My first crucial piece of advice about Jeff VanderMeer’s newest novel, *Dead Astronauts*is, you should get this book physically if you can. The cover design is gorgeous. The dust jacket is a glossy embossed rainbow, but beneath it, the book itself is embossed with blue foil writing excerpted from the book. Also, throughout the book, there are various typographical effects that may not come through in the ebook.
I think that it’s intentional. There are sections of this book where phrases are repeated for pages with slow changes to intersperse thoughts progressing through the repeats. Then there’s an entire section where each page is a small paragraph at the bottom of the page. The design of the text reinforces the story within. It’s a celebration of the book as a physical object, but I also think that it helps anchor the audience in a text that is unhinged across dimensions.
There’s a lot of reviews of this book that call it hallucinatory. I could see how the slightly psychedelic cover and a story about flashing from dimension to dimension could seem hallucinatory. Yet, I think that largely it’s amazing how straightforward this narrative is. VanderMeer takes the story of The Company and its devastation of the world through genetic engineering and environmental destruction and gives us different points of view in the various permutations of the world.
We are looking for a world where the Company and its founder Charlie X can be beaten and the world restored. Spread through different characters, the narrative jumps from world to world. As much as the jumps and imagery are surreal, the narrative stops to ensure you’re checked in through each of the dumps. Then as the perspectives shift to other characters, there are key elements to give you a clear location.
Dead Astronauts wears its message of environmental destruction at the hands of rampant capitalism right on its sleeve. Though there’s a slightly buried message that this is inherited from human nature. Deep down, we will always be in conflict with the true spirit of nature, and nature will be waiting to crush the world we created. Our mix of cruelty and indifference earns what’s coming, or at the spite fueling it.
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