Title: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
Author: Hank Green
Genre: Science Fiction
Publication date: September 2018
Hardcover: 352 pages
The Carls just appeared.
Roaming through New York City at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship—like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor—April and her friend, Andy, make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day, April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world—from Beijing to Buenos Aires—and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the center of an intense international media spotlight.
Seizing the opportunity to make her mark on the world, April now has to deal with the consequences her new particular brand of fame has on her relationships, her safety, and her own identity. And all eyes are on April to figure out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Borrowed
Format (e- or p-): audiobook
It is (absolutely) remarkable how Hank Green’s debut flew under my radar last year. I wrongly assumed this novel was contemporary YA of the same type his brother John writes – and I never saw any reviews in my usual hangouts from my usual SFF people so, yeah. Then Renay read it and recommend it to me (we are going to discuss it for Fangirl Happy Hour soon) but it wasn’t until I effectively started listening to the audiobook that I realised that this was adult science fiction about alien robots featuring a bi woman protagonist.
Mea culpa, and all that.
All the more so because I (absolutely) adored it.
Bi artist April May her early twenties, working for a start-up doing a job she doesn’t really care about, in a relationship with Maya whom she just calls “her roommate” instead of her girlfriend. One night April is on her way home from work when she stumbles upon something that will change her life forever: an enormous robot standing in the middle of Manhattan. She is immediately smitten by the sheer beauty of what she considers to be a work of artistry. Co-opting the help of her youtuber friend Andy, they make a video introducing “Carl” to the world – and the video goes viral after other “Carls” appear all over the world.
Things really change when it becomes clear that the Carls are aliens, that April is ground zero of First Contact and she suddenly becomes the voice of a movement that believes the Carls are a good thing for the world. The Carls are trying to communicate via puzzling messages that are sent through shared dreams – codes that need to be cracked but only if the entire world comes together to share the pieces of the puzzle.
And April is at the centre of it all.
This book is a cool mixture of puzzle-solving, personal story and world-changing events.
What strikes me the most about it though is the choice of having this particular type of protagonist because April? Not exactly a super great person. She is kinda of a jerk, she is flawed, full of contradictions, she well and truly fucks up on numerous occasions. She loves AND hates all the attention and fame she receives – especially in a world that mirrors our own in terms of how social media shapes the lives of people. There is good in it, but there is also bad and there is certainly the ugly too and at different times April embodies all of these possibilities.
Despite all that there is something about April that is so earnest and just so human that makes her somehow relatable. She is someone who walks a fine line and who often even crosses the line. She lacks a sense of self-awareness at times but the other characters all call her out on her mistakes and bullshitting and because of that I was left with the impression that, rather than simply giving up on her, we are supposed to root for her to make her way into being a better person. It is just really a novel about having faith in humanity I guess – in believing the best in people. Or at least in those who are redeemable (no nazis allowed). It’s a book full of hope even as it’s showing some of the worst of humankind.
And there is something absolutely cool – and remarkable – about that.
Rating: 8 – Excellent