Hank Green’s A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor (2020) is the sequel to his 2018 debut, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing which you’ll need to read first. There will be spoilers for An Absolutely Remarkable Thing in this review.
It’s been a few months since the life-shattering events that occurred at the end of An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. The Carls are all gone and it appears that April died in a fire that was set by some extremists influenced by anti-April vitriol on social media. Yet, her body has never been found. Her friends, who’ve been split up due to the absence of April’s coalescing force, are suffering and somewhat directionless without April and the Carls. Some of them hold hope that April still lives. They take turns narrating A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor.
There are several mysteries for April’s friends to solve. First, obviously, is what happened to April’s body and is it possible that she still lives? What’s up with the secret and prophetic instructional manuals that some of them are receiving? Why are there internet outages in New Jersey and what does that have to do with university and hospital lab break-ins and the excess of dolphins in the Delaware River? Who is creating The Thread, a new YouTube channel that is smart, incisive, influential, and suspiciously well-informed? What is the big secret project that Peter Petrawicki, the villain of the first book, is hiring the world’s top computer scientists, neuroscientists, and Artificial Intelligence people to work on on an isolated island?
April’s friends, with the help of a couple of new friends, will work individually and, eventually, together to attempt to figure out what’s going on. They will each use their own particular skills, whether that’s gumshoeing, spying, bankrolling, or hacking. In the process we will learn a lot more about the Carls — who they are, where they came from, and what they’re doing on Earth. We also learn that there are other forces at work on Earth and they are not so benevolent.
Some of the plot is a little too far-fetched, but it’s all fun and exciting. I especially enjoyed Miranda’s storyline. She’s the PhD student doing AI work, and her part of the investigation is especially dangerous and thrilling.
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor contains themes that are similar to those of the previous book. Green wants us to think about the way we use social media, what it does to us personally, and what it does to our economy, political system, and culture in general. In addition, Green speculates about using virtual reality to share memories and experiences and asks what that will do to our brains and how we will deal with inequities in access and control. More generally, Green warns that the pace of our rapidly advancing technologies may outstrip our ability to regulate them and even to consider their ethical consequences.
There’s a sweet ending to A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor. This appears to be the conclusion of the story, but there’s room for additional adventures if Green decides to continue the CARLS series. I hope he will.
I listened to the audiobook version (Penguin Audio) which is really excellent. It’s got several narrators, including Green himself. At the end of the audiobook, Hank Green interviews Cory Doctorow for about 45 minutes. They talk about the themes in A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor and they don’t agree on everything.
By the way, just in case you are counting, this is the third time in nine months that I’ve been rickrolled while reading a science fiction novel. It’s starting to feel like a conspiracy. Am I the only person this is happening to??