"How High We Go in the Dark" | Reviewed by Pat Sainz
In 2030, a team of anthropologists in the Arctic discovered the preserved body of a Neanderthal girl, unearthed due to oceanic ice melts. The anthropologists identify a virus in her cells. They quarantine, but none survive. The melting waters carry the virus first to Siberia, and then throughout the world. So begins the captivating science-fiction novel, “How High We Go in The Dark,” by Sequoia Nagamatsu.
This devastating virus causes cells to migrate: brain cells migrate to the liver, lung cells to the heart, etc. Eventually, scientists find some success saving patients by transplanting animal organs into humans to quell the growths. (Ironically, a pig’s heart was transplanted into a human heart this month as a last chance effort to save a patient with heart failure).
A vaccine, provided mysteriously in a vial by an anonymous source years after the virus has continued to wreak havoc, helps quell the spread of the plague. It also awakens patients who were put into comas while waiting for a cure to be found.
Different, compelling characters are introduced in each chapter. How the characters are affected by the virus, and how their way of living changes dramatically during the plague years is described through their narratives. Connections between the characters are made as the years and the novel progress.
Events in this novel echo current concerns: climate change has made most animals extinct; coastal regions are underwater, and alternately, heat and cold are ruining the planet. People who have survived the plague are fearful of contact with others, and they have lost their ability to communicate outside of virtual reality.
As grim as this novel sounds, many instances of love, hope, and resiliency are expressed through the characters’ responses to the plague. Humans find ways to live in, and even repair, the ruination of the world.
The author of “How High We Go In The Dark” was far into revision with his publisher when COVID-19 struck. Nagamatsu wasn't sure his book could be published although it was conceived as science fiction. It remains as such, but there is enough realism in his writing to give one pause.