An Absolutely Remarkable Thing

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An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
The cover of "An Absolutely Remarkable Thing" by Hank Green.png
AuthorHank Green
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreSpeculative fiction
PublishedSeptember 25, 2018 (Dutton Books)

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is a novel by Hank Green. It was published on September 25, 2018, and is Green's debut novel.[1] Announced on September 19, 2017, the novel is the first of a two-book deal.[2]

Protagonist April May discovers a large robot sculpture in Midtown Manhattan. She and her friend Andy Skampt decide to film it and post the video online, which goes viral and makes April an overnight celebrity. All over the world, identical structures—known as "Carls"—have appeared in major cities at the exact same time.

Plot summary[edit]

April May, a 23-year-old art-school graduate working in New York City, discovers a 10-foot-tall statue on the sidewalk. She invites her friend Andy Skampt to join her and film the statue, trying to get internet fame. April interviews the statue, which she calls Carl, and Andy uploads the video to YouTube. It turns out that there are 64 Carls distributed in cities across the globe, which have miraculously appeared at once.

Miranda Beckwith, a UC Berkeley materials science graduate student, and April, who becomes something of a celebrity through YouTube and Twitter, discover that Carl's physical properties defy known science. The only recorded audio at that time the Carls appeared contains a faint trace of Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now". April discovers the code "IAMU" after fixing a series of typos in the Wikipedia article about that song.

April gives several television interviews as her fame starts to rise. Miranda tells April that the possibly extraterrestrial Carls are requesting the elements iodine (I), americium (Am), and uranium (U). April and Andy sign with the publicity agent Jennifer Putnam, who gives April her assistant, Robin. After April touches Hollywood Carl with iodine and americium, Hollywood Carl's right hand pops off and scampers away, which Andy films. It turns out that the right hands of all the other Carls have spontaneously disappeared at the same time.

April falls asleep and has a specific Dream for the first time. Standing in the Dream lobby, she talks to a robot receptionist, who asks for a passcode, and then she wakes up. Back in New York City, April breaks up with her roommate and girlfriend Maya and moves into a new apartment on the block overlooking New York Carl. April has the Dream again: she enters a room behind reception and solves a puzzle, getting a passcode that she gives the receptionist. She wakes up, and a song that had previously been stuck in her head now has words to it, which her friends later realize—as they discover that the Dream is contagious—correspond to a hexadecimal string.

Several governments restrict access to Carls. People start to discover that the Dream contains a sprawling city with buildings of wildly varying architectural styles. People begin compiling a database of solved "sequences" from the Dream—each building contains a puzzle that can be solved to receive a hex string from the receptionist. April, who becomes a leading voice about Carl, gets a call from the president, who asks that April not act unilaterally. The president gives a speech in which she says that Carls appear not to be a threat and seem to be suggesting that all people to work together to solve the sequences.

April is interviewed on one news show alongside the conservative pundit Peter Petrawicki, who has written an already bestselling 20-page book called Invaded arguing that the Carls, representing a foreign invader, could be dangerous. For the following months, April cultivates a friendly persona, and writes her own book, saying that people should use the social internet in a positive way to work together at solving the sequences, some of which require specific knowledge and collaboration.

It turns out that the hexadecimal codes—there are 4,096 to discover—can be organized to make a vector image. April finds that Maya, using the username "ThePurrletarian", has solved several of the Dream sequences. April walks to the outskirts of the city in the Dream and sees a plane fly overhead. April also finances the development of the Som, an online tool which centralizes Dream-sequence solving. It turns out that the plane, a Boeing 767, appears only in April's Dream, but that remains secret. In the meantime, April finds herself slowly being consumed by her newfound fame. She continues to debate Petrawicki, accidentally giving credibility to him and his Defender movement.

On July 13, Defenders carry out coordinated terrorist attacks against Carls in four major cities, killing over 800 people. That night, an assassination attempt is made on April, though Carl’s severed hand blocks the bullet. April keeps the attack secret. In response, she and Andy film a video next to the New York Carl in solidarity with the world after the July 13 attacks. However, in another murder attempt, a man stabs April in the back with a knife, but promptly dies and turns into grape jelly. The president visits April at a hospital and asks for the video footage of the attack. April complies and reveals that her Dream contains the unique 767 sequence.

April keeps trying to solve the 767 sequence, which would complete the vector image. After she discloses to the public that the 767 sequence exists, Robin tells her that the Defenders have solved it. Miranda gives April the apparent solution: an nearby address and the words, "Only April. No One Else." In her haste to beat the Defenders to the solution, April rushes to the address against Maya’s advice, where she finds a large empty warehouse. She livestreams herself on Facebook, expecting to communicate with Carl. The warehouse is a trap, however, the product of tampered hex numbers.

