on December 31, 2012
Blueprints of the Afterlife is a carefully constructed and fully detailed account of dire future events, how they all got started, who started them, as well as the end of the human race. It's not your typical Armageddon/dystopia story though. It's a well-paced novel that drew me in with seemingly flesh-and-blood characters living in a world I could almost see by reading the words on the page. The people living in this world aren't much different than the people living today, and a few contemporary commodities remain, but the society they live in is a worst-case-scenario distortion of the faults and obsessions of the contemporary world.
The sparsely-populated world is confined to a few remaining metropolitan areas, where citizens live in a kind of cultural and physical squalor. Menial jobs have world champions, reality entertainment really has gone too far, people and technology exist biologically together, cloning is a common and accepted practice, and organ cultivation is a day job. Not only that, companies once had armies and made their own weapons. One of my take-aways from this book is that it's a kind of warning about what could happen if our current society continues down our reckless and narcissistic path.
This is the best recently-published book that I've read this year. I'd recommend reading it with a group or another person who would be open to discussion. Ryan Boudinot leaves us with a lot to talk about.
on November 18, 2014
A rag tag mess of a book I likely wouldn't have finished if I hadn't been stuck in an airport waiting for a delayed flight. While it's a page turner, it's a bit like Dan Brown in that you're not really satisfied when you finish - nor do you recall the ending a few days later. & how frustrating that the wild bits the summary references are truly only that - bits that get brought up and are *never* referenced again over the course of the story. Might have been better suited as a series of short stories as this barely hangs together as it is.
on November 20, 2013
Blueprints is a strange book, non-linear and bewildering. It tells the story of the fall of civilization in a war between humans and robots, but also of a monstrous glacier that traveled around North America, ripping cities up wholesale, and of a secret cabal that maybe made it happen on purpose. And there’s a weird guy who calls himself “the curator” and shows up everywhere. And there are clones. That’s just the start.
A few thoughts:
Blueprints of the Afterlife challenges you to piece together its narrative, a task made more difficult by the jumbled up way you encounter the story. There’s also the possibility, suggested by a couple elements in the book, that all of this is not a depiction of the post-apocalypse world, but perhaps a review of its records.
This book is scattered through with neat extrapolations of tomorrow into the future. Perhaps the most disturbing is BioNet, an extension of networked body implants (like Dick Chaney’s pacemaker) that become a drug, a tool for abuse, and perhaps cause the collapse of civilization.
I laughed at the throw-away notion that when the world goes to s***, all corporations will become gun manufacturers, meaning that in the future, people will have Coke-a-cola brand pistols and Dell Sawed-Off Shotguns. There’s also a great sequence with a houseful of clones of the same man. ‘Nuff said.
Several points in the book suggest a connection between technology and evolution, that networked human brains, or thinking machines equivalent (and probably superior) to our meat brains are a likely future invention. One character suggests that each leap forward in technological progress represents an evolutionary leap for us. Implied in the book are both Charles Stross’ Accelerando and Manuel De Landa’s War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, not to mention a bunch of other books.
One of the more oft-mentioned aspects of the book is a conceit, made early in the novel, that one way we could grow genetically-specific transplant organs would be to graft them into a person, someone whose job it would be to just, well, grow stuff on their body. It reminded me a little of the Chicken Niblins in Oryx and Crake. The incarnation of this idea in the story is particularly gross, but it’s a relatively small part of the book so don’t let that stop you from proceeding further.
One has two experiences of a book (at least, of a book you only read once): the experience of reading it, and the “afterlife” of the book in your memory. With regard to this second piece, some books tarnish quickly, some books hold a fond place but don’t get “better,” and a few books expand in your memory. It might be that they speak to something new in your life, and that new thing prods their return. It might be that they provide a deep experience of emotion, a resonant idea that returns just like a memory of a real event. Or perhaps the books are so jam-packed with ideas that book expands in your mind like one of those growing animal toys, blooming into shape over the coruse of days, weeks, and even months after you finish it. In the two weeks since I finished Blueprints of the Afterlife, it’s been expanding.
