... a pulpy page-turner with as many twists, double-crosses, and mystery-box riddles as one of Dan Brown’s gimcrack potboilers. It’s not a fair comparison, of course, as Jeff VanderMeer is a terrific writer, while Brown struggles with any sentence above the reading level of a Highlights magazine. But in terms of plotting, it’s remarkable how faithful the latest novel from the author of the Southern Reach Trilogy is to the beats and tropes of a conventional thriller ... At first glance, Hummingbird Salamander may seem like his most straightforward work yet, but much like the upper-middle-class businesswoman at the heart of this novel, looks can be deceiving. By the end of the story, the book’s bleak eco-fiction heart has been laid bare. The unsettling, apocalyptic worldview undergirding his narrative is as dark and foreboding as anything he’s written ... At times, it can be jarring, this shift from conspiracy and who-can-you-trust paranoia to hectoring ruminations on animal trafficking and environmental catastrophe. But if it feels more abrupt for the reader than it does for Jane, that’s in part by design—the rupture in her life is meant to mirror the larger one taking place all around us, all the time, in ways we tend to block as a means of getting through the day. Simply acknowledging it can feel like a lecture we don’t want to hear ... Despite an ending that offers the possibility of redemption, that oppressive bleakness saturates the novel, a profound sadness and pessimism in Jane’s point of view that keeps even her biggest victories feeling pyrrhic, like winning a lottery ticket on a sinking ship. The book impresses itself on the reader because of that discomfiting melancholy, not despite it. It taps into the part of ourselves that knows things aren’t okay, that knows we haven’t done enough to try and stop the world from plunging into darkness. And it does so while delivering a crackling good yarn about a woman in over her head, dodging bullets and fighting the kind of men we know all too well from news reports and history books ... Rarely has existential despair been given such crackerjack propulsion.
[VanderMeer] uses spy fiction to show how spy fiction can’t help us when the sky falls in. Or heats up ... Like your favorite Hollywood blockbuster, Hummingbird Salamander features ecoterrorists, evil corporations, a race to defuse doomsday weapons, gunfire, fisticuffs, action sequences and hair-raising escapes ... like Ling Ma and Holroyde, VanderMeer introduces all this genre fun mostly to subvert it ... part of what the novel is doing is showing how humans are connected to the rest of nature even when we’d rather not think about it. The planet on which Jane gets her coffee from some barista is the same in which the last hummingbird dies in a dwindling forest ... The secret interconnections of the spy novel map onto the secret interconnections of the natural world. And the unfurling plot mirrors the unraveling ecosystem ... the book’s redemption isn’t imaginable in the terms of a pulp spy novel. VanderMeer and some of his peers struggle with genre because they understand that the ecological crisis is also a narrative crisis. When all you have are the old stories, how can you speak a new ending?
... ambitious ... As Silvina’s sublime or unhinged master plan reveals itself, VanderMeer makes the case—viscerally, unflinchingly—that we would do well to envision ourselves at this existential inflection point alongside Jane, exploring possible destinies for life on our planet ...Hummingbird Salamander, though less wildly inventive, is potent for being more familiar, far closer to our current reality. This is climate fiction at its most urgent and gripping.
VanderMeer created a fast-paced, cinematic story and filled it with shady figures, cryptic messages and puzzling encounters that often end in violence ... The novel echoes some of VanderMeer’s previous work, including his use of lighthouses and the natural world, but it signals a step in a new direction, one that’s both weirder and closer to our reality. It’s also a novel that brilliantly explores the way we abuse the Earth and how we 'have built so many mirrors, there are no windows to shatter' ... At once enigmatic and fast, obscure and brilliant, Hummingbird Salamander celebrates nature while inviting us to contemplate the effects of contamination, pandemics and other crises, and how none of them make us 'even blink anymore.'
