AN ABSOLUTELY REMARKABLE THING: Confessional Self-Critique Couched in Science Fiction Epic
Author: Hank Green
Published: 25 September, 2018
Length: 352 Pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9781524743444
It is often – if not entirely – impossible to predict what will catapult you into overnight fame, but when April May makes a slightly silly video about a strange metal art piece she finds at night in NYC, she wakes up the next morning an internet celebrity. Turns out the Carls - the metal figures who appeared around the globe and got their name from her video - are not some strange art piece but evidence of alien life and its attempt to communicate with the people of Earth. Partly because she is fascinated by the Carls, and partly because she’s become obsessed with the fame she’s found because of them, April is at the forefront of the ensuing global attempts to discover the mysteries of the Carls. Meanwhile, April is discovering that fame, and the attention it can bring, can be one hell of a drug.
The plot of Hank Green’s debut novel – and first novel in his duology – revolves around aliens, mysterious hexadecimal codes, shared dreams, and rogue robot hands. But to say that An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a novel about any of these plot elements is to miss the genuinely insightful and refreshingly frank portrayal of a young person grappling with the ramifications of sudden and intense internet fame. Earning itself a place alongside Never Let Me Go and Her, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a science fiction novel that isn’t really about its science fiction aspects; at its core, it is a novel about the addictive allure of social media, the seductively harmful impulse to be noticed, and the innumerable ways in which the internet brings us together and pushes us further apart. Authentic and honest, the novel manages to be equally fascinating when April May is untangling the enigmatic puzzles of a shared dream city and when she is reflecting openly on her harmful yet human drive to hold people’s attention.
So much of the power of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing can and should be attributed to April May as a narrator. Funny, confident, and self-deprecating without being disingenuous, April May is Green’s most successful slight of hand in a novel full of them (including one literal mysterious hand). Despite obvious character flaws and occasionally reproachful behaviour, April May manages to remain intensely compelling from her opening sentence to her final teasing line. I found myself in the unexpected position of being fiercely loyal to April May, perhaps because of the all-access look her narration offers to her deepest insecurities, her bravest moments, and her most shameful failures.
Perhaps the only drawback to April May’s enduring strength as a narrator is that it comes at the loss of any other character of particular depth. Green surrounds April May with a cast of foil characters that are excellent in this regard but disappointingly unexplored in any other. They are all peppered with enough details to make them curiosities but they are easily forgotten and overshadowed by the many other more pressing plot curiosities.
Despite how important it is in the plot, don’t sleep on this novel. An extremely authentic and captivating first novel from Hank Green, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is the kind of novel that lingers. It encourages and even demands introspection, where the real alien is alienation: from each other and from oneself.