a coward and she was not cowardly. Because she must offer them some comfort, no matter how useless. Everything added to her and everything taken away had led to that moment and from her perch she had radiated love for every animal she could not help, with nothing left over for any human being. Not even in the parts of her that were human.
In the lab, so many of the scientists had said “forgive me” or “I am so sorry” before doing something irrevocable to the animals in their cages. Because they felt they had the right. Because the situation was extreme and the world was dying. So they had gone on doing the same things that had destroyed the world, to save it.
At true north lay the great bear Mord, [the Magician's] mortal enemy for control of the city. At true south lay the Company building, a place that the Strange Bird knew as a kind of laboratory on a scale far outstripping the one from which she had escaped. To the west, the Magician’s regard for her transformed children, her observatory headquarters, while to the east, forever changing in the intensity with which the Magician regarded them, were a scavenger named Rachel and a competitor of the Magician’s named Wick. Rachel worked with or for Wick and Wick made creatures much as the Magician did, and used them to barter for goods.
Profile Image for Silvana.
1,151 reviews1,118 followers
September 16, 2019
I wish this novella is a novel. While I am glad to come back to Borne's world and VanderMeer's writing, I need more than just a sad story of a bird suffering over its biotech origin and the way most people treating it. I need more agency, less hopelessness. There could be more pages for that purpose but I guess that's not what the author was aiming for.
Profile Image for Radiantflux.
427 reviews409 followers
January 25, 2020
10th book for 2020.

A phantasmagorical novella, set in a post-apocalyptic planet, crammed full with discarded biotech, much of it sentient, regarding the trials and travails of a preternatural bird cast up in a hostile world it doesn't understand.

Profile Image for Kate.
1,231 reviews2,211 followers
April 6, 2018

this was a BEAUTIFUL little short story from the "Borne" universe - but honestly it's pretty wonderful even on it's own. This story is crude, a bit gruesome, but also wonderful much in the same way "Borne" was. I'll never get enough of this world or VanderMeer's writing.
Profile Image for Rian *fire and books*.
493 reviews143 followers
June 26, 2020
I *think* I understand this book and the story in it. I’m not sure though. This definitely is not the kind of book you can just pause the audiobook for and pick up right away. Things move and shift and it’s not the easiest to keep up with.
Profile Image for Brandon Baker.
Author 14 books3,391 followers
June 9, 2022
I’m speechless. Definitely the bleakest story from Jeff V I’ve read so far, but so beautifully done. This is set in the world of Borne, so you should read that first, but man. This is impactful, important, and just so, so beautiful.
Profile Image for ash | spaceyreads.
346 reviews204 followers
April 1, 2018
Poignant, moving, heart-wrenching, touching, I'm just throwing out synonyms because it hurt me so much.

Only VanderMeer has the ability to make me connect with, and feel sorry for, so far: a dolphin with 'strangely human eyes' (which, by the way, precedes my favourite line in the book. Also has anyone watched the movie? It was completely different from the book but it was amazing too. Heart-wrenching. Also I can't believe I never wrote a review for the book - going to re-read it soon), a blob of science-fictiony goo that's alive and that wanted to be human, and now, a bird that's not quite a bird and will eventually become a jacket. (Wait, what? You need to read and find out. Peta would be outraged. I was fucking crying.)

VanderMeer beautifully captured the intelligence of the creature in a way that doesn't dismiss animal intelligence by trying to make it like human intelligence. It was perceptive in its own way, it experienced things, and it trusted people, was hurt by them, and forgave them, and it felt love and belonging and despair and pain.

At the end of the book I felt like I had journeyed with her, I had lived in the wasteland and I had been captured and tortured, then released, then had my body and soul split into splinters. God, this was not good for my mental health.

Am totally going to read the Southern Reach again. Don't know why it took me so long.
Profile Image for Nate D.
1,583 reviews997 followers
February 15, 2019
Life -- beleaguered by survival, remade against its will, eviscerated by the uncaring anthropocene -- yet perseveres. In some form, in some shred of itself. It adapts, transforms or is transformed, continues. There's a kind of ambivalent hope in Vandermeer's recent work -- no matter how much we can destroy, someone, something, will gather the pieces to be destroyed again. I think there's a truth in this, I think this will be our collective experience in over the next 50 years or so. Much is going to collapse, what we today take for granted will be lost, but something will carry on anyway because that is the nature of existence.

As with Borne, which this accompanies, and unlike the Southern Reach which had its familiarly mawkish pulp horror moments to offset its mystery and menace, this catches a precise balance that keeps it suspended in grace and uncertainty, never quite the sort of story that can be compartmentalized away cleanly. But I wish, all the same, that this wasn't so dependent on Borne itself for the mid-section -- the independent ex(tra)-anthropocentric perspectives of the start and finish would be quite enough to make this notable.

Profile Image for Stacie.
805 reviews33 followers
March 15, 2020
4.5 stars

I appreciated the nod to The Blue Fox, that was a lovely surprise. This novella had a similar, almost abstract feel to it.

It's worth mentioning that VanderMeer really cranked up the visceral elements throughout this story. Some of the descriptions were difficult to read, but they also managed to be morbidly thrilling at the same time. As twisted as it may sound, the level of cruelty happening to the main character kept the suspense levels high for me. I read this in one sitting, so that can attest to how engrossed I was with the plot.

