Blueprints of the Afterlife: A Novel by Ryan Boudinot (New York: Black Cat, 2012. 430pp).
Ryan Boudinot is the author of the novel Misconception, as well as The Littlest Hitler, the latter which won the book of the year from Publisher’s Weekly. He is on the faculty of Goddard College’s MFA program in Port Townsend, and blogs about film at therumpus.net. A native of Washington state, he currently lives in the city of Seattle.
New York Alki
Setting off in mild trepidation down my newfound odyssey of contemporary literature, I have found some amazing novels. Despite my fear, Blueprints of the Afterlife takes home the proverbial first prize. In this weird, somewhat dystopian, mainly dysfunctional, post-apocalyptic world, Ryan Boudinot carefully weaves a story of my beloved city and hometown, Seattle, which is both brilliant and freakishly weird.
|Photo by Carolyn Adin|
Woo-jin is our protagonist, and an award winning dishwasher, who suffers from ennui attacks (excessive empathy). He finds a body, not once, but twice, later meeting its owner, Abby Fogg, alive in “superposition” (a place where she can exist in multiple states: both dead and not). Amidst the entirety of the plot there is a man named Dirk Bickle who remains an enigma throughout the novel.
But what interested me throughout wasn’t the plot, which was absolutely mind-bending (in fact mind-bending isn’t strong enough a phrase) and fabulously entertaining overall. Rather, it was the setting. Set in Seattle, society is building New York City on the shores of Bainbridge Island, an island located close to Seattle.
“In the notes we found several references to the ‘New York Alki’ project. I’d taken Washington state history and knew what this meant. When the first white settlers came to the region in the nineteenth century, they debated what to call their settlement. They had big aspirations for their little frontier outpost but were really bummed out by all the mud and rain. To cheer themselves up they considered naming the place ‘New York Alki.’ Alki was a Chinook word for ‘by and by.’ Meaning, ‘someday.’ ‘New York Alki’ meant that someday this place would be as big and vibrant as New York City. But cooler heads prevailed and decided that naming their city after New York, itself named after old York, was retarded. So they named the city after Chief Sealth and called it a day” (68).
A Consistent Backdrop
|Photo by Midwinter|
The ill-founded attempt to name Seattle New York influences Boudinot’s writing, and the backdrop of the entire novel. In the future, this past idea becomes future reality, and the consistent setting of the entire story is this New New York emerging where all the characters meander about their crazed, strange, unconventional lives. The other backdrop is a futuristic Seattle, one that I think can only truly be appreciated if you live here.
“After the great fire of 1889, when Seattle laid new streets atop the ruins of Pioneer Square, the ground levels of hotels, brothers, and dry-goods merchants became the underground. Post-FUS [Fucked Up Shit], a third layer arose, preserving Pioneer Square under a dome. In this district it was always night, lit with yellowish streetlights, real trees supplanted by facsimile trees of concrete and latex” (175).
Living next-door to Pioneer Square (I can literally see Seattle from my window), it’s truly mesmerizing to think about the future of the city as I look at it.
|Photo by Trey Ratcliff|
Now in the post-FUS era the earth, and the Pacific Northwest in general, has become a strange place. I should state that this isn’t so much a dystopian novel, it’s a post-dystopian novel. The dystopia has already occurred (the FUS), and now it’s plainly dysfunctional. Part of the era of FUS included a glacier taking over most of Canada (ha!), and parts of America as well.
“Several theories emerged to explain the origin and sheer persistence of the glacier. Many suggested the mass of ice possessed an intelligence. It was easy to personify, as it appeared to be deliberately targeting concentrations of human civilization. As it approached Saskatoon, Canadians stood on top of buildings and bridges with bullhorns, loudly and profusely apologizing for warming the planet. But the glacier would not be placated…while [the glacier named] Malaspina laid waste to the Great White North, Americans paid little attention” (171).
|Photo by Nate 2B|
This quotation exemplifies the kind of strange “Palahniukian” writing that takes place in the novel. Its strange gore mixes with creepy and odd science fiction. But, surrounded by the odd science fiction comes a sort of unusual, Malthusian catastrophe story, where humans are forced to reconcile with how they’ve treated the planet by raping the earth’s resources. Boudinot places effective social commentary and ecological awareness amid this strange science fiction novel.
“It was obvious and apparent: stop using oil, stop making plastic, control the growth of the population to a logical level so we could exist within the parameters of our ecology. If we didn’t do these things, most of us would die. But we were willing to die because a more powerful part of our minds, the old mammalian limbic system, was busy pushing those bars. The more recent, less developed part of our brains, the neocortex, was waving its arms and screaming for us to stop our destructive behavior. In this war between the limbic system and the neocortex, the limbic system won, hence the FUS” (150).
The beauty of this book is the way Boudinot allows the plot to unfold. He uses the common setting of an emerging, post-apocalyptic Seattle as well as the backstory of the FUS era to create a plot that simply rocks hard. He uses crass language (like FUS) in a way that really effectively tells the story of this new dysfunctional world, and uses characters with weird unimaginable things going on to tell a story of epic proportions. Simply stated, I recommend Blueprints of the Afterlife. Even if you don’t enjoy dystopian novels, this one will surely engage, as it focuses more on human dysfunction as a whole. If you enjoy science or historical fiction, this novel would also be an excellent choice. Just give it a try—you’ll be entertained if nothing else.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5