Monday, April 22, 2019

Book Review: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

I hate to break it to you, but this story isn't all that remarkable. It's more like an old story updated to the 21st century, the story of The Mysterious Artifact and the Puzzle Posed to All Humanity. What it gets better than I expected was the hall of mirrors that is mimickry and rivalry on social media, and how it can lead you into an addiction to likes, views, and clicks. The hollow nature of fame and the cost of constant self-branding, acting as Dr. Henry Higgins on yourself, that strikes home and even resonates with the writing of My Favorite Intellectual This Year (Rene Girard). It's truly insightful about modern communication, and if the author dared to be a little more critical of his own characters, and become a little more satirical, this could almost touch the hem of writing like Stendahl's. But the other parts of the story don't work so well. The Puzzle Posed to All Humanity is OK but feels far too much like Ready Player One. At least here it's decidedly not the main point. The fact that it feels so half-hearted is kind of charming, and some of the puzzles involve chemistry, so that will always get you extra credit with me. The real disappointment to me was how it deals with relationships. Nothing in the attraction or flirting even seems to approach actual selflessness or love, and none of the other characters seems real, even when one narrates a short section himself. I know that we're dealing with a flawed central character, but I find the whole scene and set of assumptions to be lifeless and discouraging, and the "everyone loves her" element that drives the plot annoys me rather than intrigues me. There's no evidence that she's earned admiration for anything but a pretty face, and you can't write about a pretty face and expect the reader to buy it. The real problem is deeper in the well. Characters have freedom to do anything they want and it destroys and deflates romantic tension rather than enhances it. Oh, and don't expect anything of the sci-fi to be explained satisfactorily. They really should retitle this book, and I should stop writing before I talk myself out of the three-star review for the Girardian themes alone.

No comments: