Published by William Morrow (1.18.2022)
Genres: Adult, Science Fiction
Format: Audiobook, 304 pages
Length: 9 hours, 20 minutes
Narrator: Brian Nishii, Brianna Ishibashi, Greg Watanabe, Jason Culp, Jeanne Sakata, Joe Knezevich, Julia Whelan, Keisuke Hoashi, Kotaro Watanabe, Kurt Kanazawa, MacLeod Andrews, Matthew Bridges, Micky Shiloah, Stephanie Komure
Beginning in 2030, a grieving archeologist arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue the work of his recently deceased daughter at the Batagaika crater, where researchers are studying long-buried secrets now revealed in melting permafrost, including the perfectly preserved remains of a girl who appears to have died of an ancient virus.
Once unleashed, the Arctic Plague will reshape life on earth for generations to come, quickly traversing the globe, forcing humanity to devise a myriad of moving and inventive ways to embrace possibility in the face of tragedy. In a theme park designed for terminally ill children, a cynical employee falls in love with a mother desperate to hold on to her infected son. A heartbroken scientist searching for a cure finds a second chance at fatherhood when one of his test subjects—a pig—develops the capacity for human speech. A widowed painter and her teenaged granddaughter embark on a cosmic quest to locate a new home planet.
From funerary skyscrapers to hotels for the dead to interstellar starships, Sequoia Nagamatsu takes readers on a wildly original and compassionate journey, spanning continents, centuries, and even celestial bodies to tell a story about the resiliency of the human spirit, our infinite capacity to dream, and the connective threads that tie us all together in the universe.
I have very mixed feelings about this book. For one, it gets pretty fucking weird at one point (actually, it reminded me of the strange and trippy end of Interstellar, but like…on steroids) and I feel like there was too much going on. This book was a very ambitious attempt at a broad opera spanning timelines, a la Cloud Atlas and Sea of Tranquility. Actually, I’d just listened to the latter only about a month before I picked this one up, so maybe I read them too close together but I couldn’t help but compare them and find this one lacking in comparison. It also fails to come together like those two novels did, feeling more like a collection of short stories than a cohesive novel of connecting timelines.
There’s a LOT going on in this book and it was a bit overwhelming at times. Climate change, genetic engineering, AI, pandemics, mass euthanasia, and possibly collective shared hallucination (or whatever the hell it was, I don’t even know to be completely honest). I did like some of the timelines – the futuristic Siberian setting where the uncovered remains of a neanderthal result in the release of a deadly virus was pretty intriguing, and I especially loved the sentient talking pig (I forget his name, oops) bound for organ harvesting for human transplants. I didn’t particularly care for the one guy’s story in the death theme park timeline – despite the macabre idea of an amusement park where terminal children go to die humanely on a rollercoaster, I found the storyteller to be a bit dull and didn’t care about his backstory or where he was going.
I also enjoyed the idea of AI dogs for pets that develop their own personality and adapt to and learn from their owners. However, it totally lost me in the weird AF scene where all of the strangers were in the dark and essentially climbing on top of one another. It was so odd and I’m not sure if it was in a good way? I felt like I was on drugs listening to it.
I totally forget every single character’s name because I didn’t care about any of them. They all felt flat and interchangeable to me. My favorite character was the pig, and even though I don’t remember his name, he’s the only one that stirred any kind of emotion in me in relation to what was happening. Despite containing dark themes that should have been quite sad, it fell short of eliciting that emotion.
On the bright side, the outlandish ideas are memorable and unique. And the audiobook was great! It was full cast, which is why I picked it up; and while they weren’t all winners, most of them were really good.
Writing style: 3.5/5
Overall rating: 2.5/5