The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier


Science Fiction

The brief history of the dead The Brief History of the DeadKevin Brockmeier; Vintage Books 2007WorldCat

Laura Byrd is a scientist who appears to be stranded at a research station in Antartica. Their radio antenna broke and they lost communication with the main post. Emergency procedures should have had someone checking on them after a few days of no contact. Finally, the two scientists with her head off to the main post to get help. This is Laura’s story.

Luka Sims is dead. Now he prints a newspaper for the other dead people in the city. People come to the city after they die. Then, eventually, they disappear. No one is sure why, although there are theories. This is the city’s story. It seems that the city’s story and Laura’s story are intertwined.

The scientists have heard a few things about a virus spreading rapidly throughout the world. The virus seems to have a 100% fatality rate. How many people are affected? What antidote has been found? When will someone come rescue them? After Laura has been alone so long the supplies are getting low, she decides it is time for her to cross Antartica to the main post and find out what is happening.

The dead are arriving in the city in high numbers. As more arrive, more and more disappear. Those who arrive talk about the blinking illness. The virus’ first symptom is rapid blinking. Death occurs within hours after the symptoms appear.

Although this afterlife story doesn’t match my beliefs, I found Brockmeier’s story fascinating. The premise behind the city is intriguing. The book starts with a quote by James Loewen about some African societies’ beliefs of death and the afterlife. That quote sets up the book. The book is written so all the odd numbered chapters portray the city and the even numbered chapters relate Laura’s story. The book starts with different city residents’ recounting of their death and arrival in the city.

The scenes in Antartica are described well. I could feel the cold and see the desolation as well as feel Laura’s aloneness. The city is described but was always a bit shadowy to me. I listened to this book first, then borrowed a hardcopy of the book to check out things I may have missed. It helped solidify the ending for me. Remember, this is fiction. Whatever your religious views are, this book is a good story.

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