How High We Go in the Dark
By Sequoia Nagamatsu
A collection of linked short stories dealing with the effects of an “Arctic plague” of alien origin released by melting Siberian permafrost might seem very timely in 2022. This makes it all the more remarkable that How High We Go in the Dark was mostly completed before 2020 and the outbreak of COVID.
The actual working of the plague — which causes organs to start copying the function of other organs, with predictably disastrous results — aren’t as important as its human impact. These are stories (calling it a novel seems more about marketing) that deal with the subject of grief and loss, especially as felt by parents and their children. Broader considerations also come in to play, however, as the pandemic impacts on both a personal and political level. The funerary industry, for example, becomes a major growth sector almost overnight. It turns out that mass die-offs are good for some parts of the economy.
In the face of so much death, science throws up various surrogates for lost loved ones and family members: talking pigs, robot dogs, and even plasticized corpses. Given the subject matter, Sequoia Nagamatsu has to occasionally walk a fine line to avoid falling into sentiment. That he does so is a tribute to his imaginative range and how finely he explores the psychological ramifications of the end of our world.