There’s a point towards the end of Dead Astronauts where it seems almost as if the novel is addressing us directly. The spectral Blue Fox, one of several narrators, tells us, ‘You wouldn’t understand me, even if I made sense.’ Although describing its earlier life as a kind of interdimensional Laika, burrowing through the fabric of space and time, the Blue Fox could easily be referring to Jeff VanderMeer’s hallucinatory new novel. Not that Dead Astronauts doesn’t make sense – far from it. It makes sense, but like Burroughs and Ballard at their best it does so through the logic of nightmares, fever dreams and chemically induced visions. Its fragmentary story follows a cast of shapeshifting characters back and forth in time across a devastated landscape in constant flux. Those characters range from the quasi-human Grayson to the Blue Fox and its fellow ‘dead astronauts’, the pond-dwelling Behemoth and the reptilian Duck with a Broken Wing, the last of these so much more sinister than its name suggests.
Although not a direct sequel to it, Dead Astronauts shares a setting with VanderMeer’s 2017 novel Borne, in which we see the early days of this man-made apocalypse. By the time Dead Astronauts begins (or ends – it’s complicated), the planet has become overrun with bioengineered life forms and human