Cover Image: How High We Go in the Dark

How High We Go in the Dark

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This book focuses upon a devastating plague, that is released through the melting of the Arctic ice. I initially felt uncomfortable reading this, with the idea of a global pandemic hitting a little too close to home. However, it is thankfully lacking in similarities to covid 19, or any other pandemics that we have experienced, overall an enjoyable read!
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The idea of a world in crisis thanks to a virus is so very timely, considering the first draft was written just as the pandemic started. I’ve read many good books and interesting stories recently, but this was different. This was extraordinary writing, on par to some of the greatest classics. 

I’m not a fan of using things like climate change as entertainment purposes, but Sequoia uses it so well. He isn’t throwing it down your throat or making it obvious, but it is a future we may all face in the years to come, and it will affect more than just our current livelihoods.

The link between the stories aren’t always obviously clear in the physical sense, instead their linked by the grief and the hardships and the love experienced by each main character. At first, it wasn’t clear if it was the same protagonist in each story - turns out it’s not - but this didn’t matter. If anything, it really showed that link between us all, connected through all time and space. They’re smart stories ranging from the uncomfortable near-future to the unrecognisable futuristic. 

The concept of a euthanasia theme park for children is altogether fascinating but horrific. There have been times where I wish I could have helped put relatives out of their misery, but the idea of sick children being put on rollercoasters to stop their hears is too painful to dwell on.

The humanity of the pig story is also so beautiful but uncomfortable. There’s a lot of that in this book: uncomfortable, unusual, unacceptable, that are equally beautiful and heart warming and truthful. It’s everything wrong with the world, packaged up in a box. A box we’re trying to open and fix. Sequoia is holding our hands and giving us a tour of the hardships of life, keeping hold when it starts to get difficult.

As uncomfortable as it may seem, a positive for me is how freely death is spoken about. As a whole, humans (especially us in the UK) don’t talk about death, even when it’s staring at us in the face. It’s almost like we believe if we don’t talk about it, it won’t happen. But in this book, it is openly discussed in the same way you may discuss your dinner plans or your next holiday, and I think that’s beautiful.

I tried to read this as slowly as I could, because I couldn’t bear the idea of finishing it - it was such a joy to read. It’s amazing how all the stories come back on themselves, emphasising the idea that we’re all linked, wherever or whenever we live. 

This is such a mart novel but without ego. It is compassionate and honest and to me, Sequoia only wants to portray the heart and soul of the story. Forget about it being a work of art, or a shoo-in for writing awards. It is a book that means so much more to us. A book that reaches our hearts and sets up home.
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Arguably a pandemic novel isn’t the smartest choice of reading when recuperating from covid… but whilst the impact of the global pandemic can be inferred, Nagamatsu’s novel paints a much broader picture than yet another lockdown narrative. Loosely connected stories tell the story of a pandemic from virus discovery onwards, and with a moving focus on how civilisation responds to death at both personal and corporate level. The theme park chapter is a brilliant and awful concept, I was very impressed and was sold from here on in. The loose interconnectivity between chapters is enjoyable,
Tracking characters and themes through the years and decades.

Downside - I’m not sure about the final chapter; I initially felt it undermined what I’d read but concluded that it just wasn’t what I expected. It’s left me thinking about it though and that may be part of the point
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The first thing I thought when I started this book was who in their right mind would release a book about a pandemic - in a pandemic!  I read this book several weeks ago and have only come to review it now because it took me a while to gather my thoughts about it.  Firstly, I must say it is beautifully written but that is where my praise for it ends.  The book is a group of stories about a global pandemic which affects children, and the characters in each story are loosely connected.  You start off reading it and it takes you into the depths of human despair - everything that is bad about the human race.  As you continue to read each story, you think that at some point at least one of them will have a remotely happy ending - don't hold out for this.  I can honestly say this is the most depressing book I have ever read.  If you thought the Covid-19 pandemic was a disturbing and tragic event, this book makes it seem like a walk in the park.  Then there is the 'twist' at the end - turns out that all along an alien life form has been living amongst us to try to show humans the error of their ways (at least that's what I think the point of the alien was!).  Would I recommend this book - no.  Would I buy it for a friend - definitely not, unless I wanted to tip them over the edge.  At disturbing story at the best of times but I would say it is almost irresponsible to release it during the current world climate.
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I think this book would have been better if the blurb had not compared it so much to other books. These kinds of comparisons, especially when I love the other books, set the bar of expectation so high that if the book does not exactly match what I expect, I end up feeling disappointed. There was a lot that I liked about the book, but it's just nothing like Cloud Atlas or Station Eleven. And that's fine, but  I expected something like that.  

