Struck by catastrophes like a fatal supervirus, 23rd-century Earth has become a world of peaceful, nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes living harmoniously in nature alongside telepathic animal clones resuscitated from the Pleistocene era, until an invention created by an unlikely alliance alters the future.
Connected by a solar-powered Internet, guided by a philosophy called "The Return," humanity enjoys “the best of times, the best of worlds,” as teacher Clare says to Brad, a mathematical genius whose job is to monitor and repair solar computer technology. Clare comes to Brad’s lab to guide him through a spirit-quest that will turn into a world-altering journey. Toying with many origin stories, Russell (Teresa of the New World, 2015, etc.) ties physics to basket-weaving, biology to holography in a convoluted tale riddled with contradiction: if humanity believes in panpsychism, in which all life (including plants) enjoys a consciousness that “is everywhere and in everything” (or TOE, as Brad calls it: the theory of everything), why do people hunt? Even the novel itself asks “how could you hunt someone you could talk to?” and yet Clare has just killed a telepathic saber-toothed cat, albeit in self-defense. And why does telepathy also have “syntax and meaning” when it isn’t a language? Brad, Clare, a bi-gendered hermit named Luke/Lucia, and his/her beloved mutant direwolf, Dog, form an unlikely alliance; after Dog is killed, Brad and Dog’s consciousness (lodged in Luke/Lucia’s cerebellum) discover the key to immortality together, learning how to switch on dead DNA to holographically resurrect not just Dog, but “squirrels, bears, horses, mammoths, mice, deer, camels,” and Clare’s deceased child. But when immortality becomes a possibility, a dangerous rift opens up between the tribes and the immortals, sending Luke/Lucia, Dog, Clare, Brad, and their children into exile.
By turns bawdy and bold, Russell shifts between precise, accurate scientific description and sheer absurdity, which renders this ambitious tale of human hubris quite uneven and eventually implausible.