The best science fiction takes what we know about technology and humanity and extends it, finding a throughline from what is happening to what could happen. Ryan Boudinot's inventive Blueprints of the Afterlife does just this—only instead of space stations and robots, he clocks the way our perceptions and experiences have already been shaped by technology, and extrapolates our increasingly fuzzy grasp on reality to loopy new heights.
What happens if we keep outsourcing our brain functions to computers? How can we tell what's real when we don't begin to understand the forces shaping our world? With convincing enough simulacra—or compelling enough TV—will we even care what's real or not? These questions are cheerfully chopped and jumbled throughout Afterlife, as three characters (a dishwasher, a film scholar, and a former soldier) struggle to understand the post-post-apocalyptic world in which they find themselves. Afterlife is as resolutely entertaining as it is smart, a high/low mash-up that includes, among other things:
• A to-scale replica of New York City, built on Bainbridge Island
• Clone orgies
• Messianic clone babies
• An Xavier Institute-esque school for gifted youngsters
• Humans who can "hack" other humans
• A sentient, hostile glacier
• A refrigerator that never runs out of food
• A masturbating ghost
Blueprints calls to mind Jonathan Lethem's recent Chronic City and the work of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, as much as it does sci-fi predecessors like Philip K. Dick or even Cory Doctorow. But while it's plenty easy to find other novels to compare Blueprints to, the book offers a completely singular reading experience: Boudinot balances bold imagination with a prose style that drifts comfortably between casual chattiness and high-concept speculation. "She yearned for plot but instead absurdity after absurdity had been thrown before her," Boudinot writes of one character, "absurdities that alluded to obscured purposes." The same applies to the experience of plowing forward through this novel, trying to figure out what's real, and what real even means. It's when Afterlife tempts readers to ask these questions—and baits them to answer—that Boudinot's hilarious and strange book proves its worth.