If there is one thing I know for sure about Jeff Vandermeer it’s salamanders. He loves salamanders.
Jeff Vandermeer’s Dead Astronauts is a follow up to his novel Borne. It takes places in the same universe and at times even the same set pieces as Borne. I wouldn’t classify Dead Astronauts as a sequel though. Some characters are mentioned or seen, but mostly in a passing way. With that being said it is, in my opinion, a must that you read Borne first so that you have a good foothold on what is going on in this world.
I will try to avoid spoilers as best I can, but with a book like this it will be difficult.
Dead Astronauts is told in a series of, what I will call, entries. We experience this journey through the stories of a blue fox, three astronauts (though I’m not entirely sure they are actually astronauts), a figure called Charlie X, a Behemoth sea creature, and a dark bird.
It is with these points of view that we are to put together what is happening in this world, I believe. I don’t think it was Vandermeer’s intent to tell a story in the traditional way. There is not a clear overarching plot. I think the clearest arch of the story is through the three astronauts as that is the story that we spend the most time in. Slight spoilers ahead: It is in this story that we interact with a blue fox that pops in and out of existence at will, it seems. We also encounter other versions of the three astronauts that fight themselves within the Balcony Cliffs where Rachel, Wick, and Borne lived in Borne. They also interact with the strange wall that Rachel encounters with The Magician. In Dead Astronauts, this wall is called the wall of globes and seems to be the way that The Company transports the creatures to inhabit The City where Rachel and Wick live. The wall of globes seems to be a portal to other worlds though it’s not known how many or who comes from what world.
We also go into the mind of Charlie X who is the son of the head of research for The Company. Charlie seems to be the source of a lot of creatures that come from The Company, if not all of them. He is also routinely beaten by his father and force fed the dead creatures if they are not up to his father’s standards.
End of Spoilers
The creative decisions made throughout the book really added to its mysteriousness for me. Things like version numbers (ex. v 6.3) labeling certain paragraphs, recurring numbers (10, 7, 3, 0) throughout the different sections, and some paragraphs being displayed with grayed out text give the book another level of mystery.
The Final Thought:
I think that many authors, or any artist working in the abstract, risks the chance of falling victim to their own abstract thoughts. I don’t think Vandermeer is one of those authors here. Everything he writes seems to be there for a reason, though I may not always have known what the reason was. It was clear to me that he really knows what he is trying to convey and not just doing things to be weird or mysterious. However, for someone like Vandermeer who seems to be concerned with how humans treat the earth to then have chapters in his book contain nothing but a singular paragraph or sometimes a single sentence is a little strange, but that’s a totally different topic.
If I had to compare Dead Astronauts to anything it would be Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I think both of these works work on the same plain of abstract where sometimes you are just shown things and then shown something else that may or may not have anything to do with the previous thing shown. I got a lot of the same feelings while reading Dead Astronauts that I had when I saw 2001 for the first time. Mystery, intrigue, confusion, awe, but I think in the end when you turn that last page you will feel like the read was worth your time.
I recommend this book to anyone that liked Borne and want to know more about the world. Though, you might end up with more questions than answers.
Thanks for reading!