From Jeff VanderMeer, the author of Annihilation, comes a speculative thriller of dark conspiracy, endangered species, and the end of all things. Security consultant "Jane Smith" receives an envelope with a key to a storage unit that holds a taxidermied hummingbird and clues leading her to a taxidermied salamander. Silvina, the dead woman who left the note, is a reputed ecoterrorist and the daughter of an Argentine industrialist. By taking the hummingbird from the storage unit, Jane sets in motion a series of events that quickly spin beyond her control.
... 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.