Book: How High We Go in the Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

How High We Go In the Dark
By Sequoia Nagamatsu
Audiobook published by Harper Audio

How High We Go In the Dark is a book about a plague that reshapes humanity for centuries. (Note, this is not about the plague we are in at the moment. Also: it is intense to read about a world reshaped by plague, while in a world pretending not to have an ongoing plague at all…)

Melting permafrost reveals the remains of ancient people, who thaw and release the Arctic Plague upon the world, a pandemic of terrifying symptoms and profound lethality. The scale and scope of the suffering it causes remakes the world in surprising ways.

If you have wondered how serious a plague would need to be for society to adjust its values around voluntarily ending life to limit suffering; to refocus the economy around the business as its core; or how the risk of humanity’s end could drive new goals for space exploration, Sequoia Nagamatsu has wondered about this more – elaborately, delicately, thoughtfully. Through a series of interconnected chapters / short stories / vignettes, we learn about the Arctic Plague through the eyes of people who discover it, die from it, spare their loved ones from dying of it, mourn their losses, try to cure it, survive it, and travel between worlds to create a future without it.

Nagamatsu’s world building is remarkable – so plausible, so human, yet so far from the particular choices we are making during our current plague. The characters have motivations that are varied, but make sense. The settings are notable in the way the characters describe how they feel when they experience them, yet are never so detailed that you require footnotes. The emotional journey of coping with global grief and hope is handled so well. The story reveals humanity adapting to this challenge in surprising ways under the worst circumstances.

I listened to the audiobook version of this from, which is brilliantly acted by a cast of about fifteen voice actors (!), whose characters are compelling. (For those of us who live in the SF Bay Area, some of the voices sound pleasantly local in our port-city, collecting-people-from-afar-and-influencing-each-other way.)

This has been my favorite book of 2023. I think of it often, and have recommended it internationally! Go read or listen to this excellent book.

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