Bibliophile | ‘How High We Go In The Dark’ explores resilience in a new world

How High We Go In The Dark
by Sequoia Nagamatsu
Bloomsbury Publishing

In 2031, melting ice in Siberian exposes extinct beasts and even the thirty thousand year old remains of a young girl. When one of the archaeologists at the remote dig dies of a mystery illness, it is found that the team has reanimated some dormant viruses and bacteria in the melting permafrost.

At first, it was felt that the government officials had been watching too many movies but the Arctic Plague eventually arrives in America and begins killing the young and the weak. Nobody knows what is going on but tiny body bags are lining the streets for collection to be studied and burned.

Fairly soon, the plague ward at the hospital is overflowing into trailers in car parks and aircraft hangers. Then there are reports of the illness in Russia and Asia. As the plague circulates around the world, life has to adapt to dealing with this destructive force as well as rising sea levels.

This speculative novel was actually written by the Hawaiian-Japanese-American author before the nightmares of our current global pandemic unfolded. While initial scenarios are scarily familiar to current times, Nagamatsu uses a diverse range of interlinking characters to show how humanity could possibly invent new ways of coping with a disastrous pandemic.

There is a fun park for terminal children called the City of Laughter with a heart-stopping roller coaster. This is where Skip meets Dorrie and her son Fitch. Fitch’s scientist father is trying to save his son by growing organs using genetically modified pigs, and this has unexpected and moving consequences.

With crematoriums struggling to keep up with demand, multi-storey apartments have been set up for families to spend time with the deceased and bereavement counsellors. Plastic robodogs hold memories of the deceased but when they begin to malfunction, the grieving starts all over again.

Six years after the plague had struck, scientists are struggling to keep track of the virus and the mutations, and some people are even planning on escaping earth in space ships. With bodies suspended in cryo-gel, a ship blasts off from the Kennedy Space Centre in search of a safe haven.

Each person’s journey of resilience is fascinating as the familiar present becomes the unfamiliar future filled with wild possibilities for survival. There is even a young man in a plague ward who has a surreal journey to a place of memories.

Lezly Herbert

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