Sunday, December 30, 2018

Book Review: "An Absolutely Remarkable Thing" by Hank Green

It was 2:45 in the morning, and April May was walking home in New York City after a long night of working. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw it:

"A ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor, its huge barrel chest lifted up to the sky a good four or five feet above my head. It just stood there in the middle of the sidewalk, full of energy and power. It looked like it might, at any moment, turn and fix that empty, regal stare on me. But instead it just stood there, silent and almost scornful, like the world didn't deserve its attention."

April decides to call her friend Andy to see if he could take video of this statue, whom she has called Carl. The two record some video footage just to be sure there was some record it existed, and that it wasn't just some prank. They goof around a bit with the statue, post some footage to social media, and crash.

What awaits April and Andy the next morning is extraordinary. Not only has their video footage gone viral, but apparently, Carls have shown up in cities all across the world. No one understands what they want or where they came from, but one thing is clear: April and Andy have found themselves at the center of a media frenzy, and April is determined to get out in front of the story, even if it means becoming a more public person than she has ever wanted.

"Even Before Carl, I spent time thinking about what I'd say if I ever had a platform to say it. That's what art is about, right? I mean, not app interfaces, but art. Much of the best art is about balancing between reflecting culture while simultaneously being removed from it and commenting on it. In the best case, maybe an artist gets to say something about culture that hasn't been said and needs to be said."

The pair connects with Miranda, a scientist, who believes that the Carls are asking for materials—iodine, americium, and uranium. When a small experiment with Carl leads to chaos across the world, people, including the U.S. government, start to worry if the Carls' intentions are positive and/or peaceful, which forces April to realize that there are individuals out there who want to advance their own causes, and will use Carl—and her—as pawns.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is as much a story about the origins and intentions of the Carls as it is a commentary on our fame-obsessed culture. April discovers, slower than she might have hoped, that while it may be exciting to get everything you've always wanted, to appear on every conceivable television program and talk show, and even have the president's private phone number, there are consequences, which can put your own safety at risk, as well as your relationships, your health, even your future.

This book was a little zany for my tastes. I felt like it didn't really know whether it wanted to be more of a sci-fi mystery about the Carls or more of a lampoon of the culture of celebrity, and meshing the two didn't quite work. While there are parts of this book which feel very current, after a while I thought things were getting repetitive and a little bit overly complicated.

I'm a big fan of John Green, and his brother Hank definitely shares some storytelling characteristics, as well as a penchant for characters whose primary language is sarcasm. I thought Hank Green had a really interesting idea, but he didn't quite execute it as well as he could have. There are definitely interesting, humorous, and insightful moments here, but overall, the story seemed a little too wacky.

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