Wednesday, June 16, 2010
The Brief History of the Dead
I was lent The Brief History Of The Dead by a friend, who had recommended it. It is an interesting book, and the first I have read by its author, Kevin Brockmeier.
The premise is intriguing: There is a City where people live after they die. They pass into the city, where they live a healthy life, remaining unchanged at the age they were when they died. There they dwell – until the last person on earth who remembers them dies, at which point they disappear, to some unknown destination. This is the earth of the indeterminate near future, which has become something of a dystopia, with wars, ecological crises, and the constant threat of biological attack. As the story in the book begins, a new virus has been unleashed on earth, which causes a lethal pandemic. The population of the City begins to shrink rapidly, triggering a mild panic. Soon, they realize that everyone who is still there knew the same woman, who must be the last survivor.
The even numbered chapters tell the story of this woman, Laura Byrd. She was on a research project in Antarctica, and missed the plague. The book follows her struggle to make her way across the ice to reach civilization – not knowing that she will die of the virus when she gets there.
The book raises some interesting points, but leaves far too many unanswered questions. What happens when someone dies in the City? Everyone continues to do the same jobs as in their previous life, but where do the products they sell come from? Since there are no animals other than birds, where do they get their hamburgers? How does a memo that explains some of the origin of the plague exist in the City when it was created on Earth?
The book is marketed as science fiction, but is actually a fantasy, since the author has as much grasp of science as I do (my high school science teacher was the basketball coach, so to this day I have no idea if the earth revolves around the sun, or vice versa). Laura’s vehicle is powered by a nearly inexhaustible fuel cell, yet she has to fret over the stove running out of fuel, and many other illogical devices.
It is also hampered by the fact that the book doesn’t end so much as stops, without clearing up anything.
An interesting concept, well written, but ultimately, I was disappointed.