So the book itself was ok, I found it quite verbose and that often in quite an annoying way. I couldn't help but think at times I was being preached at a little. The different voices never really came together for me, so the overall experience was disjointed and alienating, the latter may well have been intentional. 

In short, this was not for me.
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There is a lot that I could say in this review that may sound negative, but it is not how I wish to put my thoughts and feelings across. If you are not aware of how dark the content is, you may be in for a bit of shock.
The description of the book does not do it justice. The many stories following on from the initial release of the plague are incredible, bordering on the phenomenal. Saying that, you may need to reach for the anti-depressants, alcohol and handkerchiefs as you delve through the narratives.
There are some truly heartbreaking moments as this book explores some very dark themes. But there are also a lot of insightful observations and important feats and achievements.
My favourite of the stories was Song Of Your Decay. As Laird, the main protagonist was slowly dying, he was going through his Ipod music list with his Doctor Aubrey Lynn. She had similar interests to him and shared in his love of music. That really touched my heart, especially when he got to the Simple Minds track, Don't You Forget About Me, one of my favourite tracks.
The book really brings home what Covid-19 and its counterparts may become with all of its horrors and atrocities. This book isn’t for a sensitive heart as it deals out harrowing stories but it is a thoroughly mesmerising one. I did find it a thought-provoking read.
Thank you, NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing, for the ARC.
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How High We Go In The Dark is a strangely compelling set of loosely interconnected stories set in the aftermath of a global pandemic and covering centuries of human existence.


It is full of humanity and emotion that you get caught up in as it moves seamlessly through years and people, offering a snapshot view, a kind of drop in on individual lives and struggles.

The writing has a beautiful cadence and lyrical rhythm that keeps you hooked throughout- it is melancholy and intriguing, offering something a little different with every tale told, a mixture of voices and experiences, a darkly imaginative novel of hope of a sort.

Different to my usual reads, recommended for fans of the existential and deeply affecting narrative.
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Another day another pandemic novel written I assume before Coronavirus and now dealing with a world where we know the shape of a particular pandemic and are possibly not minded to delve into another one. What is interesting here (and Autonomy which also had a pandemic theme), is the slightly magical weirdness of the pandemics involved. No pulminory lung collapses here, instead organs start to go missing, or start to change into other organs, or at one point – a singularity black hole turns up in someone’s body. It’s a solid hint that this is not hard science fiction, rather some what ifs. Its also not a standard novel, it is rather a set of linked short stories moving through the timeline of Earth after this pandemic appears. So we definitely get into the “living with the disease” moment we know at the moment. 

The “connected short story” novel is hard to pull off because like any set of short stories some will work better than others. Have too strong a character in one and you mourn not seeing them again. Be too tangentially connected and it feels like its falling apart. And whilst the core of this takes place in the ten years after the pandemic breaks, there is one at the dawn of humanity and some very far future work. Luckily though Nagamatsu nailed my interest with the second chapter/story here – the first was a solid “we’ve found something in the ice” story, the second constructed the melancholy framework the book leant on. “City Of Laughter” does the heavy lifting of describing the pandemic which affects children the worst, and to a point when they aren’t in particular pain but know they are very close to death. And so the city sets up Euthanasia Theme Parks, a logical endpoint to Make A Wish Foundation views of children’s suffering. The kids get to spend a magical day at the theme park and then go on a rollercoaster that kills them with G-Forces. The story is narrated by an out of work actor who ends up as a character mascot and host at this Disneyland of Death, and it manages in is short length to be poignant about his own disappointing life, the pandemic, and attitudes of death. After this story I was in for the rest of the book no matter what.

And the rest is a mixed bag. There are some more low level wonder stories (a heartbreaking one about an intelligent pig), and a few more big picture ones – the escape to space. But it is an impressive collection which hangs together thematically as a novel, with the mixture of sadness and acceptance overwhelming the big ideas in most places. The subtext I took away was that the world is a wonderful place we are cursed to live in, and pandemic or not this feeling will linger for a while.
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This story begins with a deadly global pandemic which is unearthed by the melting permafrost in the Arctic Circle and the grotesque aftermath that reverberates for generations to come.  Very timely!

Told from multiple points of view, the stories span throughout multiple lives, traveling into various dimensions of space and time. 

