- The Good: Humanity collaborating; the potential of the internet; the power and ethics that come with fame
- The Bad: Lacking in scifi; unrealistic plot; chosen-one trope
- The Literary: Full of modern pop culture
After a long day and night at work, April May discovers a giant robot on the streets of New York City. Thinking the ten-foot-tall Transformer is an art sculpture, April wakes up her best friend Andy so they can make a video and upload it to YouTube. The next morning, the April discovers several things at once—the video has gone viral, 63 identical sculptures exist in major cities all over the world, and as the first discoverer, April is famous.
This is a ridiculously easy book to read. April narrates her own story in a down-to-earth and often snarky voice. I like that April is a really flawed person. She’s honest about it, which makes her feel immensely relatable. April seizes her new platform, and the fame that comes with it, to the detriment of her personal relationships. She chooses fame and the love of her followers over the people who are already close to her.
YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are April’s platform. She becomes obsessed with gaining followers, falls down rabbit holes reading all the terrible comments about her, cultivates her image, and stops at nothing to finish the take. The most interesting aspect of this novel is the double-edge sword of our fame obsessed culture, a topic with which Hank Green is undoubtedly familiar (check out SciShow or Vlog Brothers on YouTube). It makes the story feel modern and timely, but also means it’ll be really dated in a few years.
Despite April’s personal failings, her message is one of peace and curiosity. Minor spoiler: The sculptures, also known as the Carls, are of alien origin, hence the scifi classification. The Carls don’t talk or move or interact with humans, leaving everyone around the world to speculate wildly about their intentions. Many think they are an invasion threat, but April and her followers want to put humanity’s best foot forward and work together to solve the mystery of the Carls.
And the mystery of the Carls isn’t just the fact of their presence. Without giving too much away, the Carls present humanity with a series of puzzles. People all over the world begin to solves the puzzles one by one, but it isn’t until April and her friends create a centralized platform for collaboration that progress really takes off. Some of the puzzles require the gamer to figure out missing details in Pakistani currency, count in Mayan, or understand the button board layout on an accordion. The riddles themselves are wide-ranging and fun to read out about, but it’s still the passive experience watching someone else play a game.
Despite the aliens, there is surprisingly little scifi in this novel. The lack of interaction with the Carls, and the complicated and wacky brain-teasers they passively pose to humanity seem extremely far-fetched and unlikely. If you take the plot at face value, the implication that we can work together to create a better world for ourselves is nice. It’s too bad the cast of characters isn’t as diverse as the puzzles.
Read this one for an optimistic and upbeat look at the power and potential of social media and crowd sourcing. If we put our minds to it and create an atmosphere of inclusion, we can solve anything.