As a longtime science fiction reader, I have never read anything like this book. It’s quirky, frequently frustrating, and highly original. Plus, the concept of a science fiction writer writing about a science fiction writer is something you don’t read every day.
Through the science fiction writer, Karen, we meet the aliens in the story, blobs that look like jellyfish and can only be seen by her. They talk to her, telling how they are a group mind who have existed on Earth since before humankind arrived. Although they are a collective mind called All There Is, they want the writer to tell their story to the world.
Turns out Karen isn’t alone in her awareness of All There Is. She considers herself a mid-list novelist who has written serials about a TV show that sounds suspiciously like classic Star Trek. The actor who played the starship captain of that show also sees the jellyfish, but he doesn’t have as great a rapport with them as Karen does. He thinks they give him the sexual prowess he possesses to bed fangirls at conventions. Tessa, a movie star who hasn’t made a picture in years, uses the All There Is to sell her books on past lives (the jellyfish show her previous incarnations such as the pharaoh who ditched the Egyptian pantheon, a female Jesus, and the librarian who was there when the Alexandria library burned). I suspect Tessa is Shirley McClain. Karen also has these past-life memories and includes them in her book.
Other jellyfish followers are Serena, an artist with a terminal neurological disease, and Max, a director who used to be the alien sidekick in the show that sounded like Star Trek. The first half of the book is an introduction to these characters and the All There Is. The odd thing about the group mind is that there are individuals within it, and they all have names and personalities. One of the reasons they are in contact with the humans is that one of their number has died, although they are one unit, immortal, and don’t experience linear time. When they resurrect this individual, something isn’t right with her, and they fear they are losing their cohesiveness.
As all this head-jumping is going on, the author (the real one) stops the action to explain things to us poor confused readers. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where the author breaks the fourth wall to explain things. “I know you’re confused, but you’ll understand as soon as the other characters arrive. So far, we’ve met…” It’s helpful, but it totally destroys any distance between the characters and the reader.
The second half of the book is how the players come together to tell the world about the jellyfish. There’s some internal conflict (they are actors and writers), and the jellyfish are steadily unraveling. While the writer is trying to come up with an ending to the story, she’s unsure of how the jellyfish will proceed. Will they destroy the jellyfish they resurrected or the entire human race which they believe is something they cooked up in their imagination?
Confusing and frustrating, I held on to find out how it ended. Did Karen write a book? Did Max, Larry, and Tessa make a movie? What happened to poor Serena after she saved the drowning children?
There’s lots of in-jokes in this story that only a longtime science fiction fan (and Trekkie) would appreciate, and it’s unique in that the science fiction writer is trying to decide if she’s writing fiction or non-fiction.
For something to really suspend your sense of disbelief, I’d recommend this book, but otherwise, it’s pretty much of a jumble, and I’m not sure I liked any of the characters except the writer.