Blueprints of the Afterlife, by Ryan Boudinot

Blueprints of the Afterlife is a strange beast; after finishing, I was left with a confused sense of what had happened. The author takes the reader on a journey back and forth in the time-line of the plot and I was left with a certainty that much of the action that takes place does not reside in what we would commonly term ‘reality.’ Portions of the novel are set in a time before an apocalyptic event, and other sections occur in the confines of a quantum computer network.

“We’ve been trying to wire the frontal lobes into the Internet so everyone can eventually become their own Wikipedia or, rather, share Wikipedia with others who are logged in.” [p. 115]

BlueprintsoftheAfterlife_frontcover.inddThere are good reasons why this novel was shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award (“…for distinguished science fiction published in paperback original form in the United States”); in particular, what is reality? One character is caught in superposition within a quantum computer, another character is an Olympic champion dishwasher who is writing a novel on empty pizza boxes, there is a sentient glacier that runs amok, there is a violent war with cyborgs (newmen), a woman’s body is used to harvest organs (e.g.: penises are grown on her breasts), the internet has developed into a bionet that can be beneficial (diseases can be cured as they occur) and detrimental (DJs are able to control people remotely), and Manhattan — which was destroyed in the apocalypse — is being reconstructed on an island in Puget Sound, thanks to the blueprints created by a hippy before the apocalypse (oh… I almost forgot about the dwarf monk IT techs, the giant head in the sky, and the Last Dude who has a magic refrigerator…). There is a lot happening, much of which only becomes clear as the reader travels further into the quagmire, and some of which remains murky even after the final word is read.

 I found the story to be a bit choppy: I assume it would be smoother if read a second time, but I didn’t quite enjoy it enough to warrant a re-read (perhaps in a few years I might think about it…). There are too many calculated, surreal scenes and, although the characters were initially constructed quite nicely and appeared to be on the threshold of dovetailing together in a momentous finale, they were all, ultimately, somewhat hollow and ineffective (although this is, I assume, deliberate).

Very close to the end there is a conversation between an editor and her boyfriend, Sylvia and Rocco. Rocco is curious about a book she is currently involved with…

“So, tell me more about this guy’s novel.”

Sylvie sighed. “It’s about the beginning of a new world. There’s a rampaging glacier in it. Clones. Giant heads that appear in the sky.”

One of those.” [p. 405]

It’s not really ‘one of those’ (it is shelved in the fiction/literature section of the bookstore); it is a fascinating novel, but it fell a bit short of excellent.  There are clearly computer game elements within the novel and, as an outsider, this may have been responsible for the disenchantment I experienced with some sections.

Recommended, but be prepared for an eccentric ride…