Early reviews sing the praises of Ryan Boudinot’s new novel, Blueprints of the Afterlife. Novelist Charles Yu calls it “a mind-bending tour of the edges of technology and possibility.” Reviewer Andrea Appleton remarks that “each scene is rendered in such captivating, hallucinogenic Technicolor.” Kirkus Reviews writes that “Boudinot goes all in with a Murakami-inspired fit of speculative madness that marries the postmodernist streak of Neal Stephenson to the laconic humor of The Big Lebowski.”
Often these kinds of reviews trick me into reading a book I inevitably come to despise as a bag of trendy literary trickery with very little substantive payoff. This is not one of those times. Blueprints of the Afterlife delivers a startlingly bleak, yet darkly funny and utterly engrossing vision of our world a hundred or so years from now.
Boudinot’s cast of characters includes an Olympic Gold medalist dishwasher, a digital archivist obsessed with early 20th century silent film, a former mercenary for the Boeing Army, and a man in search of his mysterious childhood friend. In this dystopian future, the vast majority of the Eastern United States has been destroyed and New York City is being rebuilt on Bainbridge Island. In fact, the Pacific Northwest and Seattle figure prominently in the geography of the novel.
Geography aside, I think the best thing about this book is being thrown right into the narrative without a paddle. In the first pages, what is actually going on is incredibly unclear, much like the first five minutes of any X-Files episode. Slowly, however, Boudinot begins to reveal the backstory of how this apocalyptic world came to pass. If you don’t like existing in a mild state of confusion for a brief time, you will find this book frustrating. If you can take a bit of not knowing, it definitely pays off in the long run.
Boudinot’s inexhaustible creativity fills this novel with tons of speculative detail of a very plausible future. While it seems like there are a lot of apocalyptic, speculative novels out there right now, Blueprints of the Afterlife ranks right up there with the best. Also, I’d say fans of Ready Player One might also enjoy this novel. It’s more challenging, but perhaps even more rewarding.