"A View From A Height -- The Death and Life of Xiao Chen Bang" by J.E. Murphy is a riveting, thought provoking, metaphysical, science fiction read. It is the story of Dawn Bang, born to Chinese immigrant parents in Hawaii, and her evolution into something greater than her human form, including her alliance with other souls and a dirigible with a soul.
Dawn Bang grows up in Hawaii experiencing racial discrimination against Chinese people. Her early childhood is happy, with dreams at night of flying, but her painful school days are filled with taunts and insults from other students. She turns to drugs and alcohol to dull the pain. At the age of fifteen, she dies in a car accident. The Dakini, escorts for the newly dead to the next realm, review her life with her to this point, and she is horrified at how she has lived and treated others. She learns she has a purpose in this life and can go back if she chooses to. They show her a whale in her future that will change her life.
Dawn chooses to return to her life and turn over a new leaf. When asleep at night, she becomes one of the Dakini, escorting the newly dead to the next realm, except for one occasion. In this instance she rescues a mountain climber, David Chang, by joining with him to give him the strength to pull himself up and save himself from the aftermath of an avalanche on a mountain in the Himalayas. They form a bond and, through her influence, he becomes a great world spiritual leader.
Living a life of purpose by day, she forms a foundation that trains and supports farmers in China, improving their lives. Her popular foundation does not endear her to the Chinese government, and she ends up in a prison in China. Eventually she escapes and returns to Hawaii, and soon realizes that her family is not safe with her there. When she gets word that her co-workers in China are being arrested and disappearing, she decides she must return to China to help her friends. While still in Hawaii, she meets David Chang in person. David is a passenger on a dirigible named the Eckener, touring the world on her maiden voyage. The Eckener is docked in Hawaii, and the next stop is China. The dirigible, which is shaped like a whale, has an artificial intelligence so advanced it is inhabited by the soul of a whale. This turns out to be the whale of her dreams.
The story continues with many exciting and thought-provoking twists and turns. There is a lot to think about, and my mind dwelled on it for days after reading. There are conversations on the nature of reality, the soul, and infinite possibilities of the world. The exotic locations Murphy describes are real places and are easy to see with the mind's eye. There are detailed descriptions of the futuristic dirigible that is held aloft with vacuum spheres, and of the fantastic computer that runs the ship. This book is filled with action-packed adventure, and is hard to put down. But more than that, anyone with an interest in philosophy, science or artificial intelligence will enjoy this book. Like any great book, it is worthy of more than one reading. I can see it on a classroom reading list or book club selection. It would also make a great movie.