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Hummingbird Salamander: A Novel Audio CD – Unabridged, April 6, 2021
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From the author of Annihilation, a brilliant speculative thriller of dark conspiracy, endangered species, and the possible end of all things
Security consultant “Jane Smith” receives an envelope with a key to a storage unit that holds a taxidermied hummingbird and clues leading her to a taxidermied salamander. Silvina, the dead woman who left the note, is a reputed ecoterrorist and the daughter of an Argentine industrialist. By taking the hummingbird from the storage unit, Jane sets in motion a series of events that quickly spin beyond her control.
Soon, Jane and her family are in danger, with few allies to help her make sense of the true scope of the peril. Is the only way to safety to follow in Silvina’s footsteps? Is it too late to stop? As she desperately seeks answers about why Silvina contacted her, time is running out—for her and possibly for the world.
Hummingbird Salamander is Jeff VanderMeer at his brilliant, cinematic best, wrapping profound questions about climate change, identity, and the world we live in into a tightly plotted thriller full of unexpected twists and elaborate conspiracy.
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"[A] mix of thriller and biotech speculative fiction...Exquisite prose pulls the reader deep into the labyrinthine plot."-- "Publishers Weekly (starred review)"
"A detective story...futuristic in bearing but deeply relevant to this present, dangerous moment."-- "Omar El Akkad, author of American War"
"A taut, breakneck thriller."-- "AV Club"
"A thriller equal parts ecological and psychological...revealing our current dystopia."-- "Chuck Wendig, New York Times bestselling author"
"An eco-thriller...and an entertaining whirlwind."-- "Kirkus Reviews (starred review)"
"Both a thriller and a requiem for a disappearing world."-- "Emily St. John Mandel, New York Times bestselling author"
"Celebrates nature while inviting us to contemplate the effects of contamination, pandemics, and other crises and how none of them make us 'even blink anymore.'"-- "San Francisco Chronicle"
"Like your favorite Hollywood blockbuster...ecoterrorists, evil corporations, a race to defuse doomsday weapons, gunfire, fisticuffs, action sequences, and hair-raising escapes."-- "Los Angeles Times"
"This gripping eco-thriller pulls readers into a world of danger, mystery, and obsession."-- "Meg Gardiner, author of the UNSUB series"
"This is climate fiction at its most urgent and gripping."-- "New York Times"
"This madcap mystery offers plenty of charms, as well as something much darker."-- "New York Times Book Review"
"VanderMeer knocks his conspiracy thriller out of the park."-- "Booklist (starred review)"
"Will leave you in the dark for as long as it possibly can, before divulging it all in a shocking reveal."-- "Mystery Suspense magazine"
You won't look up even once while you're reading."-- "Washington Post"
"A strange, seductive eco-thriller ripe for our era."-- "Silvia Moreno-Garcia, New York Times bestselling author"
- Publisher : Blackstone Publishing; Unabridged edition (April 6, 2021)
- Language : English
- Audio CD : 1 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1982500980
- ISBN-13 : 978-1982500986
- Item Weight : 2.92 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.3 x 0.6 x 6.7 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #4,054,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Reviewed in the United States on April 6, 2021
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I came to Hummingbird from VanderMeer's previous surreal scifi, having loved Borne, The Southern Reach trilogy, Strange Bird, and Dead Astronauts. So when I read early reviews of Hummingbird suggesting it was a thriller, I confess I did not believe it. Surely there would be something different, something more -- a variation on a genre. And while there is indeed more, different, it is on top of an absolutely first-rate thriller every bit the match of the best of early Ludlum: an unlikely common-person hero who performs unexpected feats of survival and wit against shadowy foes, with world-scale stakes.
I don't want to make too much of this, but another review of Hummingbird that I read a while back stayed with me through my read, and that was by someone who downrated it because they didn't find Jane's journey -- ditching her job, family and suburban existence to follow a murky mystery presented by an absent stranger -- credible or well-explained. WHY?? they whined. And I've come to the conclusion that reader didn't actually read the same book, because the entire manuscript could be said to be a study in Jane asking "why am I doing this?" That reader seemed to think the author missed the boat or didn't recognize how outlandish Jane's actions are and needful of explanation, whereas I found quite the contrary: the author, through Jane, seemed to want to push and push through the veneer of "normal" life, to try to discover exactly what it takes to shift us out of conventional comforts. Because that's where we are being forced, by history and by nature.
