It’s not a spoiler to say that the Carls are aliens, and that this is a First Contact story. Green’s take on the genre is original and interesting. The Carls are essentially a blank canvas onto which that the characters in the story project their views of otherness. April May sees them as benevolent, seeking to unite humanity through collective effort. However, a conservative political pundit called Peter Petrawicki sees them as a threat, and rallies his supporters against them. Social media becomes a battleground between these two opposing views, and it quickly turns nasty. It’s a demonstration of how easily a new and unknown situation can devolve into toxicity thanks to how easily everyone can broadcast their thoughts online. I also found it refreshing to have an alien invasion narrative where it’s the humans seeking to spread division and fear that are the antagonists, rather than the aliens.
Green is not only targeting conservatives, though. April May as a character comes under just as much, if not more scrutiny. After becoming internet famous, she makes the decision to turn herself into a brand to better bring people together in support of the Carls. Green is clearly drawing from some of his own experience here, having been an online celebrity for years along with his brother John. He spares nothing in his depiction of the bitter side of internet fame, as well as the ways it can be used for good. April May essentially creates a completely different version of herself to present to the world, hollowing her real self out in the process. The attention she gets becomes an addiction that she feeds by further compromising her identity in the name of expanding her brand. Her self-destructive tendencies are exacerbated by the internet, and she makes selfish and poor decisions in the course of trying to do the right thing. At times, the book is hard to read because of the extent to which she lets her negative tendencies get the better of her.
Fortunately, Green lightens all of this with jokes and cool sci-fi ideas, and the various different elements come together to make an absorbing reading experience. The book is also ultimately optimistic about humanity. April’s belief that people can come together on a wide scale and achieve amazing things is what drives the book forwards, and it’s clear that that’s the message Green wants the reader to take, without shying away from the ways in which we fail. He’s since written a sequel, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavour, that concludes the story of the Carls, and I was left with the desire to read it as soon as possible. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing is remarkable indeed.
Review by Charlie Alcock