Now from this daring and ever-shifting author comes Hummingbird Salamander, a volume more naturalistic, more like a traditional thriller than its predecessors, but one that also features hooks into the literary novel of paranoid conspiracy, a genre best exemplified by Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. In fact, our doughty and frankly terrifying heroine, 'Jane Smith,' might be the Oedipa Maas the 21st century needs ... VanderMeer’s tale succeeds marvelously on many levels. First is the creation of Jane and her narrative voice...Her perceptive observations and descriptions weave an atmosphere of unrelenting coldblooded doom from the very first page. Yet her emotions are also given fair shrift, and ultimately she becomes the definition of a 'hopeful monster,' a term derived fittingly from evolution sciences describing a bridge between stages of a species ... The action sequences and convoluted pursuit of various MacGuffins — waystations toward the ultimate MacGuffin — are masterfully done, with cinematic set pieces, noirish interludes and horrifying bad guys. And VanderMeer does not neglect the symbolical aspects of events ... Lastly, the book digs deeply into themes of individual moral culpability for communal sins ... One could imagine Lars von Trier filming Jane’s Dantean descent and conflicted redemption, giving us a 21st-first century odyssey into the guttering soul of the planet.
This quirky, compelling book is likely to gain an even wider audience for its author, without disappointing his many SF fans. The engine that drives it is speculation about the future not only of civilisation, but of all life on this planet. Metaphysical questions about our relationship to other forms of life, and our ability to change not only the world but ourselves, run throughout the book and come to the fore in an unsettling conclusion.
There are no elder gods or supernatural terrors lurking in Hummingbird Salamander, Jeff VanderMeer’s newest novel, but I found myself reading with that kind of dread ... A grippingly-paced and paranoid eco-thriller ... Action-packed, memorably voiced, and rich in detail, the novel uses the thriller format — bureaucratic espionage and private investigation — to spiral inwards to a story of personal and ecological disaster ... Right from the start, Jane’s voice has the snappy, poetic weariness of the hard-boiled private eye ... Extinction, then, the human-caused deaths of entire species, is a horror waiting to be recognized, every moment, around us, in ever-worsening degree. There are plenty of human-scale crimes and tragedies in Hummingbird Salamander, but it’s this awareness that drives Silvina to madness ... it’s leavened by enjoyable elements; Jane is not exactly a cheerful character, but I found myself tapping into her satisfaction — her competence at spycraft and skullduggery, her physical strength, her underdog tenaciousness. Like so many great PIs, Jane is out of her depth, in the sights of much larger entities, but also skillful and resilient in ways that make each chapter sing ... like much of VanderMeer’s work, Hummingbird Salamander is an attempt to imagine, not an end of the world, but a transformation.
... stunning ... The sheer delight of a new novel from Jeff Vandermeer, whose previous books include Borne, Dead Astronauts, and Annihilation, which won the Nebula and Shirley Jackson awards, is that you never know what you’re going to get. With Hummingbird Salamander, he delivers a crackling page-turner, a canny eco-thriller cut from the same cloth as such 1970s cinematic classics as The Conversation and Three Days of the Condor ... a philosophical exploration and a warning, delivered in a package of sheer reading pleasure, the sort of book one will want to read in a single sitting.
VanderMeer is a marvelous craftsman. Every word here feels carefully chosen; every sentence has a purpose; every plot point causes ripples felt through the rest of the story ... The author’s devoted fans will flock to this novel, and they will be richly rewarded. Switching genres with aplomb, VanderMeer knocks his conspiracy thriller out of the park.
The story falls short when it comes to establishing why Jane would go to such excruciating lengths to solve the mystery. The reader’s questions are ultimately answered, though only in a sense, and far too late ... not a great introduction to [VanderMeer's] style, but his existing fans will likely be carried through by its intriguing, propulsive plot.
The prolific VanderMeer moves from fantasy into noir territory with this version of an eco-thriller ... It wouldn’t be a VanderMeer story, no matter what the genre, without a post-apocalyptic turn, and after all the assorted villains (one of them in particular very evil indeed) and oversized amphibians and mad-scientist taxidermists and exploding heads, it’s sort of nice to get to a future that no one will survive—one that strongly resembles 2020, for that matter. A daring change of genres, and an entertaining whirlwind at that.
...this striking mix of thriller and biotech speculative fiction from VanderMeer (Dead Astronauts) charts a seemingly mad quest by its anonymous narrator ... Exquisite prose pulls the reader deep into the labyrinthine plot. VanderMeer reinforces his place as one of today’s most innovative writers.