on January 27, 2013
I LOVE this book. It is one of the weirdest books I have ever read, with a vast plot and many characters. It is very well written, a true joy to read. Funny, surprising, unpredictable, with well developed characters and twist after twist, it will keep you interested and get you thinking. The writer's voice is plainly delicious- easy to read, with a frank, down to earth tone, displaying a great intelligence and unique creative mind. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys science fiction, speculative fiction, post-apocalyptic fiction, but tires of the poor writing and amateurish plots so often found in these genres.
on February 4, 2012
Have you ever read a book and realized it perfectly crystallizes the feeling of the times? Of everything I've read over the last decade (and a lot of change) of my adult life, this book is the only one I finished and immediately wondered if this was our "1984", our "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"; a book that defines the angst of a generation entertainingly enough that you want to wallow in it. Something big that will be remembered and discussed, a gleaming nugget of the bizarre profundity that will someday grace the reading list of some twisted and dystopic English program decades from now- tirelessly dodging book burnings to teach the readers of tomorrow about what it felt like to live in this time of over-abundant cynicism, looming doom and secret, distant hope. It is a personal disaster that none of my friends have read this book yet; I NEED to talk about this book with somebody.
I'd love to give you a synopsis, but it's not often I read a book this difficult to describe. The plot is impossible to pin down, the themes take the course of the novel to slowly reveal themselves, the ending is inscrutable and mind-blowing. It is a huge metaphor built from straining contradictions- profane and profound, despairingly hopeful, depressingly hilarious. Imagine if "Blade Runner" and "The Never Ending Story" had a secret love child that grew up and met the offspring of "Dark City" and "Inception"- their love child in turn would be this book. Stop reading this and go read that right now!
on October 21, 2013
The world has already ended, and it is in the political, spiritual, genre fictional, and emotional Afterlife that the novel is set. Across time, a disparate cast of characters act out their roles, a winding spiral of events—sometimes violent and melancholy, other times humorous and absurd—that coalesce into the final testament of the human condition, the artifacts that will be left behind for the Last Dude.
"Blueprints" is a post-apocalyptic book, but all the Mad Max style shenanigans are already over. Despite the prolific ruins of an earlier age, society has largely moved on, creating a transhuman future. Many sci-fi staples are sprinkled throughout (most notably the digitized immune system). All of these elements are presented in a detached, ominous way, serving to defamiliarize the sci-fi material and impress the "otherness" of this world upon the reader.
The tone can be jarring, considering that it weaves through an ensemble of very different narrators, including a dishwasher savant, a woman who keeps turning up dead, an emotionally ravaged veteran, and a famous actor with a destiny. However, I felt that each of these personalities contributed to the story, not only as vital plot mechanisms, but as independent viewpoints that needed to be told. The focal characters have only indirect influence on one another, but they all swirl around the same topic, painting a grander narrative while working through their own demons.
on May 6, 2013
If someone knows what the ending means, please tell me. I gave it one star because the ending is another one of those trying-to-be-clever teasers. It is unclear and vague. Was it a dream? Was this reality? I have no idea. The book had some interesting ideas but it was very disjointed and none of the ideas or characters were developed enough during the course of the book to be of much consequence. There were also many things which went unexplained at the end although they played a rather important part for a chapter or two. (The giant head, the ambassador, the orbs,.....) In short, it started well enough but then it fell apart and the sudden and unclear ending didn't help. I wouldn't recommend this book.
on April 30, 2015
Somehow some people are controlled by evil people with the a technology that allows other folks to store their memories for later reminiscing. Characters are developed with great detail and then pretty much forgotten, like those memories. And did I mention that there are clones and zombies? (I usually avoid any book with zombies, but they snuck in there near the end.)
