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Book Review – Blueprints of the Afterlife by Ryan Boudinot

Synopsis:  It is the Afterlife. The end of the world is a distant, distorted memory called the Age of Fucked Up Shit. A sentient glacier has wiped out most of North America. Medical care is supplied by open-source nanotechnology, and human nervous systems can be hacked.

Abby Fogg is a film archivist with a niggling feeling that her life is not really her own. She may be right. Al Skinner is a former mercenary for the Boeing Army, whos been dragging his war baggage behind him for nearly a century. Woo-jin Kan is a virtuoso dishwasher with the Hotel and Restaurant Management Olympics medals to prove it. Over them all hovers a mysterious man named Dirk Bickle, who sends all these characters to a full-scale replica of Manhattan under construction in Puget Sound. An ambitious novel that writes large the hopes and anxieties of our timeclimate change, social strife, the depersonalization of the digital ageBlueprints of the Afterlife will establish Ryan Boudinot as an exceptional novelist of great daring.

First Line:  The world was full of precious garbage.

Random Quote:  Skinner took the cards out of his pocket and set them on the table.  The other three regarded the cards with visible sadness as Skinner separated them into piles of innocuous memories and memories of war, the innocuous ones outnumbering the wartime ones three to one.  Then, with the bottom of the pepper shaker, he smashed the war memories into pieces.

Review:  Slipstream is a genre name coined by Bruce Sterling to describe a ” … kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility.”  This is work that fits somewhere in the interstices between literary fiction, science fiction, and fantasy.  It is more like magical realism than any other genre, but it is its own thing.  Slipstream contains elements of genre (like science fiction), but it isn’t really about genre.  It is more the celebration of the fantastical in the ordinary, the joy of playing the with the toys of any genre and putting them together in your very own way.  Many writers are playing in this form, although they may seem unrelated.  I would include China Mieville, but also Thomas Pynchon, Margaret Atwood, Isabelle Allende, and Gabrielle Garcia Marquez.  There’s Kathy Acker, certainly Jonathan Carroll, Don DeLillo.  Also, there’s Ryan Boudinot.

Slipstream Fiction (image source)

Blueprints of the Afterlife begins in the Age of Fucked Up Shit.  It is post-apocalyptic and satirical, addressing many pieces of our current fucked up lives – overconsumption, lack of identity, and mysticism.  What do we do after the apocalypse with all the junk left over?  What do we privilege?  Do we create or re-create?  How do we begin to re-define ourselves and our humanity (or do we)?

Slipstream fiction makes you feel strange
(image source)

This is a complex and dense book, unfolding in small bites like a tasting menu.  I thought of tasting menus developed in the world of molecular gastronomy (its very own interstice with interesting philosophical considerations), but also of the tasting menus of chef working at the top of their game incorporating classic techniques, fresh ingredients, and their own unique visions.  Boudinot has written a long, 12-course tasting menu and like such a menu it can be confusing, overwhelming, scary, mysterious, and just plain delicious.

If you’re feeling adventurous and don’t mind ambiguity and middle spaces this is the book for you.  Mr. Boudinot has a glorious uninhibited imagination and a deft hand for pacing and for drawing you into a story that will make you think about who we are, where we might be going, and the fantastical possibilities of what-if.

Format:  Printed matter

Publishing Information:  Black Cat/Grove Press – January 3, 2012

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from the publisher for review


Reading Challenges:  Eclectic Reading Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge

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