A History of What Comes Next (Book Review)
by Sylvain Neuvel
Science Fiction, 2021
4 / 5 Stars
I listened to this book via audiobook on Audible and the narration was fantastic. The different voices for each character were engaging and the actors did a great job with the dialogue and giving the characters personality. I felt like I was listening to a play rather than a book, which I really loved. To be honest, I don’t think I would have enjoyed this as much if I’d read it.
A treat for history buffs who also love sci-fi, this novel is a fun, exciting, and at times comic/at times tragic “what if” story. The story itself is a reinterpretation of real history, in that it modifies real places, events, and people so that they were influenced by the fictional characters Sarah and Mia, whom we quickly learn are not entirely human. They themselves aren’t sure what they are, as when they get pregnant they produce a genetic copy of themselves. Mia is the one-hundredth of these women, and also the one-hundredth to be on the lookout for a mysterious man or entity they call The Tracker.
I really enjoyed it. I love historical retellings, so I was very into the concept behind this novel. I understood what the author was trying to do and it worked for me. I’m also a big nerd when it comes to people doing research for their novels, and it was clear Neuvel put a lot of thought into this one. The little flashbacks of the Kibsu in different centuries were a delight. While not laugh-out-loud funny, the novel had a satirical streak that I was on board with.
Unlike other reviews, I didn’t mind the rather meandering plot. It kind of shows how real life stories don’t follow a linear plotline, that most of the big events are due to small decisions or minute changes. That being said, there were parts that dragged a little and I had some questions as to how Mia and Sarah, if they have no connections, are able to get the data/jobs they need. I know there’s a part where Sarah describes their wealth and extortion methods, but it felt like a thrown-in explanation after the fact.
I really loved how Mia and Sarah are almost as in the dark about their purpose as the reader is - this made their choices understandable and relatable. I also liked the relationship between Mia and Billie - it seemed realistic for the time period, but I was wondering whether Mia told Korolyov about her or not. In this, and some other things, Mia and Sarah kept us at a distance. While we do see into their heads, it’s more during the action scenes than during downtime. Perhaps this is because they are alien and inscrutable, but I wanted more introspection than the book gave me.
Overall, it was an engaging and fun look at our history and … maybe … what comes next?
I’m not sure if the print or ebook has this, but the audiobook has a section at the end where the author talks about the research he did for the novel and the real histories between some of the people in the book. I'm usually not into back matter like that, but both this and the interview with the mother-daughter voice actors were really engaging.