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The Scrivener: Forty Tales Of The Afterlives

...You thumb your way through very short chapters with titles such as Descent of Species, Spirals, The Unnatural, Adhesion, and Reins. Wait, wait, what exactly is this little book about?...

Brian Barratt reviews a book which boldly imagines possible afterlives.

After reading Brian's review you will undoubtedly be motivated to rush out and buy Sum, whatever it costs. (Please note, this is a review of the UK edition.)

To read more of Brian's vividly entertaining columns please click on
http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_scrivener/

And do visit his Web site The Brain Rummager
www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/

Light seems to shine through a gap in the illusory doorway on the cover of this book. You unfold the cover, and discover the secret. Then you notice that light shines in the other direction through the same gap.

You thumb your way through very short chapters with titles such as Descent of Species, Spirals, The Unnatural, Adhesion, and Reins. Wait, wait, what exactly is this little book about? The title is Sum. OK, so that means the whole amount, the total quantity in a group. Aha, yes, but it is also a Latin verb meaning 'I am'.

Does the sub-title explain what this dual meaning implies? Forty tales from the afterlives. Hmm, no, not exactly. But the book has had some excellent reviews... terrific... delightful... thought-provoking... strange and dazzling... stunningly original. So far, so good. Let's start another review.

It's very difficult to do. My copy told me that it did not wish to be reviewed. Its words were quite clear when it read my mind. Between its lines, it grinned at me. Each new section pushed me into places I've never previously visited. In black print on white pages it painted pictures with colour I just didn't know existed.

What can I say? David Eagleman, a neuroscientist with a remarkable gift for words and philosophy, has brought together a varied and fascinating set of lateral insights which, if you are one of those logical people who cannot break away from what you assume is 'true', won't make sense. Consider, for example:

...The Creators watch none of the details as our lives unfold.

...[God] had originally submitted to peer pressure when She structured Her universe like all the other gods had.

...God is gone. The rumor is that He stepped out long ago, saying He'd be right back.

...When you arrive in the afterlife, you find that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley sits on a throne.

...When you arrive in the afterlife, the Technicians inform you of the great opportunity awaiting you: make any single change you want, and then live life again.

...When you arrive in the afterlife you are invited to sit in a vast comfortable lounge with leather furniture and banks of television monitors.

These are mere snippets from the 110 pages. Quality that challenges takes precedence over quantity that muffles. Just dig into it, be puzzled by it, agree with it, fight against it, revel in it, or laugh out loud at some of the 40 unconnected visions of worlds as we do not know them. Another light shines. Your little grey cells will never feel the same again.

David Eagleman, Sum: Forty tales from the afterlives. Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, New York, 2009.
Canongate Books, Edinburgh, 2009. ISBN 978 1 84767 427 2.

Copyright Brian Barratt 2010

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