Hank Green – An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

Hank Green – An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

When April May leaves the office totally exhausted at 3am to return home, she comes across a surely true remarkable thing. She calls her friend Andy to meet her and to bring his camera so that they could film this big sculpture which suddenly was just there in the middle of New York City. April names it Carl and Andy uploads their short video to YouTube. What both of them do not have the least premonition of at that moment is what happens afterwards. All over the world, Carls have appeared, but New York’s one is considered the first and April May somehow the connection to these strange and unmovable figures. This could be the story, but not in our times anymore because the internet is yearning for idols, for people to worship and follow and April May has become exactly that. She is not the 23-year-old design student anymore, a brand replaces her personality and obviously, for the Carls, she is the human being to communicate with.

Hank Green knows what he is talking about in making the internet and different social media platforms the centre of his debut novel since he himself has become famous as a video blogger and with different web projects. “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” is often classified as a science-fiction novel, I would like to disagree here because there is not much that isn’t real today in it. Just the one aspect, aliens making contact, yet the rest of far from being futuristic and imaginative but all too real.

No matter which genre you assign the book to, it is a great read that offers food for thought on several levels. Normally, I prefer novels with realistic settings and plots that create the impression of authenticity. Well, this is not really the case here with those Carls showing up unexpectedly. Yet, I was immediately hooked and couldn’t put it down anymore. April May – I have to say it here: did I ever come across a protagonist with a more ridiculous name? I don’t think so – is quite an interesting character since, on the one hand, she surely is a bit naive or at least does not anticipate the extent of her doings. On the other hand, she seems to be quite natural and acts on impulse which I liked at lot since it made it easy to sympathise with her in a certain way. Her development from young woman to brand is remarkable and gives you a great idea of media and internet dynamics; I also liked the marketing background coming with it which was masterly integrated into the novel.

I you ever wanted to explain to anybody how the internet community works and what the advantages and dangers of social media are, just hand over this novel. I think it is a wonderful example of today’s communication mechanisms and of how nobody can control these processes anymore once set in motion. The internet is not a separate space any longer where you can have something like a second life, it has become a part of our real life and certainly has an impact on what happens in the real world nowadays. It is flattering that Green makes his alien believe that there is some clever and beautiful life on earth, yet, for me the more important message to take from the book was certainly the question of how we can synergise those two worlds that we are living in without forgetting who we are when creating ourselves.

In several respects a great read that could have an important impact and make us readers ponder about our behaviour.

John Marrs – The Passengers

John Marrs – The Passengers

“Who in their right mind would want to send someone to their death?”

Cadman read the tablet he held

“Approximately two hundred thousand people so far – and that’s based only on what’s trending on Twitter.”

When mental nurse Libby is called into a jury to decide on accidents caused by self-drive cars, she is astonished since she never kept her position on those a secret. Having witnessed an evil crash, she is absolutely against handing over control to AI. But she never expected the outcome of her jury session, nobody in there would ever have expected this. Soon after they started, the system is taken over by a Hacker claiming to have taken over eight self-drive cars and threatening to have them collide in two and a half hours. The jury has the chance to save one of them, should they not comply with his rules, he would immediately kill one after the other. But not only the jury would be there to judge, also the world outside could be part of the show and have their vote via social media. It’s the show of the year and the prize is high: it’s your life and you aren’t even asked if you want to take part in it.

John Marrs’ thriller really caught me by surprise and left a deep impression. Not only is the story masterly crafted with many unexpected twists and turns, no, it also mirrors our own behaviour in many different ways thus making you flinch at times because you recognise yourself and feel ashamed soon after. It surely is an absolute must-read for everybody using any kind of technology.

I hardly know where to begin with this novel. There are so many topics and layers that don’t make it easy to find a beginning. First of all, the setting of this evil game. Forcing people to make a decision over life and death is not just unfair, it is impossible. Yet, given no other way out, the jury has to come to a decision based on the information they have and only later do they find out that core aspects have been omitted which cast a completely different light on the person they have just sentenced to death. As a reader, you follow their verdict and often agree – running into the open knife just like they did. All passengers have something evil they hide, but the world isn’t simply black and white and only the whole picture provides you with what you would have needed to know before coming to a final decision. Too often we come to a conclusion fat too soon before we know all we should.

Second, the role of technology in our life surely should be questioned a lot more. The self-drive cars could definitely help to ease the situation in frequently gridlocked cities, on the other hand: what’s the price we pay for this? Providing more from the novel would spoil the fun, but as could be assumed, there is much more behind that we undeniably should think about before welcoming all technological advances. Also the role of social media should be seen a lot more critical than we do at the moment. Marrs goes so far as to give Twitter a vote – without anybody knowing who or what is behind it.

The protagonists also are very interesting in their own ways. Not just Libby, but also the passengers and of course Jack Larsson, the minister, are carefully drawn and offer a lot questionable traits of character.

I am totally flashed by this ambitious novel for which I am actually lacking the words to honour it.