Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff VanderMeer
‘Jane Smith’ is a security consultant wary of search engines, who mistrusts all her colleagues, has disabled her smart-fridge as a privacy precaution, and keeps an emergency ‘go-bag’ in her gym locker even though she isn’t entirely sure why. So when she is handed the key to a storage unit holding only a taxidermied hummingbird and a cryptic note, she surprises herself by trying to trace this mysterious object to its source.
Jane’s increasingly stark indifference as she loses more and more of her life and health to her obsessive search begins to mirror the loss of stability in the world around her – pandemics and natural disasters are mentioned as though they were passing inconveniences, political unrest is an increasingly common hazard to be dodged, and people grow more and more accustomed to the green-grey tint the sky has taken on.
Hummingbird Salamander is Anthropocene fiction delivered via the medium of psychological thriller, and it thrums with oppressive paranoia. Come for the coldly dreamlike prose, witness the nerve-racking descent into violent chaos, and make sure you stay for the uncompromising and cathartic release of the book’s finale.
There is great beauty here, wrapped deeply in layers of deftly portrayed tension and alienation. VanderMeer’s novel meets the depths of climate despair with important questions: what might it take to make humanity recognise our effect on the world and work to change it? If, like the salamander, we were more permeable to our environment and its warning signs, how would we live differently? What can humans learn from a migratory hummingbird that has any bearing on our modern lives? And why do we prevent ourselves from caring?