Sum: Tales from the Afterlives Paperback – 24 Apr 2009
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"A very well-written, very funny and very thought-provoking book that makes you realize that when it comes to the afterlife, most religions suffer from an acute shortage of imagination. Sum immediately made me think of several more alternative afterlives" (Yuval Noah Harari)
"Witty, bright, sharp and unexpected . . . as surprising a book as I've read for years. Every story is a new Heaven." (Brian Eno)
"SUM is terrific. It's such a good idea that I was grinding my teeth all the way through wishing I'd thought of it first. The inventiveness, the clarity and wit of the prose, the calm air of moral understanding that pervades the whole thing, add up to something completely original. I hope Sum will be the great big hit it deserves to be." (Philip Pullman)
"SUM is an imaginative and provocative book that gives new perspectives on how to view ourselves and our place in the world." (Alan Lightman, author of EINSTEIN'S DREAM)
"Brilliantly realised, blazingly original, Sum isn't so much about the next life as this one. Eagleman's stories - parables? - a chilly reminder of our foibles and delusions." (Colin Waters Sunday Herald 2009-05-03)
"This is as much an object of desire as an actual book . . . elegant, surreal and philosophically questioning, each story from neuroscientist Eagleman offers an inventive, thought-provoking blend of science and romance . . . sly wit, ingenuity and oddly acute insight into the vagaries of the human condition." (Tina Jackson Metro 2009-04-20)
"Clever, memorable stuff." (Lottie Moggach The London Paper 2009-04-29)
"40 intriguing tales describing different heavenly scenarios . . . and all formidably imagined . . . Readers may discover much to appreciate - not least the lives they are living now, still so much better than some nightmares in these pages . . . quirky, occasionally unsettling . . . never short of new new ideas, all of them rolled out with style." (Nicholas Tucker Independent 2009-05-11)
"I suppose there could be people who dislike Canongate's latest find . . . those, dare one say it, without poetry in their souls. For the rest - the millions who even in a post-religious, secular society find themselves at unexpected moments wondering who or what God is, if he's not a little old man sitting on a cloud." (Mary Crockett Scotsman 2009-05-09)
"A clever book." (Robert Hanks Daily Telegraph 2009-05-23)
"This stunningly original book is little more than 100 pages long. You can get through it in an hour, but you'd be mad to hurry, and you will certainly want to return to it many times . . . Sum has the unaccountable, jaw-dropping quality of genius. It seems exquisitely adapted to fill the contemporary longing for a kind of secular holy book." (Geoff Dyer Observer 2009-06-07)
"The most thought provoking stocking filler you could hope to find: a slender volume of bite size vignettes pondering what happens after we die." (Scotsman 2009-12-06)
"It does what it says in the title - satirical, playful, troubling, inventive, thought provoking and often funny takes on possible afterlives. A complete one off. I've been buying it and giving to friends and family. Everyone is delighted. Keep by the bed and feed yourself one or two before turning out the light." (Andrew Greig Sunday Herald 2009-11-29)
"Charming, a bit whimsical, and thought-provoking." (Mark Sarvas)
"This delightful, thought-provoking little collection belongs to that category of strange, unclassifiable books that will haunt the reader long after the last page has been turned. It is full of tangential insights into the human condition and poetic thought experiments . . . full of touching moments and glorious wit of the sort one only hopes will be incopious supply on the other side." (The New York Times)
Sum is terrific... The inventiveness, the clarity and wit of the prose...add up to something completely original.See all Product description
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The book plays with notions of scale, humans being dwarfed by giant divinities, or us humans dwarfing microscopic numinous beings. Human beings as recording devices for other beings scientific experiments, an echo of Douglas Adams' joyous playfulness here, so that the afterlife is a debriefing room. Most of the stories see a schism between us mortals and the gods awaiting us in the afterlife. The gods who have set us in motion on earth to whatever end, but where we have gone our own way, or fallen into unpredictable sideroads, usually around love. In "Narcissus" the 'Cartographers' who set us in motion with our eyes, ears and noses as sensory recording devices, despair that we use thelenses of our eyes for scutinising not the landscape for their maps, but into the eye lenses of our felllow species, "an ironic way to trivilaise the technology". In "Quantum" every life choice you turned down you can now act out simultaneously in the afterlife. You protest this is too much to grapple with so the angel offers you a simpole scenarion, you locked in a room with just your lover which you gladly accept: "You are simultaneously engaged in her conversation and thinking about something else... she worships you and wonders what she might have missed with someone else. 'Thank you', you tell the angel. 'This is what I'm used to'".
Absent, unapproachable gods, shunned gods, gods who have long abandoned their original creation project. In all of these, mankind is wobbling between greatness and insignificance. mankind holds the key if only we could perceive it. The 40 tales are offered up as fictions rather than gospel. They are sketches, not without their lyricism, but they are to prompt and provoke thought, rather than supply any answer. Some of the stories see both us and the beings who populate the afterlife, but cut adrift from one another due to an inability to communicate as much as a discrepancy in scale. In "Giantess" a race finally work out how to send a message to the divinity, but only succeed in provoking an immune response from her that destroys their civilisation. The last survivor begs the human race to keep its din down so as not to draw the same reaction.
Eagleman is a neuroscientist by trade, but here clearly shows a literary skill in drawing on both science, poetic metaphor and myth to weave together a wonderfully fresh vision. In "Mary", Mary Shelley sits on the throne in the afterlife, because only she in "Frankenstein" has evidenced a mortal's understanding of the situation our Creator finds himself in when his creations have got away from him.
I would recommend this delightful little book to the readers of any genre. It is quite simply the sum of our lives. Told in just 4 page long stories.
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Flash fiction (genre?) is very hard to write with a slow, thoughtful cadence of writing, but his writing just hums along, as if he was a musician...Read more
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