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.
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.
[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.