As a massive fan of Jeff Van der Meer this was right up my street!
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I was about to give this book four stars because of the way the ending threw me off and I struggled to see how it connected to the rest of the story (for me, it kind of ruined the message I was getting), but the overall reading experience was so good that I decided to give it five stars anyways. It was a very emotional read and I cried a lot, but in a way that was incredibly enjoyable. 

How high we go in the dark follows a diverse cast of characters who are all trying to survive through a terrible pandemic and its aftermath, climate change destroying the world, and, most importantly, grief. Grief for the people they could've been, the lives they might have led, the better choices they should've made. All of the stories are connected, but they are unique enough that it truly feels like they represent the diversity of people when dealing with hard times. Even though none of the characters really get that much time, they all feel like real, three-dimensional humans, and it was impossible not to empathize with them. 

The way Nagamatsu presents the grim future doesn't seem too unrealistic, especially now that we've seen how humanity really deals with a pandemic. The scenarios depicted really help understand the characters, and it feels as if there is an (excellent) study of grief being done all throughout the book, but not in a way that takes readers out of the story. 

As for what I mean about the ending, it's a big spoiler, so feel free to skip this paragraph. In the last chapter, it is revealed there's a sepcies of "superbeings" that supervise the creation of life around the universe, and one of them lives on Earth. She is responsible for the pandemic that destroyed humanity, but also for some great discoveries. This made it feel like the overarching message of humanity's resilience and will to live, explore, and get better was conditioned by someone better than us watching from the shadows, ready to intervene if we were to stray too far off the right path. But as I said, the book is still incredible, and if you lean more towards fantasy the ending might make it even better for you. 

All in all, I loved this read. At some points it even reminded me of Record of a spaceborn few by Becky Chambers, which is one of my favorites. If you need something that will make you let out a good cry while picking up your spirits, this is definitely the perfect read. 

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read and review this book.
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I enjoyed many things about this - it is basically custom-made for me after all. I loved the changing perspectives as we moved further into the future, I loved revisiting people from earlier chapters as side characters in the later chapters, I enjoyed the weirdness Nagamatsu embraced and how unlikable he lets his characters be - but I did not love this book as a whole the way I wanted (and honestly expected) to. Parts are to do with the prose that did not always work for me, parts are definitely the increasingly bleak outlook of the stories. Overall, I found this slightly uneven but in parts genuinely brilliant.
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This absolutely broke me- maybe not the best choice to read during an ongoing pandemic but still utterly haunting. Nagamatsu's compliation of stories is haunting and gripping, and definitely has important, sometimes eeerily prescient things to say about our current state and the way we go forward from here.
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There seem to be two dominant schools of thought as to how the Covid pandemic is going to affect literature, from an artistic rather than an economic point of view. Will readers want to avoid anything disease and pandemic-related, opting instead for escapism from the defining event of this generation or will writers be obligated to engage with it in one form or another? How High We Go In The Dark falls emphatically into the latter category, despite ranging pretty high in terms of speculative flights of fancy.
But it’s perhaps unfair to label it a ‘Covid novel’ as the Sequoia Nagamatsu goes to great pains to emphasise that this is a work that was 10 years in the making. And indeed, it’s no quick cash-in by any means. While not a big book, it’s dense with ideas and is often engrossing in the depth of emotion it offers the reader. There’s definitely more than a few heart-tugging moments, although equally there are points where it occasionally overreaches into mawkish sentimentality. Equally, while a great many of the social and technological concepts it posits as being consequences of a global, lethal pandemic are fascinating and well thought out, some fail to hit home quite as well. 
This is probably as much to do with the novel’s structure as much as anything else. It’s been compared to Cloud Atlas and it’s certainly reminiscent of David Mitchell’s early works, although a case could possibly be made for it being a close-ish relative of some of Ray Bradbury’s themed short story collections. It’s made up of a number interlocking short stories set in this world of global pandemic and with many characters recurring, often in slightly surprising ways. This is a strength as much as a weakness, of course, and some of the stories are highly affecting. And the variety helps provide some relief when the novel goes into really very dark, even despairing, territory, offering the reader flashes of hope among the darkness.
For this is a novel that’s very much about death, far more than it’s purely about disease or pandemic. It explores — and in some depth — not just our individual reactions to death, but also just how much our human society is built around our preoccupation with our own mortality. Thus we’re given theme parks for terminally ill children to spend their final hours, elegy hotels where loved ones can ‘holiday’ with the dead and dying and VR worlds where people can seek out ‘suicide partners’ for when it all gets too much.
And if all that sounds a bit grim, as I said, there are flashes of hope among all the mortality. Family, birth, new life are all also major themes. There’s a literal seed of undying optimism and hope at the heart of the book too. 
But the structure does ultimately work against the novel slightly. While it might superficially resemble the reconstructionist narratives of David Mitchell, How High We Go In The Dark doesn’t quite have the same tight tying up of the narrative that Mitchell imposed on his work. Not that it doesn’t have a resolution of sorts but it’s one of such a metaphysical and literally cosmic kind that it doesn’t somehow do justice to the earthy humanity of a great many of the stories that preceded it and while interesting it left this reader at least feeling slightly unsatisfied.
Nevertheless, Nagamatsu has crafted an ingenious and often highly emotionally affecting work and one that will leave you chewing over many of its fascinating and far-reaching ideas for weeks and months to come. They have also peopled this complex, and often very dark, reality with an impressively large cast of believably and humanly flawed characters. It’s a memorable and deeply compassionate work and as we attempt to reform our lives from our own pandemic experience, it’s one that’s very timely indeed.
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I am sitting here wondering how on Earth I can start describing this book. It is, in many ways, an absolutely breathtakingly beautiful work of art. It focuses upon a devastating plague, that is released through the melting of the Arctic ice. I initially felt uncomfortable reading this, with the idea of a global pandemic hitting a little too close to home. However, it is thankfully lacking in similarities to covid 19, or any other pandemics that we have experienced. 

