If you’re a short-story lover — as I am — you’ll be impressed with Nagamatsu’s meticulous craft. If you crave sustained character and plot arcs, well, you’ll have to settle for admiring the well-honed prose, poignant meditations and unique concepts. Hardly small pleasures ... The reader might best approach the book like a melancholy Black Mirror season ... This is a lovely though bleak book. Humanity has long turned to humor in our darkest moments, but levity feels absent even in a chapter narrated by a stand-up comedian. That said, the somber tone unifies the disparate characters and story lines ... a welcome addition to a growing trend of what we might call the 'speculative epic': genre-bending novels that use a wide aperture to tackle large issues like climate change while jumping between characters, timelines and even narrative modes ... Nagamatsu squarely hits both the 'literary' and 'science fiction' targets, offering psychological insights in lyrical prose while seriously exploring speculative conceits ... a book of sorrow for the destruction we’re bringing on ourselves. Yet the novel reminds us there’s still hope in human connections, despite our sadness.
Though it includes elements of sci-fi, fantasy and speculative fiction, the book hits close to home because of its parallels to our current struggles in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic ... Nagamatsu deftly explores 'the many ways we are changed by loss,' and his stories offer an intimate portrait of grief and mourning ... Through his characters and their unique attitudes toward death, the author shows us how interconnected we are, reminding us that loss, no matter how personal, is still universal. This is a real strength in the book, and it serves as a reminder that over these past two years, although each of us has had our own experience of COVID-19, we are all connected ... That Asians and Asian Americans are centered in this novel is another strength ... readers should know that there is a lot of death in these pages, especially of children, and the horrors the book suggests a pandemic can bring may hit close to home. Also, the tone can be relentlessly bleak and disturbing and might prove too emotionally taxing for some ... But despite its heavy doses of tragedy and graphic depictions of death, there is in this novel a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit and glimmers of hope. It offers us a glimpse of how we might navigate the future despite our collective trauma, how compassion for each other and caring for our communities can see us through.
Written in the years immediately before Covid-19, How High We Go in the Dark seems unnervingly prescient ... It is entirely possible that certain phrases and scenarios have been tweaked and highlighted during an editing process that will have taken place during lockdown. Yet the overall mood and tone of Nagamatsu’s fictional future is all the more affecting for being so much in sympathy with our lived present. The fact that he steers clear of the sensationalist and overfamiliar tropes of generic apocalypse, opting, instead, for a more subtle and unerringly humane response, gives the book both authority and pathos ... There is an argument that a novel constructed from what are, effectively, individual short stories will lack overall narrative focus. There is an equal and opposite argument that what might be lost in terms of a unified story arc is more than adequately compensated for by the rich, complex labyrinth of possibilities that this more exploratory approach allows. Nagamatsu’s skill lies not only in his evocative imagining of alternative realities, but also in how he builds bridges between them. What starts as a series of snapshots is assembled into a glimmering montage of interconnectedness ... Like a Polaroid photograph, How High We Go in the Dark takes time to show its true colours. When they finally appear, the effect is all the more dazzling ... How High We Go in the Dark is a truly genre-transcending work in which sense of wonder and literary acumen are given boundless opportunity to shine.