Reviewed by Galen Strickland
I received a free e-book of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It will be released in three weeks, August 22. It is Poore's second novel, but I'm pretty sure I had not heard of him until recently, when this was recommened by another writer/reviewer I follow. I rated it 4 stars on Goodreads, but there are sections where I was thinking it might merit 5. There is quite a bit of humor, but also deep insights into what it means to be a good person, what perfection might look like. It's strongest suit is its unpredictability. I'd compare it favorably to the best of Vonnegut, and a bit of Douglas Adams for good measure.
Milo is a person who has lived thousands of lives (9,995 to be exact), perpetually reborn in a seemingly hopeless pursuit of perfection. He has five more times to get it right, to be welcomed into the Oversoul, or else be lost forever in Nothingness. Even when he feels he has made progress he finds the perspective of the afterlife is quite different. Each time he awakes after death he is met by three guides; Mama (not anyone's real mother), Nan, and Suzie, who is just one of many beings that are the embodiment of Death. Suzie is the first indication that Poore is going to subvert your expectations of life and the after life. She is not the Grim Reaper, although it is not clear whether other Deaths might be closer to that concept. She is a beautiful woman. She has grown weary of her task, and actually longs to be human. She is assigned many souls to greet, but Milo is special to her. She is in love with him, and he with her. Their relationship started as just friends, then grew stronger after a hundred or so of Milo's lives. They think they have been able to keep their affair secret, but Mama and Nan have known for quite a long time.
Many of Milo's lives are just briefly outlined, others fill long chapters. He is not always human, sometimes he's an animal or a plant, either as a punishment for previous indiscretions or possibly as a respite from a traumatic life. It was probably mentioned, but I can't recall his first life, but subsequent ones didn't follow chronologically, but rather fluctuated up and down the timeline from ancient times to scenarios in the far future, some on distant planets. Once, in the late 21st Century, he is among scientists preparing for an asteroid strike on Earth, several of whom are able to escape on spaceships, but not Milo, since he gave up his berth so that his girlfriend and her daughter could survive. He doesn't understand why that sacrifice didn't guarantee perfection of his soul, but it is argued that since he committed suicide just before the crunch, he was not around to help the few survivors. In another life, which I surely thought had to be the one that would grant him the Oversoul, he is in 5th Century BC India, where he encounters Siddhartha Gautama, travels with him and learns from him. Nope, not that time, although it was for the Buddha.
He recalls all of his lives after death, but doesn't retain memories of them or the afterlife when reborn, although at some point in all his lives he begins hearing voices in his head, speculating they are his past lives giving him advice. He doesn't always interpret the advice correctly, or he applies in incorrectly. In several of his lives he is not the type of person who should have been granted another chance, let alone a total of 10,000 of them. On his final try, he and his family are workers in a large machine structure that is terraforming Ganymede. The controlling corporation is oppressive and uncaring, leading to worker injuries and deaths, including the murder of Milo's father. He is captured and injured during a riot, and when he regains consciousness he finds himself on Europa, among a group of other castoffs laboring on a water extraction system. He has a sneaking suspicion that one of the others is someone he knows from another life. He's right. It's Suzie, who has escaped the afterlife to be with the one she loves, perhaps to help him attain perfection so that they can both enjoy the paradise of the Oversoul. That Milo (and Suzie) finally reaches the perfection he has sought is not surprising, but their reward might be. I won't say what it is, but I will say it's sufficient for Milo and Suzie, as perfect as anyone could dare hope.
There were times I felt the humor was misplaced, that Poore was trying to be too clever for his own good. Then again, without the humor many of Milo's lives would have been unbearably tragic and depressing. The lulls in between, when he has quiet time with Suzie, helped keep him focused on the goal. Did Milo deserve all those chances? Do any of us deserve even one chance? I think Poore is saying the answer is no if we only think of ourselves, but if we become selfless and care more for others, there's hope. Milo finally figured that out, but it took the love of a good woman to make it matter.
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