This book as a whole, consists of a selection of stories, which all cleverly interlink with each other. It starts with the initial release of the plague, travelling through into the drastically changed world. The later stories within the book have very science-fictiony themes. I felt that this wasn’t personally something that I massively enjoyed, however the stories were nonetheless extremely beautiful. 

It is a very harrowing, and thought provoking read. There is a hell of a lot of death, and emotional scenes. I can guarantee you, that this will be a story that sticks with you for a long time.
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An incredible book, spanning time and space, but more importantly made up of the personal stories and experiences of individuals, each linking to create a picture of the world and those within it.
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The subject matter was a little on the depressing side but the individual stories were beautifully written and I liked how they overlapped and bled into each other as the book progressed.
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The emotions this book made me feel were so powerful it took me off guard. I felt warmed and broken, hopeless and hopeful, emotionally drained and satisfied. This is such a vivid tale of humanity it hits every nerve possible and I couldn’t put it down. The way the book is written is so wonderful. Each chapter it’s own snapshot of a person navigating their way through life after a global disaster, not vastly dissimilar to the pandemic we have been struggling through ourselves. But each story ties in to a larger picture. Each character only a single degree of separation away from the next. The power this book holds is the way it opens a window into lives so believable it feels real. And you can’t help but take that feeling with you into the real world, knowing that everyone around you has their own tale. And that we are all in this together one way or another.
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I have no idea how to even begin talking about this book. 

It kind of doesn’t help that it opens with a delirious letter from the editor-in-chief of Bloomsbury telling you how this book is all that and a bag of chips, which is just one of those moments when you remember how so many different worlds publishing encompasses. I mean, never in a gazillion years is the editor-in-chief of a publishing house going to lose his ever-loving shit over something from a romance imprint, no matter how artistically and financially successful it is. 

Anyway, I was off-put and resentful, because the business of selling art is complicated, and too much emphasis on the selling can make it hard to respond authentically to the art, and good God could I hear the grinding of capitalism’s ever-turning wheels as I skimmed past the introductory orgasm of the editor-in-chief.

But then.

Oh my, this book. It is a genuinely remarkable piece work.

And, honestly, I’m not sure how, because a book about a pandemic—even a SFnal one—should by rights feel crass and exploitative at the moment, shouldn’t it? Instead of harrowing, cathartic, and ultimately deeply, profoundly hopeful? I think it helps that the plague in the book, released by melting Arctic ice, has absolutely nothing in common with any other plagues the globe may or may not have recently experienced. It’s not even airborne so there are no reference to masks or any of the other COVID-inspired changes to our current day-to-day lives. Basically, and this was a narrative high-wire act that left me breathless with admiration, it managed to be emotionally resonant while also feeling very much its own thing. 

The book as a whole consists of a series of stories—moments in time—between loosely connected characters as the plague runs its course. This starts from its initial release in the Arctic in the not-too-distant future and then deeper, and further, into a world still recognisable and yet utterly changed. While several of the latter stories take on more explicitly science-fictiony themes, especially as the narrative comes full circle with itself, what it never loses its focus on people and the connections between them (the connections, I suppose, between everything).

