Someone builds a full-scale replica of Manhattan in Puget Sound. A mysterious organization plots to use humanity's brightest minds to shape the future. And in the distant future, humanity rebuilds after the apocalypse. Ryan Boudinot's next novel sounds trippily awesome.
According to Publishers Marketplace, Boudinot, author of the novel Misconception and the story collection The Littlest Hitler, named PW Book of the Year, just sold his second novel, Blueprints Of The Afterlife to Grove/Atlantic. Here's the plot description that PM ran:
[The novel is] set in a full-size replica of Manhattan under construction in Puget Sound that alternates between a richly imagined future in which the apocalypse is a distant, hazy memory, and a present in which a man recounts his search for a secret organization bent on harnessing the brightest minds to control human destiny and life on earth.
This was one of the most intriguing, demented plot descriptions for a novel we've come across in ages, so we had to ask Boudinot a few questions.
I'm fascinated with the idea of building a full-scale replica of Manhattan in Puget Sound. It sort of reminds me of Synecdoche, NY. Where did you come up with this idea?
Every ninth grader in Washington state learns that the original name for Seattle was "New York Alki." "Alki" is Chinook for "by and by." In other words, early settlers wanted to declare that someday this muddy place was going to be as great as New York City. In college I ended up being friends with a lot of people from Bainbridge Island, including my future wife. Whenever you ask someone from Bainbridge how big it is, they usually say it's about the same size as Manhattan. So I put those two ideas together and decided to bring Manhattan to Puget Sound.
I was well into the novel when I learned about Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York. I sort of threw up my hands and thought, great, now everyone's going to think I copied Kaufman. I've watched that film four times and love it more every time. I love everything he does. And he's doing something different with his replication of New York City in Synecdoche than I'm doing with mine.
How does this come to happen in the book? Is this replica empty, or do a whole other community of New Yorkers come to live there?
I want to leave this mysterious, but yes, people move there.
Does combining a conspiracy story in the present with a post-apocalyptic future allow you to do the post-apocalyptic novel in a different way than, say, The Road? Is this the kind of apocalypse where there's no hope, or the type where people are rebuilding and reconstructing civilization?
I grew up in love with apocalyptic books and films, most importantly Stephen King's The Stand and the Mad Max trilogy, and I've always thought that it would be fun to write a post-post-apocalyptic story. Something in which the cataclysmic events are in the distant past, problems like global warming have been fixed, and humanity is ostensibly back to "normal." As it plays out in Blueprints, the parts that take place in the present all lead to a point when the apocalyptic era just gets underway. The parts that take place in the future all concern people living in the aftermath of what they call the Age of Fucked Up Shit. No one can really agree on just what happened during the FUS, only that it was world-altering. There are all sorts of ridiculous theories about it, like that it involved marauding, sentient glaciers. So the apocalypse itself operates as a sort of negative space within the book, its nature never fully revealed.
This book sounds a bit like Cloud Atlas, or maybe Dorothy Lessing's Martha Quest series. What are your literary science fiction influences?
I loved Cloud Atlas, and also The Road — both the book and movie. I did keep referring to certain works to inform Blueprints. A big one was the novels of Haruki Murakami, not so much in terms of theme but in how concrete and fantastical elements peacefully coexist. I also looked to the artwork of Chiho Aoshima — I wanted to verbally convey something similar to what she does visually. A film that inspired me a lot during the first draft was Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain. Oh my god. Thomas Pynchon has always been important to me. Mostly I felt like I had been so buttoned-up writing Misconception, so conscientious and economical, that I wanted to completely cut loose with this one. I wanted to write something crazy, ambitious, big, and fun.