Book Review: Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer

Dead Astronauts

So this book…it…hmm…

I fully acknowledge that part of the reason I didn’t like this book was because I knew nothing about it before picking it up from the library. It was released about a month ago, and I had heard of Jeff VanderMeer being an interesting writer and I randomly read it. I did not know it was the second book of the Borne series, so part of my issue with it could have been explained in the first book. Either way, I ended up getting fed up with this book 25% of the way through, and skipping forward to skim the last 25%, so technically I only read half this book.

But I’m still reviewing it…because I just need to rant a bit.

Release: Dec. 3, 2019

Synopsis: (from Goodreads, because this book is too much of a mess to summarize) “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. A giant leviathan of a fish, centuries old, who hides a secret, remembering a past that may not be its own. Three ragtag rebels waging an endless war for the fate of the world against an all-powerful corporation. A raving madman who wanders the desert lost in the past, haunted by his own creation: an invisible monster whose name he has forgotten and whose purpose remains hidden. 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. At stake: the fate of the future, the fate of Earth—all the Earths.”

Spoiler (Kinda) Review

So I probably should have guessed that this book would be strange just by the cover, but I was also intrigued by the idea of a speculative science fiction with weird elements. Reading the synopsis, I went into the book assuming it would be kind of an adult Alice in Wonderland set in space, and in a bad sense, that’s what it is. However, nothing really makes sense in the world. The writing feels distant, so you never connect with any of the characters, who all feel like they’re on psychedelic drugs or something. The world is interesting, but again it has little cohesion or rules. The language is poetic, and yet it also feels disjointed and forced. Everything just feels…off about this book.

Maybe if I did do drugs while reading this (no, I’m not going to do that), I would have enjoyed it more. The beginning starts with us following three people on this strange planet on which this City is. They run across some talking foxes, but none of the characters’ interactions or decisions feel understandable. I had a couple theories in the beginning, like they are dead and traveling through some sort of in-between or Purgatory (thus the name “Dead” Astronauts). Another theory was that these people flew into some sort of wormhole where each reality changes what they see, as the book many times refers to different “versions” of the world, like different realities. I will say, this in itself is an intriguing idea, and yet the story never explained what was happening (unless I missed something in the middle chunk or first book) and everything was incredibly vague.

I won’t give too many spoilers, mostly because I have no idea what is actually a spoiler and what isn’t, but the ending ended with me not really understanding anything I didn’t in the beginning (which is honestly nothing).

The writing feels very modern and, like modern art, it felt disjointed and unappealing. I’ll give you an example of weird art to illustrate my point.

See the source image

This is “Guernica” by Picasso. I’ve studied it in several classes in college and I still hate it. If you look at it, you can make out some things. There are people, lost limbs, a cow and horse, and some flames. But if you don’t know what the painting actually shows (which is a bombing of a town during the Spanish Civil War in 1937), it will make no sense to you. The historical background of the painting is incredibly interesting, and yet the painting feels disjointed and incomprehensible without background knowledge.

This book feels like that painting. Like VanderMeer has interesting ideas, but he presents them in such a vague and ugly way it just feels baffling instead of poignant. This was my biggest problem with the book.

Have you read any of his books? I would also love if you had a different view of this book than me, or if you understood any of it. Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer

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