Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

April May - an otherwise unremarkable girl - runs into an immovable statue on her walk home one night, standing unmoving on a sidewalk in New York. April shares a video of the statue online, dubbing it ‘Carl’. The video goes viral and April becomes a celebrity overnight as Carls appear in cities around the world. April is dragged into the world of internet fame and even politics as the Carls turn out to be much more than they initially appeared, and she suddenly has a voice in an emerging global crisis.

There are some very slight spoilers in my review.

I’m going to rate An Absolutely Remarkable Thing two stars, but (i) purely subjectively for me, it’s probably a one star because I wouldn’t have finished if it wasn’t on a reading list for a book club; and (ii) I am so obviously not the intended audience for this book that me reviewing it feels similar to rating a university math textbook or a toddler’s picture book.

My experience for this book was reading diagonally across pages filled with some of the absolute worst prose I’ve ever encountered in any publication. I was reading about characters that I could relate to so poorly that they all felt like caricatures. The book is set up as a memoir penned by an unfiltered, very American, very teenage blabbermouth, with the occasional 2016 meme reference thrown in. It reads as one of those terribly annoying YouTube videos where they cut the breathing pauses between sentences out of people’s speech. At the same time, most of the sentences carry hardly any meaning, and Green needs about three times as many words to say anything as most other novelists would. I absolutely detest it. I also think these editorial choices were fully intentional.

The plot is about first contact with an alien species, but I’ve never seen an author who manages to make so thrilling a concept so nonsensical and incredibly uncool. The aliens literally just stand there (that’s the point) while humans solve absolutely ludicrous, completely unrelated, meaningless puzzles fit for a bad point-and-click game – in a dream. This is an actual thing happening in this book. It boggles the mind that people want to read about this.

At its core, though, this book is about fame, and, to be precise, internet fame. It’s message is about how internet fame made the main character see herself less of a person and more of a product. First of all, while I don’t think that it’s untrue, it is rather obvious, and as a moral lesson weirdly inapplicable to the general public who, I shit you not, are not all suffering from their success as internet influencers. Secondly, for me, it’s all very much a – as we say so beautifully in Dutch – a ‘far away from my bed show’. I don’t personally have any social media accounts and I haven’t felt the need to have any since I left high school. The endless attention and validation seeking makes me want to vomit just thinking about it, and I secretly harbour the belief that having an active social media account is a weakness of character. 😛 Anyway, keep engaging with our content! /rant.

The result, though, is that I find the main characters in this book utterly unrelatable, its style borderline unreadable, and its message paradoxically unremarkable.

As much as I did not enjoy it, I do realise it is probably successful at what it tries to achieve. But in what it has achieved, I believe it is more fit for 18 year olds that think they could be an influencer than a serious fan of science fiction.

I am very impressed by this book. Under the guise of a fun adventure story it manages to discuss some really important issues about social media and its impact on our lives. I very much enjoy reading about people in their twenties and I care deeply about all of the main characters in this book. Even though April makes a lot of awful decisions that are very hurtful to the people around her, her character is well enough developed that I still care about her as well. She also has a really dry sense of humour which I find very funny.

Because the writing style is very conversational and April is addressing the reader directly, this book is particularly well-suited to the audiobook format. It is performed by Kristen Sieh (known from Orange is the New Black), and definitely worth checking out.

This book has an intriguing premise and relatable characters, packaged in a quick and accessible writing style. Ultimately, these things are used to get Hank Green’s theory on ‘internet fame and how it affects you’, across, which is done pleasantly elegant. However, the book keeps telling me this Very Big Worldwide Event happened, which kept pulling me out of my suspension of disbelief.

Overall I enjoyed the reading experience, but keep part two on hand when you like having answers to all your questions. I was very glad I had mine already on my nightstand, ready to go.

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