As promised in my previous post, here’s the next one in my series of “slightly more demanding sf” books.
It’s worth noting that 3 of these books are written by people with post-graduate degrees in the hard sciences (Quantum thief, Self-reference ENGINE, and A highly unlikely scenario, or, A Neetsa Pizza employee’s guide to saving the world*). Sean Ferrell, author of Man in the empty suit, apparently developed a BBS-based MUD in the 90s. So lots of STEM expertise here.
Anyways, back to The world of the end.
First things first: this is a book about suicide. Suicide is a major thematic emphasis here so if you find that upsetting then this isn’t the book for you.
*I am going to continue to write out this title in its entirety because I like it and it’s probably my favorite of the books in this series of reviews.
Brief plot summary
Ben Mendelssohn specializes in writing the endings for other people’s work. Overcome by grief at the loss of his wife, he stages an elaborate suicide in order to join her in the afterlife.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the afterlife’s a bit crowded.
Perhaps surprisingly, the afterlife is full of beaurocracy.
The story of Ben’s search for his wwife is intercut with a series of chapters set in modern Israel following various lives. One chapter focuses on the birth, life, and death of a photograph. Many of these chapters deal with the online correspondence of a group of Salman Rushdie officionados. The connection between these chapters and the main narrative are left ambiguous for the majority of the book.
Ben is forced to hire a private detective to assist him in locating his wife. Their journey takes them from the city of Gaymorrah (populated entirely by gay men) to the mysterious forest of family trees.
How is it?
It’s a very interesting, very serious read. Sure, there are moments of brevity (one of the landmarks in Gaymorrah is the “Gay-ser” and the newspaper is called “The Gaily male”) but this mostly serves to keep the book from becoming a bottomless pit of depression.
The afterlife is … different from what most would expect. To compare it with other suicides-in-the-afterlife media, it’s got more in common with Wristcutters than with What dreams may come. Ben quickly discovers that even suicide still exists in the afterlife, and that virtually no romantic relationships actually survive death. Those few that do rarely last long.
Ben’s insistence that he and his wife will be reunited is the core of the novel. It becomes increasingly clear (or at least I thought so) that his confidence is born out of a desperate need for it to be true. If their love can’t, in fact, survive their deaths then Ben’s suicide was completely pointless.
Like Man in the empty suit or The sparrow, it would be easy to call this book not-sf. The argument is perhaps stronger with The world of the end as it’s not nearly as tied to the conventions of the genre as the other two. I’m not really interested in quibbles about the boundaries of the various genres.
This is another good book for non-sf readers. The book’s primary focus is emotional, and it’s an excellent treatise on human relationships accompanied by a unique take on the afterlife, some heartbreaking moments, and a dose of black comedy worthy of Garth Ennis for good measure (killed in a freak Ferris Wheel accident!).
I recommend it pretty regularly. Like The sparrow, it appeals to non-sf readers. Also like The sparrow there’s some appeal to theologically liberal religious readers as well. The left behind series is a decent litmus test for this book: people who enjoyed it will probably be offended by this one, but people who found Left behind too fundamentalist might find this book as an attractive alternative. The afterlife is presented as completely secular, it’s not a religious book by any means, but its examination of love, humanity, and mortality give it some interest for that type of reader.
Cross recommendations specific to this book:
The wind-up bird chronicle / Haruki Murakami
Sayonara, gangsters / Genichiro Takahashi
Flow my tears, the policeman said / Philip K. Dick
VALIS / Philip K. Dick
Pass for the sun / Thierry Carrere – Available in French only, as far as I can tell.
If you’re more interested in a straight sf take on the afterlife, without all the bothersome philosophy:
For reference, the other books in this series:
Annihilation / Jeff VanderMeer
Man in the empty suit / Sean Ferrell.
A highly unlikely scenario, or, A Neetsa Pizza employee’s guide to saving the world / Rachel Cantor
The quantum thief / Hannu Rajaniemi
Self-reference ENGINE / Toh EnJoe