Invisible Things by Mat Johnson
Reviewed by GGGinny
What I drank: More champagne! I had a bottle open from the move and I felt like I deserved a little after doing so much unpacking (legit, my new place looks partially lived in now)
A sharp allegorical novel about a hidden human civilization, a crucial election, and a mysterious invisible force that must not be named, by one of our most imaginative comic novelists
When sociologist Nalini Jackson joins the SS Delany for the first manned mission to Jupiter, all she wants is a career opportunity: the chance to conduct the first field study of group dynamics on long-haul cryoships. But what she discovers instead is an entire city encased in a bubble on Europa, Jupiter’s largest moon.
Even more unexpected, Nalini and the rest of the crew soon find themselves abducted and joining its captive population, forced to start new lives in a place called New Roanoke.
New Roanoke is a city riven by wealth inequality and governed by a feckless, predatory elite, its economy run on heedless consumption and income inequality. But in other ways it’s different from the cities we already know: it’s covered by an enormous dome, it’s populated by alien abductees, and it happens to be terrorized by an invisible entity so disturbing that no one even dares acknowledge its existence.
Albuquerque chauffeur Chase Eubanks is pretty darn sure aliens stole his wife. People mock him for saying that, but he doesn’t care who knows it. So when his philanthropist boss funds a top-secret rescue mission to save New Roanoke’s abductees, Chase jumps at the chance to find her. The plan: Get the astronauts out and provide the population with the tech they need to escape this alien world. The reality: Nothing is ever simple when dealing with the complex, contradictory, and contrarian impulses of everyday earthlings.
This is a madcap, surreal adventure into a Jovian mirror world, one grappling with the same polarized politics, existential crises, and mass denialism that obsess and divide our own. Will New Roanoke survive? Will we?
Drunk Overview: An exploratory mission from NASAx goes missing. It turns out those crew members were kidnapped to a human civilization living on Europa (a moon orbiting Jupiter). This splits into two plots, the life living in this place of kidnapped people, and the civilian funded attempt to get them back. Meanwhile, in this settlement, there are “invisible things” that will sometimes pick people up or whatever, and this is kept very underground by the people living there.
Drunk Thoughts: This book focused on everything I hated and nothing I liked.
- there’s a cool space exploration mission. Great! – Nope we’re going to focus on crew dynamics led by a charismatic sociopath named Bob.
- OOoooooh, there’s a settlement on an alien planet and no one there knows how it exists – it’s basically Earth but with more limitations, including the racism, sexism, and a working poor who live in a literal cavern
- There’s a rescue mission – the people get quickly mixed up in the politics of the bubble rather than doing literally anything that’s interesting.
- My big problem with this book is that I feel cheated of what I thought it was going to be. I wanted to see a civilization that was actively dealing with the fact that the thing that brought them there was unknown.
- What I got was a civilization that is basically Earth but with more problems and less of the good stuff.
- And I know this is a short book, which would make it seem better
- Expect, this book really only has one thing to say
- And I would hope a longer book would have more than one thing to say.
- I’m gonna ruin it for anyone because this book isn’t subtle. “It’s easier to fight things when you have a visual to go with it”
- Literally, that’s it
- And if you care about spoilers, please turn back.
- Because I don’t feel like doing the book the courtesy of trying not to spoil it.
- The invisible thing get vibislbe when a lot of people are looking at it and it becomes visible in literally the last page.
- And that’s basically the ending.
- That because the invisible things are visible now, there’s a hope that the world on this settlement will change.
- Which is an endlessly frustrating thing to imply at the end of a book when we’ve just lived through a pandemic where we could put faces to all of the deaths, or the endless racism (again, there are faces we can put to that), and all of these other things. From an American perspective, even something with a visual can be really hard to fight…
- If it’s not already clear, I’m gnna be honest. The plot of this is basically small-grou pinfighting makes things suck (tech nically another message, but duh…)
- I just don’t think this book had anything interesting to say. The main character (ish) is a sociologist, but doesn’t seem to actually make any new insights…
- Another main character is a guy who believes in aliens (maybe not that far-fetched) but seems to believe his realtionship with his wife who ran away multiples times before getting abducted was something worth saving (not at all)
- The side characters are: guy who shows up for like 5 minutes and actually could have gotten stuff done, asshole, asshole, asshole, dumb asshole, asshole, asshole, too smart to be useful, could be useful if he wasn’t irritating about it, and competent woman.
- I’m thinking back on it, and I’m not sure there was a single thing I enjoyed about this book.
- I’m sure the writing wasn’t bad – I didn’t really pay attention
- But this book spoiled a plot taht could have been interesting, had a main character who was so misanthropic that I couldn’t even enjoy their perspective, a whole bunch of bullshit, and (what to me was) an unsatisfying ending.
- Again, this is a short book. It’s under 300 pages. But it took me almost 6 hours to read (thank you Libby for keeping track) to give you some perspective, a 350 page romance novel generally takes me 2.5-3.5 hours to read. I COULD HAVE READ TWO ROMANCE NOVELS IN THE TIME IT TOOK ME TO FINISH THIS BOOK – WHICH WOULD HAVE BEEN A MUCH BETTER USE OF MY TIME.
- The worst part, is I saw this on a “best sci-fi books of 2022” list in the Washington Post! Which just goes to reinforce my, don’t trust major media outlets to properly judge books opinion.
- Because I’m sorry, I don’t want to read depressing shit that mirrors modern life when I’m looking for a “fun read.”
- I read to escape the depressing modern shit.
- I know this is completely unrelated, but the Goldfinch by Donna Tartt was a beautifully written piece of shit.
- Reading should be fun, not whatever this book amde it.
What it Pairs With: sewage. Raw, untreated sewage. Or fuck it, go for like Natty Light.
Rating: 2/5. This isn’t the worst book I have read, and the prose probably has something redeeming. But dear god, why take the fun out of sci-fi?