Hank Green, beloved by the internet for his podcasts and multiple successful YouTube series has moved from digital storytelling into the analog realm of books. Well, kinda. Green's first novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, is a sci-fi dream, seemingly influenced by his own experience with internet fame.
The story is set in the near future, arguably even an alternative timeline of our own world (the POTUS is an unnamed woman in this reality), where 23-year-old April May seemingly discovers an alien technology in the middle of the night, completely by accident. The recently graduated art student blasts into internet fame that she never asked for and finds herself in the middle of an international (and possibly intergalactic) mystery she isn't prepared to solve. May steps up to the challenge, perhaps a little too enthusiastically. April is a somewhat quirky, but rather realistic protagonist whose complex motivations both complicate her relationships and endear her to the reader. Her first person account is channelled through Green's humor, which incredibly relevant and just a little bit nostalgic at the same time.
References to David Bowie and Queen add a vintage feel to the overall futuristic vibes of this very cinematic tale. There's somewhat of a Ready Player One feel, but the comparisons end with tone. AART is truly unique in its premise. Besides the incredibly fun and imaginative world Green creates, the novel engages with the extremely performative aspect of our society that social media has only encouraged. The price of fame is the conversion of real people into symbols, and there are moments in which the novel seems like a meditation on Green's reputation rather than April's fictional stardom. The novel also deals with the contentious political climate in the US and the tribalism that seems to drown out any positive or productive discussion. While these parallels may be a little heavy-handed at times, they are important and as this book will likely attract a younger audience, they add a much needed level headed look at the world. Overall, the book is what I would expect from Green in the sense that it is a fun and intriguing read that made me laugh out loud and think about the world around me. However, the mystery that April uncovers stands alone and I'm looking forward to the next installment.