Novel Hot Take: The Vanished Birds
This is part of an experimental periodic series of posts with quick reactions to various novels. Rather than a full review, I’m pulling out one or two things that I think are interesting.
To be honest, The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez isn’t exactly the kind of book I usually read. While I love the argument of it, as I’ll get to in a moment, both a space setting and the dreamlike writing style is not usually my preference. One other challenge is in the structure: the first chapter has a fascinating premise and gives you the reader just enough to hook you on the characters, only to have the second chapter segue into a nearly entirely new set of characters. Chapter three switches again to another character’s story that is initially divorced not only in place, but also in time. And, while these tales eventually weave together as I would expect, for me it takes some deliberate determination to work through three sets of sequential character bonding like that.
But, in spite of that slow start, it really pays off. The threads come together across the middle and ending of the novel in unexpected ways. The novel translates social critiques from big picture to the personal. It demonstrates how individual choices are subject to the social forces around them.
[SPOILERS FROM HERE.]
To do this, each of the threads demonstrate a way that profit motives victimize people: In one thread, the people of a distant planet find their local culture a tourist attraction, bringing income but diluting their way of life. In another, a captain finds herself caught between those she cares about and a long-term contract, losing what she values most to her responsibilities. In another, a scientist has become the nothing more than an appendage to the company she serves, her own attempts to move outside of the prescribed path resulting in tragedy. And in the most definitive, one young man’s powers of freedom are transformed into a corporate service, involuntary servitude that can liberate others… for a price, of course.
While the ending doesn’t give us a neat resolution, the striving, the connections, the steps that lead to that ending allow the reader to become invested. The emotions of the characters making difficult decisions build to an ultimate conclusion that has impact, one that leaves me with something I’ll continue to think about for a long time.