The Carls just appeared. Coming home from work at three a.m., twenty-three-year-old April May stumbles across a giant sculpture. Delighted by its appearance and craftsmanship – like a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armour – April and her friend Andy make a video with it, which Andy uploads to YouTube. The next day April wakes up to a viral video and a new life. News quickly spreads that there are Carls in dozens of cities around the world, and April, as their first documentarian, finds herself at the centre of an intense international media spotlight.
Now April has to deal with the pressure on her relationships, her identity and her safety that this new position brings, all while being on the front lines of the quest to find out not just what the Carls are, but what they want from us.
Warnings: physical assault, gun violence, biphobia
It’s difficult to accurately say what this book is about – it is, on the surface, about a young woman capitalizing on her newfound fame to write herself into the narrative of an amazing phenomenon, but it also an alien contact scif-fi, and dives into the curse of popularity, social media divisions, alluding to the contemporary political atmosphere, giving us a dysfunctional squad of friends, and also affirming the power of directed thinking. April’s story comes in the form of an autobiographical lookback into what led her to be the mediator between the Carls and humanity, a symbol and face for a movement, and written as a focused recounting of events, with her hindsight explaining the things that need explaining.
April’s story starts with an accidental viral video, but when she sees an opportunity, she and her friends start a brand to dictate her media identity. April becomes April May, the person who had First Contact, who was the first to see and touch a Carl; after that her life becomes a series of media appearances, and she gets heady with the attention. To keep it going, she continues to pursue the mystery of the Carls, making herself the center of new information on them, and well, pretty soon it becomes her identity. She and others are further going into the puzzles that Carl brings them, because they believe that something good might come out of this, but there is also another faction of humanity rising that is afraid, rather than curious, of what the presence of the Carls mean.
With her being the central character, we get to see inside how messed up her life gets; the media appearances, the constant managing of online presences, the inevitable trolls, the destruction of personal relationships, the death threats, the questioning of her identity. April is reasonably aware of her faults, and while some of it is hindsight, a lot of it is being aware at the time, but still making bad decisions. Her narration also comes more as a focused stream of consciousness, like she is sitting you down and trying to tell you a story she has outlined in her mind but not found words for right until that moment; because she is so absorbed on her story and what the Carls mean to her as her public image, it is difficult to really know the other characters very well, including her girlfriend who gets pretty much sidelined throughout the book. Until the end, I was reading it as a standalone (I honestly didn’t know it was supposed to be a series), so the resolution between the characters also felt incomplete.
The mystery of the Carls was one of the things this book did very well. I honestly didn’t know what would be the outcome, and I was very much on tenterhooks about them throughout most of the book. The book doesn’t get very science-fiction-y, as it is mostly from April’s perspective and we only get what she understands and even then a whole lot of it wouldn’t make sense to a layperson. It is more fantasy in the sort of weirdness, than science, if you ask me. The whole Dreamer thing was awesome, but more importantly was the part of the book around this time – the whole Defender movement, April’s crashing personal life – this part of the book felt like it was giving strength to what the book really wanted to say and comment on the world. The last third of the book is when ‘shit gets real’ and has a fast pace, bringing us to one tense climactic sequence, and a cliffhanger of an ending!
Verdict- odd narration style aside, it is an interesting mystery of a sci-fi book, that deconstructs humanity and its flawed protagonist.
Is it diverse? Bisexual protagonist
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Trapeze, via Netgalley.
This edition releases on July 30, 2019