Dead Astronauts (Book Review)
by Jeff Vandermeer
As usual with any Jeff Vandermeer story, Dead Astronauts is both delightfully confounding and imaginative, with provocative themes. It’s a little more blatant in its message than those of the others I have read (Borne, Southern Reach trilogy, City of Saints and Madmen, Shriek, Finch), but it isn’t trite or heavy-handed in the novel’s “purpose”. Perhaps because it’s so relevant today. As someone who cares deeply about animal welfare, there were parts that were painful to read, but in ways that aren’t grotesque for shock or controversy’s sake but to remind us who the true villains are in the real world.
The novel also requires you to pay attention, as there are repeated images and themes that have relevance later. It’s a book that I enjoyed reading in long chunks, but not a few pages at a time or in one sitting. I wanted to be properly involved but also to draw it out so I had time to ruminate on what I was reading.
The different perspectives of the novel keep you guessing and engaged while also unravelling the trajectory of the story (I hesitate to call it plot) and he absolutely nails a second person (which is often hard to pull off successfully).
The characters, while we don’t get a lot of time with all of them, are distinct and easy to understand. He gives us just enough of their backstory and motivation for us to understand and care about them, then snatches that away (though he wraps up their fates by the end).
What I particularly liked is that we’re given a vague idea of what The Company is and what they have done. I found the lack of specifics and exposition to be fun while also heightening The Company’s villainy in my own imagination. Encouraging the reader to extrapolate and make correlations on their own seems to be a staple of his work.
I’m such a fan of Vandermeer for all the reasons I mentioned above, but also for his startling, specific, and unique imagery, such as: “the smell gains a weight and misdirection, like rusted iron soaked in honeysuckle.” This is a rather bizarre description, but it works in a way that is beautiful in its weirdness.