How High We Go in the Dark (Sequoia Nagamatsu)

22 February 2023

How High We Go in the Dark

Dr. Cliff Miyashiro arrives in the Arctic Circle to continue his recently deceased daughter's research, only to discover a virus, newly unearthed from melting permafrost. The plague unleashed reshapes life on earth for generations. Yet even while struggling to counter this destructive force, humanity stubbornly persists in myriad moving and ever inventive ways.

Among those adjusting to this new normal are an aspiring comedian, employed by a theme park designed for terminally ill children, who falls in love with a mother trying desperately to keep her son alive; a scientist who, having failed to save his own son from the plague, gets a second chance at fatherhood when one of his test subjects-a pig-develops human speech; a man who, after recovering from his own coma, plans a block party for his neighbours who have also woken up to find that they alone have survived their families; and a widowed painter and her teenaged granddaughter who must set off on cosmic quest to locate a new home planet.

From funerary skyscrapers to hotels for the dead, How High We Go in the Dark follows a cast of intricately linked characters spanning hundreds of years as humanity endeavours to restore the delicate balance of the world. This is a story of unshakable hope that crosses literary lines to give us a world rebuilding itself through an endless capacity for love, resilience and reinvention.

Average Rating:

Ross Hetherington (6 March 2023 16:15)

I wouldn't say I regret listening to this (it was an audiobook for me), but while I liked some of the stories, I felt about a 3rd of it was just redundant, as the basic ideas had already been covered. I got the feeling not all of it was consistant in terms of the speculative elements. Often they felt very throw-away - like the author wasn't really interested in them, but just wanted a little sci fi flavour. I don't always mind this, but here it seemed to jarr with an overall realist style. It was an extremely maudlin book, and I didn't feel like I emphasised with most of the characters - I think my and most of my friend's approach to grief (which was the abiding theme - and don't you forget it!) is just different from this. Or rather - I didn't feel like I emphasised with the author's obsession with these aspects of these characters.

I really went to town on this book in the discussion, and on reflection I felt a few of the things I said were unfair. It wasn't clear at all from the audiobook that this was a novel built out of a collection of short stories (a venerable style in sci fi - wish I could remember the name for it!). I think if I'd known this I wouldn't have been so exasperated with the repetitive nature of the themes (many of) in the stories. I can't recall the exact thing I really thought I'd not been fair about, now I've sat down to write. Oh well, life is short. Let's just say it was a 1 star, and now on reflection it is 2.

My favourite aspect of the novel was its subtle engagement with the Japanese-American experience. Plus the chapter with the pig - read the chapter with the pig!

Sinclair Manson (2 March 2023 21:43)

This is not really a novel but a collection of related short stories strung on a theme of loss. The stories run from a paleolithic pandemic thawed from the Siberian permafrost all the way through to interstellar colonisation. Each drops a character into a more or less fantastical situation and examines their reactions. Each character grapples with some kind of loss. The tone is quite consistent throughout the stories, calm and a little detatched. It feels like the focus is on characters' responses to their circumstances, rather than on their natures. I would have liked more distinct voices in the different stories. Despite their grim subject matter, the stories seem optimistic and there is an upward trajectory that runs through them, from climate disaster to the stars, as if facing death has freed the characters (and humanity) to live.