I’m about 30 pages into Hummingbird Salamander, Jeff VanDermeer’s latest novel. I, like many, came to VanDermeer via the Southern Reach trilogy (shout to The Watch podcast) and have hung with him through increasingly inscrutable adventures like Borne (the story of a girl, a giant monster bear, her pet squid, and the ruins of a city ravaged by environmental collapse brought on by The Company) and Dead Astronauts (set in the same world as Borne, but beyond that I can’t tell you a fucking thing about the plot). There are connective elements running through all his work that I’ve read, but the one that leaps out – and the one that gets a fair amount if press – is the idea of people in connection and conversation with nature. That’s already playing out to a certain degree 10% of the way into Hummingbird Salamander, which reminds me a little of the FX show Devs in a way I can’t really explain.
So, with all these elements – icy humans behaving inhumanely, ignoring nature until nature can no longer ignore them – it should come as no surprise that VanDermeer more or less presses his finger on the bruise of the farce that is living on the edge of environmental collapse and acting like anything else could possibly matter (Adam McKay is taking his own stab at this coming to an on-demand menu near you soon). I write all this to say that that this line, from early in the novel, woke me the fuck up and made me feel like someone was speaking out directly to me, articulating something I have felt but been unable to express with the same economy and blunt directness. This is the kind of thing that feels true, even if it isn’t. The kind of thing a person uses as the hinge for a research paper, because it pins down an idea that must be, but inevitably could be, confirmed with facts and figures. It is more or less the operating position of the ants beneath the magnifying glass. It is as true today as it ever has been, but feels more urgent as the circle of light heats up.
Writers, man, what a bunch of assholes. Here goes the quote, have a nice Thursday.
“To care more meant putting a bullet in your brain. So, like many, I had learned to care less.”