An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (Review)

Two years ago I wrote a book that flew off my fingers. The writing was some of the easiest I’ve ever done, and the words poured out of me like water flowing through a spigot. The book, now completed and having gone through several rounds of editing which included hiring an editor to help with developmental work, remains something I’m quite proud of. Of course, it remains unagented. But it’s tone was geek snarky, with a difficult romance, good friends who help, self-sacrifice, and more than a little magic. Maybe one day I’ll see SUMMER, my story of Hammond Rivers and his love interest June July August, in publication.

Fucking Hank Green wrote my book, got it published, and it became a best seller.

Okay, step back. He didn’t write my book. He wrote his own book and it’s bloody fucking brilliant. It certainly helped that his YouTube videos, along with his brother John, gave him an instant massive audience, which I’m sure made extending a publication deal to him a much easier choice than extending one to me… a man with barely 300 followers on twitter, no Facebook account or YouTube channel, and two followers of my blog (one of whom is me). But his book might have gotten a huge audience all on its own, it’s that good.

But let’s compare all the ways this book is so like mine (but better). One, it’s full of snarky geek humor. I filled mine with game design geeks and tech weirdos who quote movies back and forth to each other. His are art design geeks and materials scientists. I named one of my main characters June July August. He named his main character April May. In my book, Hammond is a womanizer who knows he’s terrible at relationships and tends to ruin them. In Hank’s book, April is a bisexual who knows she’s terrible at relationships and tends to ruin them. The tone of voice is so similar, and the moving moments so moving, I seriously wanted to believe he cribbed from my notes when he put down his own words.

None of that is true of course. This is not my novel, and so different in plot and other characters there would be no doubt about that. But maybe you can understand why I loved this book so much. It’s like it was written with me in mind, knowing exactly what would appeal to me in a funky, geeky, science fiction sort of way.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

April May is the first person to discover a large robot standing in New York City that she promptly names “Carl.” It turns out there are sixty four of these same statues in cities across the world, and they all become known as Carls. The video she and her friend, Andy, shoot and post on youtube gives her instant notoriety as the story of the Carls spreads, and they wind up famous and rich.

As much as this is a story about these weird robots and wondering about  the alien lifeforms that brought them to earth, this book is a study of fame and its effects on folks. The calculations they make to keep their names in the limelight and continue to seek out fame, their balancing of their dual personas as both a regular person and a celebrity. For April, the money was incidental, but the addiction to being loved by so many people swept her away, and became a hugely important part of the story. There’s a lot to be said about Hank’s understanding of the nuances of Twitter, Facebook, online addiction, and our cult of personality society that elevates people who have done practically nothing to a status of beings worthy of worship. There’s also a lot to be said about how he deftly shows the effects, good and bad, of such hero worship.

But there’s far more to this story than just a brief touch of fame. The mystery of the Carls becomes a problem April needs to solve, because doing so helps keep her in the spotlight. She is opposed by right-wing radicals who view the Carls as a threat and seek to destroy them, and eventually seek to destroy April as well because she supports a more tolerant vision of what their visit to earth means. Here again, Green adroitly reflects the state of our modern world as we’ve increasingly become divided into tribes who often oppose each other for no more reason than they don’t want the other side to win, whether or not they are right.

The writing is really smooth, never repetitive, and flows naturally. The characters have their own arcs and live them out, though one or two have arcs that seem a little stunted (I’m looking at you, Miranda… so much more could have been done with you than happened). And the concepts – the actual science fiction – are sufficiently novel and weird that I found them fascinating, and jealousy wondered if I ever had ideas this good.

The only, ONLY problem I had with this novel is both a good one and a bad one for an author. I wanted more! From page one through the whole book, there are hints about April and how things will end. And when the novel reaches its conclusion, its indeed what we expected, both tragic and wonderful. Except… he left us fucking hanging about one huge question! Literally did NOT answer it! I’m not going to state it here, because it’s huge, but I was both massively upset by this omission, and deeply respectful of his decision to make it. There’s a mystery remaining to be solved, and maybe we’ll get that in another book? Maybe not, but I can’t say that I blame Green for leaving it out and leaving us wondering, it’s an effective tool when done right to keep readers engaged (when done wrong, it pisses the fuck out of us!).

On a Reynolds wrap scale of 1 to 10, with 1 equaling “Every damned movie knock-off novel my friends forced me to read” to a 10 equaling “everything written by Connie Willis ever, and I’ll die on that fucking hill”, I’m going with a 9 on this one. I’d give it a 10 if YOU HADN’T LEFT ME HANGING, HANK GREEN! DAMN YOU FOR LEAVING ME HANGING! I’M SO GOING TO KICK YOUR ASS WHEN I SEE YOU, BOTH FOR WRITING MY BOOK AND LEAVING ME HANGING!!

Great novel, I highly recommend it. The Green brothers are massively talented and I admire this story immensely. Another book where I say “I wish I can write like this.” Then I re-read my novel, SUMMER, and think “Well damned, I think I CAN write like this!”

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