πŸ“• Book Name

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (AART; because I'm not paid by the word here) is a wonderful Sci-Fi(-ish) adventure by Hank Green, one of the content creators in the first wave of the YouTube-meets-mainstream movement. It's a delightful first piece in his The Carls series, and even if the characters fall a little flat - the story is compelling enough to make this book a delightful and worthy read. Green's obviously got a lot to say about the current state of internet, fame, media, and global attention. He doesn't stuff it down your throat, but uses it to shift his story forwards.

AART follows April May, a young twenty-something art graduate living in New York, who's thrust into international fame after she stumbles across a giant metallic samurai-like sculpture who she calls Carl, in the streets of New York. Pretty soon April, and then everyone she comes into contact with, start having the same dream every night: they 'awaken' in a giant uncanny-valley city, full of riddles and puzzles that feel like they were made by an AI who sucked information out of Wikipedia. We follow, from a first-person perspective, as April is thrust into international recognition and fame, as she tries to solve the mystery of the Carls, and facilitate international cooperation against a potential threat from outer space. It's pretty fantastic when you spell it out.

The thing about basically-instant fame thrust upon "normal" people is that they're completely unequipped to deal with it. The first-person narrative in AART does an excellent job of showcasing this, even if April's flaws are show-ponied in front of us sometimes. We get a good sense that reality, society, and her friends are warping in front of her. They may appear close or present, but they often feel out of reach, or beyond influence - as the person April was transitions into the idea or figure or character of April. Green does a good job of fleshing out the characters who stay in a relatively tight orbit of April, and doesn't parade a seemingly endless number of characters. He directs your attention to those who are important, and signposts clearly when someone's just passing through.

As the book goes on, the relationships become increasingly dominated by their dependence on April and the entire Carl phenomena to define them. In some places, peripheral characters' strengths and capacities are a little superficial or passed over. For example one of the characters spins up something like an entire tech start-up within weeks/months, and it's just sidelined as a narrative tool to push the story forwards. Other characters fall a little flat and only appear when they need to do something for April, even though their friendship pre-dates The Carls. Rarely does anyone else show weakness or signs of struggling. Sure, April becomes increasingly self centred, and it might be hard to force these details into the story, but I noted their absence.

However I find myself forgiving a lot of these flaws in characterisation and narrative in favour of an extremely compelling story. This book was an adventure, really. There were clues and puzzles to solve, a well established villain and tight pressure from them, and at least two moments which shocked me in their unpredictable-ness. The pacing escalated well throughout the book and maintained itself nicely, and the book didn't outstay its welcome. It is a relatively short read, and there's always something happening.

The world is pretty much a modern day (2020s) America, with the exception of a woman president which, look, actually including Trump in this novel would have been an awful idea. There's a nice inclusion of both internet and portable technology, which is refreshing - it seems almost inconceivable to me that a book about a 20-something woman from New York wouldn't have a ton of group chats. Green utilises this in the way we do in real life - it's not a thing, it's just a tool that the characters use.

Green clearly understands the modern world at both a macro and a micro level. He understands how people talk to each other, how 'traditional' and 'modern' media are in tension with each other, how the western world spends its attention, and how we conflate infamy and expertise. These kinds of critiques and commentaries are placed nicely within a Sci Fi-ish adventure, and never showcased explicitly. It becomes a high-resolution and completely believable backdrop to a more fantastic story. The book doesn't try to over-reach in those regards.

As someone who doesn't read a lot of Sci Fi, and who hasn't read a lot of Young Adult recently (as vague as the YA genre is), I enjoyed reading this book. It immediately left me wanting to pick up the sequel, if not for the poetic writing or poignant philosophy, for the compelling plot. When I read cheaper/junkier crime novels I'm often left feeling a little embarrassed or like I should go read something "real". That wasn't the case with this book. I was invested in what was happening, so yeah it's a good book 3.5⭐