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Originally published Monday, February 20, 2012 at 5:00 AM

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Book review

'Blueprints of the Afterlife': death glaciers and other disturbances

Seattle author Ryan Boudinot's provocative new novel "Blueprints of the Afterlife" depicts a post-apocalyptic America where nothing is quite what it seems. Boudinot reads at 3 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island.

Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

Ryan Boudinot

The author of "Blueprints of the Afterlife" will read at 3 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island; free (206-842-5332 or
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'Blueprints of the Afterlife'

by Ryan Boudinot

Black Cat, 416 pp., $14

The supposed Mayan prediction that the end of the world will happen in 2012, zombie chic and dystopian novels all add up to a strange moment of cultural obsession in America, a fascination evident in Seattle author Ryan Boudinot's sprawling, messy and provocative new novel, "Blueprints of the Afterlife."

Boudinot's interwoven stories, primarily set in the Pacific Northwest, depict a post-apocalyptic America in which reality seems blurred, not just for the characters but for the reader, and where technology and biology seem to have merged.

"Blueprints" is anything but sullen. Boudinot's humor gives the story lift.

The end begins when Malaspina, the "Roving Glacier of Death," breaks from the mainland in Alaska and charts a path of destruction across North America, chewing up and burying whole cities while thousands of dislocated polar bears roar from its surface. In a Hollywood flourish, the huge wall of ice makes it all the way to Los Angeles, where emergency crews douse it with water, reducing the beastly mass to the size of an ice cube on Sunset Boulevard.

Life after this catastrophe appears to be radically transformed. But to reduce the plot of this book to a few sentences, or even to suggest there is a straightforward plot, would be a mistake.

Through Boudinot's characters, including a dishwasher named Woo-jin whose overweight foster sister sells her body as an incubator for human tissues and pharmaceuticals, we do get a sense of what the world is like after civilization as we know it falters, and hints of how humanity undermined itself and the planet. There's a psychedelic fancifulness to Boudinot's story, which is written on an epic scale while intimately exploring the changing nature of thought and experience.

Its themes, particularly the unreliability of perception and the ever-widening influence of technology on a human race in need of redemption remind me of last year's Alex Shakar novel "Luminarium." These are both big-picture novels, in which the authors offer up compelling new ideas about what it means to be human. "Blueprints" introduces us, for example, to a futuristic concept called the Bionet, "a biological version of the Internet, a monitoring system in which individual bodies would transmit information to other bodies or groups of bodies," where thoughts can be manipulated or sent as data files to external servers and where vital bodily functions and even medical treatments can be controlled remotely.

As this book and his previous novel "Misconception" show, Boudinot's imagination clearly runs deep, and it's both hard to keep up with him and hard to stop reading. Ultimately, this isn't just a story about the future, global warming, humanity gone awry or technology run amok. It is a story about matters of the heart and soul, and of the sort of connections that don't require keyboards and monitors or that vast collective consciousness we call cyberspace.

Getting to that realization takes effort, but Boudinot has laid out a pretty mind-blowing trip for anyone willing to try.

Tyrone Beason is a writer for

Pacific Northwest Magazine.

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