Monday, March 07, 2011
A Quick Word... On David Eagleman's 'Sum'
Sum: Tales From The Afterlives - David Eagleman
In the afterlife, you find that God deals in the realm of microbes. He is on the wrong spatial scale, and has no idea you exist. Or perhaps you find that the events of your life are re-played in chunks according to categorisation - you spend six full days clipping your nails, fifteen months looking for things that you've lost. Maybe your eternal rest is disrupted by the fact that the world of the afterlife only contains the people that you remember; you keep swapping cars and can no longer buy groceries because you never bothered to commit to your memory the individuals who filled these voids for you.
These options and thirty-seven more make up the various chapters of David Eagleman's Sum: Forty Tales From The Afterlives, perhaps the most exciting work of speculative fiction I've encountered in the last twelve months. A talented neuroscientist and writer, Eagleman throws away everything you think you know about the post-death experience. Instead of starting with already existing religious narratives and expanding on them, all previous superstition is cast to the wind and Eagleman postulates brand new scenarios which we might find ourselves in when the plug is pulled.
The book is written entirely in second person, but as most of the entries are only a couple of pages, it never becomes jarring. It is you who has to navigate the rocky road of your own death, and you who becomes so immersed in this gorgeously original piece of work. The book reads like an instruction manual for those who have shuffled off the mortal coil. Massive in scope, but a casual ninety pages long, it's an incredibly personal and insightful book.
Sum counts among its fans big names like Stephen Fry and Philip Pullman, and deservedly so. It shines and sparkles with wit, beautiful writing and immense imagination. More importantly, like all the best writing that deals with death, it holds strong and profound statements about life too. It is a book wholly and perfectly wonderful, and a book that can't be read in one sitting (I tried, I really did) simply because every chapter is exhausting in it's exploration of what it means to be human. If heaven is real, David Eagleman's wonderful collection of stories better be there.
For more information on Sum you can check out David's website, or download his wonderful interview (with readings) from the itunes 'Meet The Author' series.