Author Jeff VanderMeer reads from his works ‘The Strange Bird’ and ‘Borne’

Minnah Zaheer

Science fiction author Jeff VanderMeer immersed the audience in a world of bioengineered creatures to understand the links between science and nature in an alternate, fictional reality at a reading on Monday.

“This is gonna be all about strange animals,” VanderMeer said. “And there will be some humans involved, as there always have to be, I suppose.”

VanderMeer read selections from his novel “Borne,” a short story spinoff “The Strange Bird” and discussed his novel “Annihilation” during an event co-sponsored by Environmental Humanities at UT, the New Writers Project and the Plan II Honors Program. Event organizer Heather Houser said she first heard about VanderMeer in 2015.

“VanderMeer exploded on the scene for me when the Contemporary Reading Group in the English department started to read his work,” Houser said. “A bunch of students wanted to talk about his ‘Southern Reach’ trilogy in their dissertations, and we’re very excited to have him visit UT now that the word is more spread out.”

After reading a selection from “The Strange Bird,” VanderMeer talked more about nature and his writing, including his piece about a fictional freshwater squid festival that was written with such scientific accuracy that it began to gain media attention as a real festival.

“A local Sebring Newspaper even called to set up an interview about ‘the situation,’ resulting in a much more explicit ‘This Is Fiction’ warning on each page of the online story,” VanderMeer said.  

VanderMeer then read a selection from “Borne” about a woman living in a ruined city who finds a bioengineered squid-like creature and raises it as her own. During the question-and-answer session that followed he continued to talk about the real-world influences on his writing.

“The setting (of “Annihilation”) is this 14 mile hike I do outside of St. Mark’s in Tallahassee,” VanderMeer said. “It’s very personal to me, and I want every detail to be from firsthand experience. It’s just a matter of deciding how to deploy that.”

VanderMeer’s novel “Annihilation” has been adapted into a film of the same name released this February and directed by Alex Garland.

“When I saw that VanderMeer was coming I bought the book (Annihilation) and read it,” said Scott Spivey, Plan II and neuroscience senior. “It’s really unique in my opinion because I’ve never read a book that goes so in-depth into the ecological and environmental perspective. I’m definitely interested to read more
of his writing.”