HOW HIGH WE GO IN THE DARK [book review]

This Speculative Fiction/SF  novel by Sequoia Nagamatsu makes a powerful impact.

How can it not? It posits a world which has been hit by a Plague, unleashed upon humanity when an ancient corpse, of a 6 year old child, in revealed due to the melting of the permafrost. The unknown virus discovered in her body during scientific examination in a research lab situated in the Arctic, somehow float out into the atmosphere and the damage is done.

The fourteen intricately   interlinked stories explore humanity’s reaction to the catastrophic event.

Two of the early stories were shocking, and haunting.  City of Laughter features a theme park, dedicated to being fun! Fun! Fun!  for terminally ill children , whose final ride on a monster roller-coaster ends in euthanasia during the ride, immediately  followed by cremation. The parents spend one last, precious almost normal day with their child, and then dispatch them to a merciful finale.

And I don’t really want to go into too much detail about the  Chapter titled Elegy Hotel.    Set in a Mortuary Hotel  where bereaved families get to spend a precious final 48 hours with their embalmed loved ones …..  shudder.

Likewise, the squeamish reader would do well to avoid the Chapter titled Songs of Your Decay. However, said chapter also contains a wistful sort-of-might-have-been-almost-love story. The book offers  other love stories and inter-generational-family conflict stories. In short: slices of human life.

I enjoyed reading a novel with so many Japanese characters, written by a Japanese author, who produced a novel that wasn’t swathed in opacity as is so often the case with translated Japanese novels

Later chapters deal with lighter themes: the survival of the human race, and the finale reveals the origin of the virus.

Towards the last third of the book, the genre switched  from Speculative Fiction to  downright SF.  I thought the Spec Fic two thirds worked better than the SF section. Others will no doubt disagree.


The book is not a light read. Bleak and sobering are two words that spring to mind.  Hardly surprising, given the subject matter. But it is a thought provoking read, to put it mildly.

Did I enjoy it? Ummm …. I’m not too sure it is a book to be enjoyed, given the topic. But on the plus side I can recommend it as an unusual read, and definitely a book of its time.

I’d be interested to hear other readers’ views and reviews.


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