Review of How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu
Nagamatsu's science fiction centers around a resurgence of an ancient Arctic plague. These interconnected stories are odd, fascinating, and sometimes panic-inducing, yet they offer glimmers of hope. I was intrigued by all of it.
"It’s strange how the discovery of an ancient girl in Siberia and viruses we’ve never encountered before can both redefine what we know about being human and at the same time threaten our humanity. If I were a philosopher, perhaps I’d have more thoughts on this…. But there is still work to be done. There is still hope."
It's 2030, and an archaeologist in the Arctic Circle discovers a body perfectly preserved in the permafrost.
His personal situation is complicated by his grief for his recently deceased daughter, and he aims to continue the research work she began.
But the young woman he has found may have died of an ancient virus, and thawing the body for study could unleash the long-eradicated illness all over again.
The interconnected stories here are made up of strange, affecting situations, including those in which: the virus causes organs to transform into other organs until the host dies; a theme park provides rollercoaster-induced euthanasia to dying children; hotels become elaborately designed spaces used for saying goodbye or for cremation rather than travel stays; and an irresistible, sentient pig commands its own story.
In one situation, referred to in the book's title, there is a captivating, dark, in-between world of floating, nebulous memories that highlights humans’ struggles to connect to each other. The space also offers those in it a tantalizing chance to look back on pivotal moments from their life, and some do so with regret or wistfulness, while others focus on the gift of being able to recall forgotten moments. Those in the in-between world are able to see the previously unknown perspectives of those who loved them, and those occupying this space manage to cobble together a surprising sense of community with purpose and passion.
In suffering, he said, we found our heart. In suffering, we found new traditions, a way forward.
The stories are steeped in death and in coming to terms with mortality while fighting for answers. Yet deep connections are forged--in life-or-death moments throughout the book, and in the collective goal of saving humanity--and in some cases these bonds feel deeper than long marriages.
How High We Go in the Dark combines linked elements that wind through the book—a symbol of a planet with three stars repeats through time in ancient artwork, in a tattoo, and in 2037 within the painting Possibility. Characters appear in the backgrounds of others’ stories; a necklace disappears from one story in the Arctic and reappears in a casual mention around the neck of another character across the world in another time; and we see varied points of view regarding aspects of the same stories.
As the virus passes like a whirlwind through societies and nations around the globe, Nagamatsu's science fiction work How High We Go in the Dark highlights interpersonal connections spanning centuries--and extending as far as the stars.
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Nagamatsu is also the author of the short story collection Where We Go When All We Were Is Gone.