The Short Version: Jane returns from a conference to find that her husband Jim has had his head cryogenically frozen. A winding tale, skipping through time and space, follows the both of them and what their new worlds will be like…
The Review: On the one hand, it’s a damn shame Atavist Books is closing up shop so quickly. Twice Upon a Time was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had with a book and I believe there’s a place in this world for books that are meant to be read on a device. They’ll never replace real books, of course – but why try? Why not make something that parallels that experience while providing the sort of thing that only a device can deliver? This is why Device 6 is still, for my money, the gold standard in book-related apps.
On the other hand, Atavist Books doesn’t appear to be (and, now, clearly isn’t) the company to move the form forward. As interesting was the Kunzru piece was, the other pieces published this year have been on the disappointing side. Sleep Donation was a great novella but not particularly unique in its presentation – and The New World follows that method. There are two somewhat unique tweaks to the form, in the switch from swiping left to get to the next chapter to swiping right and in some fun color blending that represent shared-POV chapters, but they aren’t enough to recommend reading this book on your phone over reading it in the eventual physical form (coming from FSG in May, I believe).
But also, is the story itself worth reading? And that… I think it’s a resounding shrug. The early plot, the one that drives “Cycle One” is interesting, reminiscent as it is of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, seasoned with dashes of thriller and grief-memoir. The idea of cryogenics has long been a humorous and yet slightly-creepy story device and Polaris (the cryonics company) is as all-seeing and spooky as you’d hope. What’s equally as creepy is Jim’s internal life post-freeze: the company has set up some sort of weird netherspace that transcends space and time where the frozen minds are basically retrained to erase their memories in order to be reborn into the future. They must each pick up an individual task that helps wipe those memories – and the possibilities here felt endless, curious, dangerous. But almost as soon as we get into them, we’re left bereft as the story takes a different, more personal tack.
When Cycle Two begins and you begin to swipe in the opposite direction to progress through the novel, it turns out we’re moving backwards in time – towards the moment where the whole thing began, except one layer lower: we understand a little more of the psychological background to those early scenes. Similarly, Cycle Three (the fading-out point of the underground pyramid [again, you’ll see]) is what underlies all of those things. A clever trick, sure, but one that wears out its welcome in terms of cleverness. Instead, I found myself less and less interested in Jane, in Jim, in their problems and their lives. Their complicated relationship is undoubtedly no different from any complicated relationship in the real world, but I struggled to care that these two were not quite in love, that they were not quite not-in-love. I was more interested in what had happened with Polaris, what Jane would do next, how the company would deliver on their promise of a new life. In some ways, this book sort of echoes Sleep Donation: both show a strange company, but one diverts away from it while the other finds it an impossible-to-divest part of the story.
It shouldn’t surprise you to know which one I enjoyed more.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5. Chris Adrian is an author who I just don’t know how I feel about. A lot of his regular fixtures are here (questions of faith, doctors, hospitals, a hint of magic) but beyond the concept of the story, I was left rather cold. And the e-material is nearly non-existent here. I’ve not yet read the paperback version of Eli Horowitz’s The Silent History but the e-version of that story was built with the app experience in mind: the serialized release schedule as well as the accessible-only-in-that-spot Field Reports. Nothing about this story needs to be read in the app and so we must rely on the story. And the story was nothing extraordinary to speak of. A resounding shrug, as I think longingly about what Atavist Books could’ve done…