Last year I read and commented on Hank Green’s An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. I knew there’d be a sequel, but it took some time for it to come out in paperback, and it took a day of flying to give me dedicated time to finishing it. A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor picks up where the first novel left off, bringing April May back to life. It’s a story about good and evil and how humans, as flawed as we are, are nevertheless worth saving. This story takes a further sci-fi and dystopian turn than the first part, moving it more into the regular novel than the “new adult” that seems to better fit the initial book. Really only six months have passed since the first story, but the still young protagonists have aged in the way experience doles out to people who think they understand the world better than they do.
The world of A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is dystopian in the sense that corporations have too much power and can (and do) drive the direction of human development. It’s clearly a novel written after a couple years of repressive Trump rule where autocrats will do anything to keep in the public eye, even destroy their own world. It becomes Manichaean, or maybe even Zoroastrian in that the extraterrestrial entity Carl, who was the subject of the first novel, reveals that he has an evil “brother” that encourages the corporations in their efforts to rule the world. The goal of this evil intelligence is to get humanity to destroy itself as a failed experiment. There’s plenty of metaphor here since the way to get people to destroy themselves is through virtual reality.
As someone who finds quotidian reality difficult enough, I have no desire to see how well some technocrats can imitate what nature already does so well. Stepping outside with a cold November wind blowing down my collar, threatening snow and driving me back indoors I know I’m in a world not custom built for our comfort. I am one of billions of scurrying, resistant, persistent creatures doing my best to survive. I’m sure that virtual reality is an amazing experience, but so is stepping out into that November wind. Hank Green is gifted at writing compelling, conflicted characters. From his own internet platform he’s become a significant influencer, gathering the interest of even the White House. His two novels form a thoughtful set that, like the books of his brother John, make us stop and think what it is to be human.