So Jane is inventively and appealingly depicted as being the sort of person who might at least nominally be willing to contemplate throwing over the normal order. My nameless reviewer is so mystified at this that it's as if they can't contemplate any such person existing, let alone this particular one named Jane, which I think says more about them than about VanderMeer's story-writing.
One of Hummingbird's final messages seems to be "what you so cherish in the depths of your monkey brain and hold up as the 'normal order' is very rapidly going to complete shit, so at what point, really, does breaking from that stop being revolutionary but instead a necessity for survival?" It's a gritty, difficult, unpleasant message and Jane is one of my favorite heroes in recent fiction for her whole personhood. (A lit major would gleefully point out the unequivocal feminist symbolism of literally abandoning husband, home, and child.)
Silvina is the other hero, whom we never meet in life. And her heroism consists in taking the implicit riddle above -- how do you break the normal order, in a way that matters, and not lose either your soul or your life? -- and answering it to the hilt. When you take the path Silvina took, the world will make you out a nihilist pretty much regardless. So on the one hand you have Jane trying to peer behind that mask, always grasping to understand reality a little bit more clearly; and on the other, Silvina, whose reality has long since become so fractured, bifurcated.
And in the end, when Jane's own reality has fractured at least as much, what is her frame of mind as she confronts the mind-bogglingly Grand Gesture that Silvina has been engaged in all this time? In what position is she to judge Silvina's intentions, or to frame an "appropriate" response of her own? "Appropriate" has been left in the dust.
This riddle is largely left to the reader -- in the end, you know Jane's intentions, or think you do. But anything can happen, except the one thing we all want: for the world to be saved.
I think the combination of the noir detective and climate disaster dystopia turned eco-terrorism got too gawky, the way Vandermeer did it. He wrote his protagonist, a wife and mother, abandon her family for a dead woman scientist she didn’t know that left her a taxidermied hummingbird and a manifesto scattered like breadcrumbs, all to follow down a rabbit hole. While she saw the world was burning, the skies change to a chemical green tinge, and a murky pandemic invade the species. “Jane” casually cheated on her husband with strangers (even though she was introverted), engaged in casual violence, and watched others get casually beaten, battered, and killed.
I’m confused as to why Vandermeer kept trotting out stereotypical villains and half-villains, who we obviously won’t care about, and set up scene after scene with these half-formed and half-baked characters. Some were caricatures that met cartoon fates. All the while, threaded through the novel, were the supposedly profound (?) words left by the dead Argentine scientist, Silvina, scion to a wealthy, powerful, criminal family. Criminal as in: wildlife trafficking and (maybe) bioweapons.
Anyway, most of the stuff written by Silvina seemed rather trite and coyly abstruse. Occasionally, an author will disguise an inability to shine a light by keeping us in perpetual darkness. Vandermeer seemed that way, or maybe he deals better with the cerebral than the emotional, (which he then sentimentalized at key plot turns). The novel was often busy with extraneous details of hiding finding, texting, calling that were essentially meaningless after a while. Instead of enlightening me, I was drowning in the drawn-out repetition and sociopathy of it all.
When everyone is a sociopath, what is really at stake? The world, I know--that’s what the author put up as the Holy Grail--saving the world. But Jane was constantly being beaten and bruised, either by accident or enemy. And we followed her step by step, car by car, and cars that trail cars, her and her “Shovel Pig,” her nickname for her jumbo handbag.
I learned some things that the internet could have taught me about hummingbirds and salamanders, but the ultimate reveal of the bird and the amphibian were anticlimactic. As far as ecology and wildlife trafficking, what I learned was choppy and randomly sequenced, so I got lost in the weeds, or in the pervasive dark. There’s not much one can figure out, either, since new, essential facts are unveiled right before each small discovery, and the build-up of one thing after another and another gummed it up for me. That, and “Jane’s” lot and lode of injuries. Ouch!
Then this over-the-top ending, which I think Vandermeer could have finessed more keenly. I can tell that he has talent, that maybe I’d like some of his other books. Perhaps this was a rushed quarantine-y book to meet the times. Or I’m just the wrong reader. The style felt forced and disingenuous. Of course others will find this exciting and adventurous, and I accept that I dropped out of caring about these characters left to save the world, even though I read the entire mythic tale, hoping to be converted. I’m sorry, Jeff Vandermeer, that I had to write this review. I can tell that this writer cares about humanity and other living things, more than what is conveyed, extinct or otherwise.
2.5 rounded down
Top reviews from other countries
Not quite as haunting as some of his other work, but lots of striking images that linger past the end of the book.
I especially love the absolutely unique main character, so far from the standard stereotypes you see everywhere else.