One of my guilty pleasures is Science Fiction and Fantasy--
If I want to sound intellectual I can call it speculative fiction. It started when I was a kid and my brother introduced me to the books of Robert Heinlein. I read all the Robert Heinlein in the Youth fiction area of the Library.
I love Ursula LeGuin, The Tolkien Ring Series, the Phillip Pullman trilogy His Dark Materials, Garth Nix who wrote a wonderful trilogy called the Abhorsen Trilogy.
That out-of-body sensation you get when reading is even more intense with good speculative fiction. You are not just out-of-body you are out of the universe!
The trouble with Speculative fiction is that the bar isn't set very high for publishing, and there are a lot of so-so books out there. I don't even find a good one once a year, while good fiction, biography, and history is everywhere.
So I loved discovering The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier. Its beautifully written with a world that makes sense even if its not verifiable.
Laura is the heroine of the story. Stationed in Antarctica on a corporate sponsored science trip when a plague hits the earth, she lives but everyone else around her dies. The book follows her as she tries to find her way out of Antarctica. Brockmeier also keeps giving scenes from a city in flux, but it isn't a city that any of us know, it's the City of Remembered Dead.
You may have had the almost logical thought that someone isn't dead until all the people who remember them have died. This book imagines such a world actually exists. Its based on an African belief that there are three states of being: living, dead but remembered by the living, and no longer remembered.
People arrive in the City of Remembered Dead in some confusion but settle down into a different life. No one seems to need to work there although some do anyway. There's a lot of cafe sitting and coffee drinking. Life is real, with relationships sometimes extending from the old life, and sometimes with new relationships starting up.
But the plague is also throwing this world into confusion. The City is filling up with the new dead and long time residents are disappearing.
And then it begins to empty out and we realize that Laura is the last person left on earth.
The still remembered dead start to figure things out but there is nothing they can do. They even figure out that it is Laura that is holding them in place and that Laura is in trouble.
I don't want to give to much away -- but it doesn't exactly have a happy ending.
Its a book that makes you think in a humanistic spiritual way. Its really about what is lost when a person dies.
We tend to think of the world moving on after we die and we get some comfort from that. This story turns that on its head and points out, not that the world goes on without us, but that in some ways it doesn't. Its dizzying the way it makes you aware of the multiple connections we each carry around inside our memories.
When I finished this novel I didn't feel like crying but I had to sit and be quiet for a while. I let the story rumble around in my head and thought about it for days.