Blueprints of the Afterlife is one part science-fiction (from the not so distant future), one part dystopia (masquerading as a utopia in parts), and one part a story about the importance of knowing who you really are.
It’s a gigantic puzzle for the reader to put together, as told by characters in chapters that are juxtaposed out of context with chapters from the viewpoint of other characters. Some of the characters never meet each other, and yet, are connected in a string of events directed by a mysterious man named Dirk Bickle.
I love it when books make me think about how all the pieces fit together, rather than spelling it all out for me. This is one of those books that had me thinking about the “universe” it exists in, and how it functions (or dysfunctions), long after I’d finished reading the story.
It starts with Woo-jin Kan, who is the best dishwasher a restaurant could ever dream of having. He won the Hotel and Restaurant Management Olympics medal in dishwashing, and it hangs over the sink in the restaurant he is employed in. Other dishwashers come to watch him work.
Woo-jin is a simple man, who might or might not have intellectual disabilities. He is aware that others find him to be slow, and isn’t especially bothered by it. This puts him in the position of being an “unreliable narrator”. The reader starts out limited by what Woo-jin can comprehend, and isn’t given many details beyond Woo-jin’s immediate life.
It is enough, though, because the way Woo-jin comprehends the world is very unique. He is easily overcome – to the point of having seizures, especially when he is experiencing a lot of emotion. Other things, like seeing a dead body and then later meeting the living person, doesn’t seem to phase him. Woo-jin doesn’t feel the need to question things very often.
In another chapters, the reader meets Abby Fogg who is a media archivist. She has the type of job that I think a lot of people would enjoy. In short, her work involves digging through outdated media formats and salvaging what was stored on it. This includes old movies, music, interviews, and more.
She ends up taking a job that she was told would involve going through whatever is left of an archive that is located in the huge home of a famous (and quirky) woman. The archive got flooded, and Abby is asked to salvage whatever she can from it.
Without giving away too many details, the job turns out to be vastly different than what she was expecting. Life become surreal on a number of levels, and Abby finds herself questioning her life choices. She has this feeling that her life is not her own, but struggles to pull that thought out of her subconscious mind.
The chapters involving Luke Piper are done in the format of an interview. It’s unclear exactly who is interviewing him. Luke is asked to talk about his friend Nick, who grew up “dirt poor” in a shack with his mother – far outside of town. Nick’s father died while Nick was young. Nick’s mother, Star, locked up the shop where her husband worked and refuses to let anyone enter it.
The contents of the shop hold something very important that ties together the separate stories of each main character. Nick, of course, doesn’t know this. His interview is mostly about an incredibly bizarre series of events that started when Luke and Nick graduated from high school – events that are part of a mystery that Luke spent years trying to unravel.
Al Skinner is a former mercenary for the Boeing Army. He’s seen and done things that still trouble him long after the FUS ended. He is haunted by memories that he had removed from his mind and cannot recall – but knows exist because he still has the discs (for lack of a better term) that the memories were downloaded to. Skinner is obsessed by, and terrified of, the memories of what happened during the FUS. He fears them, yet forces himself to relive them, (with a fellow mercenary standing by to help him through it).
The individual story lines of each character weave through the other’s stories in unexpected ways. To me, it was fun to try and figure out where their lives all fit together. It is the type of story where I’m unsure exactly what is going on, and am constantly surprised by what happens next.
This book is neither a straight-forward dystopia nor utopia. I think most of the characters are living in the space between the two concepts. It is a world where medical care is supplied via nanotechnology that everyone is connected to. Everything from pain medication to instructions for how to re-grow nerve cells can be downloaded. Physical suffering can be quickly alleviated, severe injuries can be repaired without surgery.
At the same time, there are economically disadvantaged people who are working as Pharmers – a job that is heroic and horrific at the same time. The Pharmers use their own bodies to grow extra parts for people who need them. This can help save, or vastly improve, the lives of the people who receive, but is a torturous nightmare for the person whom the extra parts are harvested from. They become a futuristic version of Frankenstein’s monster.
The nanotechnology system that distributes medical care is obviously a life-saving tool, but it comes with some problems. There are people who hack the system for the purpose of taking control over other people’s bodies and minds. Sometimes, this is done to provide entertainment at secret night clubs for bored young adults who volunteer to be temporarily made into a “puppet”. The same technique can also be used to hack unwilling people – who drift into strange life patterns and lose the ability to do anything beyond what their program prescribes.
Interestingly, there are some young people who ask to be hacked because they have completely lost confidence in their own abilities to make good life choices. A talented hacker can make them say the right thing at the right time, and give them all the social tools they lack. They choose to be run by a program, even though the experience can be unsettling, because they think it is their only way for them to have a successful life. I can see where this would be appealing to many people.
It is details like that that keep me thinking about Blueprints of the Afterlife long after I’ve finished reading it. I love books that make me mentally continue to run around in the “universe” that the author created.