Art critique

Hank Green’s sci-fi duology strikes a balance between social criticism and scientific exploration – The Lafayette


Hank Green’s recent two-book series, “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” and “A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor,” provide the perfect exploration of the sci-fi genre for inexperienced or anxious readers.

“An Absolutely Remarkable Thing,” released in 2018, tells the story of April May, 23, who stumbles upon a huge robot statue – which she affectionately names Carl – in the middle of the night. When similar statues appear across the world, April’s video of the strange event goes viral. April and her friends are suddenly thrown into the global limelight as they become more and more entangled in the inexplicable events surrounding the Carls.

“A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor,” the follow-up to Green 2020, continues the story of April and his friends as the fallout from the statues’ appearances takes them across the world.

April is an interesting and frustrating protagonist. She has personality flaws and makes decisions based on them. She loves her friends and hurts them at the same time. In creating April, Green is doing what many writers struggle to do: create a female protagonist flawed enough to be believable and endearing enough to make up for it.

The rest of the characters are just as complex. They struggle with the balance between wanting to accomplish things for themselves and working effectively as a team while walking the fine line between making choices that are best for their relationships or those that potentially save the human race.

As a reader who seldom has the patience for the laborious world-building that many sci-fi and fantasy works require, I have found that this duology balances dense scientific terminology with rich characterization and quick plot. The series takes place in our world exactly as we know it today, the only difference being the arrival of Carl.

The only place where this balance begins to falter is at the end of the second book, when the full nature of the forces behind the arrival begins to unfold. It evolves into a pretty complex scientific and philosophical explanation, but at this point I was way too invested in the plot and the characters to remember.

Both books are both an exploration of scientific concepts and a critique of social media and the political polarization it can facilitate. Immediately after the video went viral, the company split into two opposing camps: those who believe the Carls are good and those who believe they are bad. The differences between the groups are magnified. Both the protagonist and the antagonist are victims of the tendency to dehumanize the other side. The books also discuss the pitfalls of overnight internet fame, and devote a significant portion of the book to examining how this affects friendships, relationships, and characters’ sanity.

If you prefer character-driven novels, start with “One Absolutely Notable Thing” and continue with “A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor” for an enjoyable dive into the world of science fiction.