This is one of those sci-fi books that is filled (over-filled maybe) with clones, technological anomalies, future apocalypse scenarios, new methods in transplant organ growth -- all kinds of obviously sci-fi devices -- except that it doesn't feel like sci-fi while you're reading it. It feels like (and probably is the literary progeny of) some of the greats of ecstatic post-modernism, Pynchon and David Foster Wallace, people with big ideas and a taste for both pulpy genre device and formal eloquence, who could write ridiculously about the serious and seriously about the ridiculous. If anything in actual sci-fi, it most echoes the delirium of the late 60s to mid 70s, Philip K Dick and Dhalgren, maybe learning from PKD that traditional narrative and character development can sidelined if the plot is so irrestible that those conventions would only hold things up (I suspect that maybe 50-75 percent of the text of this book has been cut away without any serious loss, every bit is a revelation, it's only the good parts). In Ryan Boudinot, who has almost certainly read all of these authors without really sounding anything like any of them, who is young enough to have internalized the idea of the internet (though not so literally as one character will attempt) but old enough to have flashes of skepticism about what it means for culture, who seems highly sensitized to the colloquialisms and pop-cultural detritus of the modern world, and no compunctions about mixing them with the high-concept literary (postmodernism again, all of these things are equal, anyway) -- in Ryan Boudinot we may have a defining writer of the early post-millennium. Even though this book spans a hundred years into the future, this might be the one people read in 50 years to get an idea of what we're living and thinking about right now. Although much of the content of the actual story here (or stories, many many of them writhing all over the place) is very weird, and very removed from the everyday, it's still highly informed by it, an has a whole lot of very interesting things to say about it.
I won't actual bother to say what this is about at all. It's unnecessary. It's about too much and it keeps shifting. But at the same time, it'll be clear what this is about in some sense right from the start. And completely unclear to the end, maybe -- like the machine that disassembles itself entirely early on, it's pretty difficult, once all the pieces are in hand, to make out the entire shape and interconnectivity of this huge and complex machine. Which is not a flaw. It keeps us circulating amongst and considering the pieces we're given to work with. If there's a flaw, it's that with so many stories, and so much going on, and such tricky mechanisms, it gets tough to identify directly with anyone here. They're interesting and often likeable, but incomplete. But this is actually a minor caveat -- the story is made up of all these fascinating people, but the gestalt of the narrative is far more important than any one of them. Anyway, this is great. Maybe five-stars great, even, though I'm slow to give anything five stars, so let me process a little more first. Processing, or even re-reading, will always be a pleasure here.