Finished The Brief History of the Dead

Dedman has been on my case for many moons now to read this book and I finished it today.


The dead move to a city (the city) after undergoing a crossing which has no objective standard (wandering a desert, a forest, going underwater, etc.). The dead or, more precisely, the living dead, rest in the city until those who remember them die at which point they go into a different beyond.

Good setup.

The population starts swelling as a pandemic wipes out the population: sending people into the city by the barrel-load and, given the setup, the people who remember them, into death quite quickly. Thus the city swells and then empties, with only a few hundred survivors wondering why they’re still there.

The reason is that they’re still remembered by the last person on earth who is trekking across Antarctica trying to find some contrary evidence to the inescapable conclusion: “I am the last person on Earth”.

…et La Peste

As I was reading this story I was more and more reminded of Camus’ The Plague, which contemplates how humans relate to one another as a city vanishes ( in this case, the much more pedestrian aspect of the population dying ). In Camus’ Oran we watch as the people we love vanish bubo-covered body by body. In this we have a much more mysterious Nothing that erases parts of the city ( appropriate for the generation that grew up to The Neverending Story ). In both of these scenarios the intractable end can’t be avoided, and against Camus l’Absurde, the characters find the Existentialists resolve to be good, to live a jubilant life ( or afterlife ), even when there’s no reason to it.

Some of the Amazon reviews seem to forget there is a beauty in Brockmeier’s style of delivery, a calm sort of collected sobriety with a Romantic nostalgia that was what I liked best of the sci-fi / horror / Gothic romance The Time Traveler’s Wife.

The Last Man

I’d also say that there’s a certain similitude between this book and Vonnegut’s amazing Cat’s Cradle. You can read more about that after the jump, I don’t want to spoil your read of Cat’s Cradle.

In all, a fine book, but I’d suggest you wait for paperback or a library rental. At 250 pages without much re-read value you might be best saving a few dollars.

In Cat’s Cradle we find the last surviving man taking Ice-9 and killing himself with it, effectively a big middle finger to God ( look what your faulty creation did, so there! ), whereas Laura in “History…” simply expires from exposure and undergoes a 2001-esque psychedelia sequence and is never heard from again.

Both face the absurd, both face the fact that humanity can’t be helped and loneliness will be their only friend until they expire. Brockmeier seems to assert that simple suicide, or an insufficiently vigorous fight against the absurd is unconscionable ( regrettably this didn’t seem to be clearly explained, a major flaw in Laura’s characterization, I suspect that Brockmeier came to the conclusion that there is no reason for her to continue, but that would have messed up his plot ). Vonnegut seems to believe that it’s the one last assertion of “my life will be on my terms, including when I end it.”