Blueprints of the Afterlife

Ryan Boudinot. Grove/Black Cat, $16.95 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-8021-7091-0
Boudinot��\x99s ingenious second novel (after Misconception) takes readers on a frenzied, hilarious, and paranoid trip through a hypernetworked near future. The story takes place after an apocalypse known as the FUS, or “the age of Fucked Up Shit” (which includes a monstrous war between humans and androids called “newmans,” fought by branded armies such as Pfizer and Boeing using weaponry made by Nike, Coca-Cola, and other companies). The story unfolds from the perspective of characters for whom post-FUS reality is, at best, in flux. They hallucinate. They encounter a giant celestial head and extraterrestrials who alter the already unmanageable courses of their lives. They’re genetically engineered and can erase troubling memories, but can’t escape feeling troubled. Implants allow a biological Internet (Bionet) to provide medical care remotely, wirelessly downloading “hormones, enzymes, and antigens” directly into the body. This also opens the door to radical hacking by “DJs” who, when they grow tired of their victims, can leave them on autopilot, sometimes dooming them to compulsively watch reality television as sadistic as its present-day incarnation but far more surreal. On one level, the afterlife is a video game that may be, entirely or partially, the creation of a delusional computer programmer who knows that it’s not a game. At times Boudinot writes with more exuberance than clarity, and some questions or threads are never answered or fully explored, resulting in sloppiness that may frustrate some readers. But those who are drawn in by the wonderful Woo-jin Kan, the world’s best dishwasher, won’t want to put the book down until they’ve devoured the last line. Like replaying a game, familiarity enhances recognition of what’s important, and the first chapter is worth rereading in light of what follows, if only to put into better perspective its ending call: Help me! A bracing dystopian romp through contemporary dread, extrapolated. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/03/2011
Release date: 01/01/2012
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