A messianic blue fox who slips through warrens of time and space on a mysterious mission. A homeless woman haunted by a demon who finds the key to all things in a strange journal. Jeff VanderMeer's Dead Astronauts presents a City with no name of its own where, in the shadow of the all-powerful Company, lives human and otherwise converge in terrifying and miraculous ways.
It happens to all of us: every reader—and by extension, every reviewer—will, at some point, find themselves completely gobsmacked by a book, wanting to press it into the hands of anyone who will listen. Oddly, though, they find themselves utterly unable to articulate why the book is so great. Sometimes, even a bare description of the book is vexing. Such is the case with Dead Astronauts, the new novel by Florida writer Jeff VanderMeer ... It’s a relentlessly experimental novel, shifting viewpoints and styles, skipping through time frames and across cosmic distances, changing formats; it even includes version numbers in the margins ... Despite this complex approach, however, it is utterly accessible: one need only surrender to VanderMeer, to trust in the work. And if you do give yourself over—which I would strongly urge you to do—you will find the novel is less a puzzle than it is a profoundly moving exploration of connection, isolation, sacrifice and the relationship of man with nature (though the novel would suggest that there is no such division). Ultimately, Dead Astronauts is sui generis, a book you simply must read. If you were here, I would press it into your hands and not let you put it down.
VanderMeer, whose imaginative novels are fed by his fecund home state of Florida, wants us to inhabit the minds of his ravenous bird and the massive fish held in a tank. It’s actually not that far off from the world we know — and perhaps that’s the point. Who hasn’t wondered what it’s like to be a bird swooping from the sky? These monsters become less monstrous when we live inside their (often hungry, often angry) heads ... When writers are working in a series, there is a risk that its world will close in on itself. This world began with Borne, the story of a woman living in a broken-down apartment building in the City who finds a cuttlefish-slash-houseplant with the awareness of a little boy. With Dead Astronauts, VanderMeer has expanded to a multiverse with a poisoned past, engineered monsters and a possibly redeemable future, all from something that was merely decoration. There’s no limit to where it might go next.
... [a] darkly transcendent novel filled with phantasmagoric visions, body horror and tortured beings traversing a blasted desert hellscape. Think The Last Judgment, but with more animals ... pointedly inhabits these strange, nonhuman consciousnesses ... Amid all its grimness, the novel finds some small redemption in the power of love. But VanderMeer’s brilliant formal tricks make love feel abstract and unconvincing by the end, a flimsy human ideal ... It’s precisely that ferocity that makes Dead Astronauts so terrifying and so compelling.