April is locked in the warehouse, which becomes engulfed in flames. Facebook commenters realize that the lyrics to a song playing in the warehouse—David Bowie's "Golden Years"—have been changed to say, "In every town around the world Jesus must be touched with gold". In an epiphany, April tells her hundred-million-strong worldwide audience to touch a sample of gold to each of the Carls simultaneously. The police tell April to break a window and jump out, but after she does so, a burning wooden beam falls on, crushes, and presumably kills April.

April, suddenly transported into the Dream, talks to Carl and learns that Carl indeed arrived to observe humanity. In addition, Carl specifically picked April to make First Contact.

In the real world, all 64 Carls worldwide launch themselves into the air and disappear. In the next few weeks, the world reacts to April’s death, and The Defenders are completely discredited for their actions. Eventually, the world returns to normal. Months later, Andy hears a knock at his door and receives a text from April saying, "Knock Knock"?

Publication history[edit]

Green had been working on An Absolutely Remarkable Thing since approximately 2012; he had initially planned it to be a graphic novel, but later decided to turn it into a novel. While writing, he drew inspiration from Dune and Michael Connelly's series starring the character Harry Bosch.[3] Green describes the book as a work of speculative fiction.[4] A sequel to the book is planned.[5]

Reception[edit]

The book received generally positive reviews. The review aggregator website Book Marks reported that 25% of critics gave the book a "rave" review, whilst 50% of the critics expressed "positive" impressions, based on a sample of eight reviews.[6] Reviews have focussed on the book's humor as well as the deep knowledge of online community and internet fame that Green weaves into the story. The Washington Post calls it a "thrilling journey," a blend of "humor, mystery, and science fiction" that "takes a hard look at the power of fame and our willingness to separate a person from the brand."[7] Alexis Gunderson of Paste writes, "It’s not in the nature of a sci-fi comedy blockbuster to shift boulders in your soul. But with his debut novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, Hank Green pulls it off."[8] Gunderson continues, describing the novel as "deeply human" and challenging, noting that "there is, in the end, a gigantic mystery that Green leaves wide open."[8] This ending, Publishers Weekly warns, may leave some unsatisfied, and they suggest it may be setting up a sequel.[9]

However, Entertainment Weekly gave it a C and noted, "the writing is lacking," along with, "dialogue that verges on ghastly."[10].

Easter Egg[edit]

The endpaper image contains a hidden message that was alluded to, but not explained in, a video on the vlogbrothers channel. The easter egg is that the tops of the more lightly colored buildings spell out "KNOWING SOMETHING IS A BAD IDEA DOES NOT ALWAYS DECREASE THE ODDS THAT YOU WILL DO IT".

On the front cover of the book, the robot (or “Carl”) located under the first e in green contains a message. This message is written in small script and says “how long will we last?”

The paramedics who appear later in the novel are named "Jessica," and "Mitty," the same names as those Hank thanks in the acknowledgements section: "Thanks to Jessica and Mitty for DM-ing with me about ambulances and first responder protocols."

Translations[edit]

  • Dutch, transl. Karin de Haas: Een Zeer Opmerkelijk Verschijnsel (2018)
  • German, transl. Katarina Ganslandt: Ein Wirklich Erstaunliches Ding (2019)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Green, Hank. "I Wrote a Book. I WROTE A BOOK. How did I do that?". YouTube. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  2. ^ Schaub, Michael. "Hank Green, YouTube star and brother of John Green, will publish his first novel". LATimes.com. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  3. ^ Alter, Alexandra (19 September 2017). "YouTube Star Hank Green Will Publish His First Novel Next Year". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  4. ^ Green, Hank (August 8, 2018). "Pissed Off About Genres". YouTube. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
  5. ^ Green, Hank. "My Novel: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is available for pre-order. Let me know if you have any questions I might be able to answer!". /r/nerdfighters. Reddit. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  6. ^ "An Absolutely Remarkable Thing". Book Marks. Retrieved November 3, 2018.
  7. ^ Ray, Lincee (2018-09-24). "Review: Novel by Hank Green Is Out of This World." The Washington Post. Retrieved from WashingtonPost.com, 2018-09-29.
  8. ^ a b Gunderson, Alexis (2018-09-25). "An Absolutely Remarkable Thing Establishes Hank Green as One of the Most Humane Voices of Our Time." Paste.com. Retrieved 2018-09-29.
  9. ^ "Fiction Book Review: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing" (2018-07-09). Publishers Weekly. Retrieved from PublishersWeekly.com, 2018-09-29.
  10. ^ Canfield, Mark (2018-09-21). "Hank Green's novel An Absolutely Remarkable Thing disappoints: EW review." EW.com. Retrieved 2018-11-09.