This was a great addition to the Borne universe. I liked that we got a more in depth exploration of the Magician and Charlie X as well. If you're a fan of the first book, this would be a good one to pick up. It fills in a few gaps and sheds new light on some subtle subplots of the original story. Overall, this was fascinating and I'm glad I was able to grab it from my library.
Profile Image for Debbie.
91 reviews52 followers
September 7, 2020
Jeff VanderMeer's writing style is superb, lyrical, astounding, memorizing, beautifully uplifting and devastatingly sad all wrapped together. His creativeness just blew me away. I'm definately going to read Borne a lot sooner than I thought I would. This was truly a lovely and strange sci-fi read.
Profile Image for Boris.
419 reviews156 followers
June 15, 2019
История от света на Borne, която много, много ми хареса. Припомних си Морд, Компанията, Градът и цялата странност на въображението на Вандърмиър.
Винаги ще се връщам за още от това. Надявам се да напише още истории от тази вселена.
Profile Image for Mary.
1,216 reviews1 follower
July 17, 2017
In this novella's expansion of VanderMeer's Borne, the reader again is witness to his unparalleled imagination. The Strange Bird inhabits a desperate world where again we meet the mutant flying bear, Mord, the cruel Magician, Rachel the survivor and her lover Wick. "...the situation was extreme and the world was dying. So they had gone on doing the same things that had destroyed the world, to save it." The Strange Bird is a mutant creature comprised of human and avian genes, and technology. "What did she hope for? To find purpose, and for kindness which had not yet been shown to her. Where did she wish to rest? A place she could call home, a place that was safe." The Strange Bird bestows an aerial view of Borne's world laid waste by human inhabitants; devastated by mad scientists and uncontrolled technology. Impressive, unforgettable, The Strange Bird is highly recommended for all science fiction aficionados.
Profile Image for Laci Long Carrera | Book Pairings.
568 reviews168 followers
March 6, 2018
The Strange Bird is a companion novella to Jeff Vandermeer’s Borne and is set during the same timeframe as the novel. Borne was one of my favorite books of 2017 so I was SUPER excited to read The Strange Bird.

The Strange Bird follows a creature that is the result of experimentation combining human and bird genetic material after she manages to escape the laboratory she was created in. We get to experience this strange world from the perspective of a creature who is completely alone and trying to understand what it means to be free and to know oneself. I am in awe of Vandermeer’s ability to write such atmospheric and haunting stories. If you loved Borne, you absolutely have to pick up a copy of The Strange Bird.

Also rumor has it, Vandermeer is working on another story about the three astronauts from the novel! I cannot wait to read more about this strange and wonderful world he has created.
Profile Image for Spencer.
1,425 reviews34 followers
July 14, 2017
This is an exquisitely written novella that acts as an addition to Jeff VanderMeer’s novel Borne. The writing is beautiful, however the world is harsh and bizarre but grounded with emotion as you follow the strange bird and its journey across this extraordinary land. I love the imagination of VanderMeer and the unique stories he creates, this book is another brilliant example of this. I’d very much recommend it!

I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley in return for a fair and unbiased review.
Profile Image for Jeff Raymond.
3,092 reviews180 followers
November 8, 2017
A short novella in the Borne universe, this is a fairly standard modern VanderMeer piece with gorgeous writing and a comprehensible story that gives plenty of nods and extras to the Borne story while also existing on its own. If you prefer your science fiction on the prettier side or really loved Borne, give this a read.
Profile Image for Ivana Nešić.
Author 13 books60 followers
December 19, 2017
Lepo i užasno i bolno i čudno i SVE.
Uvek kad čitam Vandermira pomislim da bih volela da budem on kad porastem, ali sada sam to baš onako jako pomislila.
Profile Image for Meagan.
333 reviews174 followers
October 22, 2017
The timeline for this novella happens before, during and after Borne. This allows us to meet new bioengineered beings made by The Company. We also get an inside look into the Magician's plans, motivations and her personality. We even get to see Rachel and Wick again! It was interesting to get a different perspective of the amazing world that VanderMeer built in Borne through a different set of eyes. I thought the ending was lovely and really spoke to me. The writing was great and the format worked really well. I was absolutely captivated by Borne, but this was just lackluster in my opinion. I just didn't feel the tension/conflict that pulls you through the story and keeps you flipping pages until you reach the end. I don't typically read/like novellas. I have yet to read one (ok maybe I have literally read like only one that was decent lol) that I was even remotely as interested in as I would be a full novel length book. I thought this novella would change that because Borne was one of my fav reads this year. So take this review with a grain of salt.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,079 reviews108 followers
April 13, 2019
This is a novelette set in the same word as Borne, but with another main character - the artificial bird, produced in the lab. We actually met her in the novel, but weren't aware of it.

The wonderful bird with bright multi-colored plumage escapes the lab and has an urge to get to some place she is unaware of. She has strange dreams of her creators (?), two women from the lab. On the way to her goal she is captured by different persons, including one from the novel.

A nice companion read to the novel, but weak as a stand-alone
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