Kurt Vonnegut advises that writers "give ... readers as much information as possible.... such ... that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages." This book would have been better if the author had followed Vonnegut's advice. Though no insects devoured the book's ending, it still didn't add up for me.
on July 11, 2012
Those of us, I say with no small amount of pride, who have actually made it all the way through still-can't-believe-he's-gone David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest know that its greatness is inextricably intertwined with how infuriating it is--part of the point is that there is no point, no tidily wrapped up explanation to its overwhelmingly intricate plot. That great, era-defining tome is a high-wire act, a literary quadruple lutz, that only a (mad?) genius like Wallace could have pulled off. Excellent writers in his wake have picked up mere kernels of his ideas and run with them, like George Saunders' darkly funny, jargony tales from our future Idiocracy, Gary Shteyngart's bitter and haunting dystopias, or David Eggers' infinitely self-critical yet staggeringly moving works; it's as if they acknowledge that to take on the entirety of the Jest agenda is a losing battle, and would inevitably pale in comparison. Blueprints of the Afterlife, for better or for worse, has its eyes on the Jest prize, and while it's fun, funny, pointed, surreal and disturbing, it's a 5 on the Richter Scale of books where Infinite Jest is a 9.5: exciting while it's happening, but with nowhere near the same impact.
Part of the problem is that the prose can be a mixed bag. For every delightfully-oddball-yet-I-totally-get-what-he-means turn of phrase ("after a shower of confusing shampoos") there are eye-rolling, awkward attempts at Saunders-isms ("a hallway lined with art he didn't have the patience to glom on to brain-wise"), those two from the same page. Not to dwell too much on the awesome Saunders, but one of his achievements is an ability to perfectly sustain a narrative voice, a Chekhovian exactitude that's of course easier to keep consistent in short stories, but still, Boudinot giddily tosses out so many concepts and styles, even within one of the multiple narrative threads, that the reader can feel a bit of whiplash--is this a joke, or not?
Another review here mentioned the ickiness of the opening chapter, and while I hate to be prudish, I found myself flinching at its grossout-for-grossing-out's-sake parade of yuck, and happy when it ends, which it does so suddenly that it reinforces the idea that it's meant as a bracing "shock" of an introduction. It all feels unnecessary. Other problems include an unfortunate parallel with The Matrix's "one special guy who can control the all-emcompassing Net just cause he can" plot device, and troublingly, whenever homosexuality comes up, it seems intended to indicate moral depravity (gay clone orgy, lesbian sister giving birth to clone of brother). Boudinot's West Coast geography seems to stumble at times--I felt like Hearst Castle suddenly ended up north of the Bay Area, and who takes a bus from SF to Berkeley when there's BART?
These irritants don't take away from some of the haunting imagery--a helicopter lifting a trailer into the sky, shrink-wrapping Arizona homes for the summer, and a miles-wide message to the stars in the desert. The novel delights in toying with play-within-the-play tropes, from a troupe of clones performing a replay of recent events (ending with the replay itself, infinitely regressing) to a fake New York under construction on Bainbridge Island, and there's an appealing Charlie Kaufman-esque sense of spiraling to it all. And of course the humor has a wild Monty Python edge, although often veering towards "Meaning of Life"-style sick jokes.
The New York Times review says to just "enjoy the ride" of this "roller coaster," implying that you shouldn't try to think too hard about what it all means. Sure, the twists and drops may provide some titillation, but some of us find the thinking about what things actually mean the most thrilling ride of all, and that's where Blueprints falls a bit short.
on October 3, 2013
This is a fun book and a quick read. It plays with some very interesting concepts that are quite applicable to the state of modern day reality in which we find ourselves. The author recently gave a lecture/conversation at the Seattle Central Public Library wherein his efforts at leading a project to make a bid to UNESCO to get Seattle designated, on the world stage, as a "City of Literature" were laid out and openly discussed with a roomful of writers, readers, editors, artists. This project will create a wonderful global exchange among Seattle and other cities of literature of which there are only a handful, maybe a handful and one finger, of such designated cities. The author has stated that he will be donating all royalties toward the application fees and the process of gaining a designation of "City of Literature" for Seattle. The writing is fun and edgy and will create a fun portrait for older and younger readers (though not too young because there is some cursing involved). I thoroughly enjoyed the concepts and the writing style played with in this novel. Happy reading!