I guess the closest comparison for me—and probably one that will come up often—is Cloud Atlas. But (and I say this as someone who loves that book) imagine a Cloud Atlas less interested in showing you how clever it is, and more interested in showing you its heart.

I won’t lie, this is a harrowing read (especially in the wake of our own pandemic) and, wow, is there a lot of death in it, but it’s also so unexpectedly tender. While fear and loss and destruction sweep the world, we read about characters navigating troubled families, dealing with loss, falling in love, creating art, seeking connection. Something I found deeply fascinating about the book was its exploration of all the ways society might change if death on a massive scale became a long-term constant in everyone’s lives, particularly its inevitable entanglement with capitalist enterprise. There’s something inevitably bleak about these ideas (for example the eulogy hotel chains that allow the bereaved to efficiently, and for the right price luxuriously, say farewell to their loved one or the euthanasia theme park aimed at giving doomed children one last wonderful day) but what stops the book tumbling into abstract dystopia or a gruelling grimfest is the way each story unerringly finds its human centre.  It’s a frankly incredible accomplishment in terms of narrative precision, thematic control and sharp, economical characterwork. 

How High We Go In The Dark is an intense and powerful read that finds beauty amidst horror, compassion amongst destruction, hope in the depths of despair, and humanity, always, in everything. I kind of felt like I was getting my heart turned inside out for much of the experience but this book left me dazzled and moved, and perhaps even a little bit changed.
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This book is devastatingly good. It's a grim and darkly prophetic set of interlinked short stories set during a pandemic.

*sigh* I suspect we're going to be seeing a lot of "what if Covid19 but in the future?" novels. But this one is special. The sci-fi is sublime and realistic. It draws very firmly from the art of the possible - including the terrifying euthanasia roller coaster.

And, it is terrifying. I had to put the book down between each chapter to gather my courage for the next onslaught.

Remember how Joey from Friends dealt with scary books?

Yeah, that's what I wanted to do with this.

And yet, in the middle of this awful pandemic, there's something cathartic about reading how it might go in the future. The little asides remind me of the infomercials in the Robocop movie, or the ever present advertising in Blade Runner.

I've read a lot of Black Sci Fi over the last few years, but this is the first Japanese-American focussed book that I've read. The author skilfully weaves his characters together to give us a wide variety of people through which to view the end of the world.

And a talking pig.

It slowly builds up the terror - always dwelling on the human experience of the individual, never straying to the global level. And then gently releases us from its grasp into something surprisingly beautiful.

You may find it extremely upsetting to read - but it is an outstanding experience.

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy. The book is released in January 2022 and I urge you to preorder.
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This is a remarkably difficult book to review, partly because it's really hard to categorise. It's literary dystopian science fiction? Maybe? With a heavy emphasis on humanity and death. Now, full disclosure, even though I'm a pathologist, reading about death is not a fun time for me and there is a lot of death in this book. Starting in the future (2030), when the melting polar ice caps have led to the discovery of the body of an ancient girl and the re-emergence of a deadly virus, it probably doesn't sound like the most appealing subject matter in these difficult times. However, the virus is a nothing that resembles a known disease, which made it easier to read. 

This is not a long book but a huge amount happens, without being overly dense. It consists of many different stories, with some connecting threads and characters, but with very separate narratives. The toughest one for me is the section about a theme park for terminally ill children that is, essentially, a euthanasia park. These unknowing children get to have one good final day. What's fascinating about this book is the exploration of how humanity and earth will deal with death on a massive, continuous scale. The funerary hotels and the whole culture around death is really fascinating. 

The writing is tight, the dialogue excellent and the characters entirely believable, even in those settings that are entirely unlike our current existence. Some characters aren't particularly likeable (but doesn't that make them even more believable?) and some of the sections are a little more impenetrable than others. I'm not sure what I make of the very final section that ties it all together. I'm not sure it was necessary, to be honest, and it was a slightly weak ending, for me, but all of the stories and all of the people more than made up for that. 

This book isn't a laugh a minute, and sometimes it's extremely bizarre, but it's well worth checking out with, of course, the warning that there's so much death. So much. It looks inward, into a network of coma dreams, and it looks outward (upward) to the stars, and it is certainly deeply thought-provoking.

Rating: 4 stars (grim but entertaining)
TL;DR: A book about melting ice caps and a virus and so much death but also fascinating, compelling and very readable.
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