Equal parts sci-fi and social commentary, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green, the highly anticipated sequel to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, explores topics increasingly relevant in our COVID-19 world, like who should hold power, is the Internet a true force of equalization, and how do we save ourselves from complete isolation?
April May and the Carls disappeared from the face of the earth months ago, and the world still can’t make sense of life without them. Scores of people who were addicted to the Dream, including Maya, are feeling the pain of withdrawals and continue to talk about it on the Som, the social media service created specifically for people with the Dream. Andy has taken over the space April left, getting rich from appearing on TV and podcasts and at conferences, as the world looks to him as a leader. Both Andy and Maya are convinced that April is still alive, but neither of them have heard from her. In addition to all this, a new tech company called Altus, started by April’s arch-nemesis, Peter Petrawicki, is on the rise, offering to fill the hole the Dream left behind. April’s friends, especially Miranda, are nervous, however, that Altus is not as benevolent as it seems.
When Miranda is offered a job at Altus, she knows she can’t refuse. Her curiosity demands that she find out what they’re doing down there, no matter how dangerous it may be. Meanwhile, Maya has been hearing all kinds of weird stories that don’t add up: dead dolphins in the Delaware River, lab break-ins, and entire regions suddenly experiencing internet outages. She decides to follow these clues, hoping that they’ll lead her to April. Andy receives a book in the mail that predicts the future and advises him on how to invest his money. As the gang learn more and more about Altus, a technology leaps and bounds above anything we have today, it becomes clear that it’s not just dangerous—it can alter human society permanently.
Now, I’m someone who’s never been a sci-fi fan. I’m terrible with science and technology—most days I can’t even get my TV to work. Thankfully, the author breaks down complex technology in such a way that it’s not “dumbed down,” but simple enough that even non-science people like myself can understand it (mostly). I was fascinated, because even though we don’t have any of this technology now, I could see us having it in the near future, and seeing it all play out is very sobering.
I’ve been a massive Hank Green fan for years, even before he wrote books, partially because of how incredibly insightful he is. What this novel explores, primarily, is how we find connection and purpose in our increasingly isolated world. Andy says it beautifully when he remarks, “many people are losing their solid grip on how they fit in to the world.” This book shows all the places where people search for belonging and acceptance—religion, politics, social media—and how these places ultimately lead to such division. People no longer feel like they matter. People no longer know what kinds of stories to tell themselves. So many struggle just to wake up in the morning. I know that feeling all too well.
This book also explores ideas of power. On the surface, it seems like new technologies would raise up the disadvantaged. After all, the internet gives us knowledge, and knowledge is supposed to be power. However, very often, that’s not how the story goes. Instead, new technologies give more money and power to those who already have plenty of money and power, while the poor keep getting poorer. For me, it really made me pause and think about how quickly our world is developing without stopping to think about the effects.
The characters also deserve mentioning. The four main characters, and narrators, of this book are deeply flawed human beings. They can be terribly self-centered, but they are also smart, funny, and insightful, and I think it is the combination of all of these things that make them so real. I have a particular fondness for Andy, because I relate to how lost he feels in the beginning of the story and watching his journey from a decent person to a terrible person, and back to a decent one, kept me so engaged in the story.
Ultimately, this book poses some powerful questions, and it proposes some answers, but you’ll have to read it and see these answers for yourself! I can’t say I was blown away, because I know everything Hank makes is gold, but I loved every minute of it, and I can tell I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time.