How High We Go In The Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu

Rate: 4.5/5

Medium: ebook (ARC)

Overview (No Spoilers):

How High We Go In The Dark was a fascinating, cleverly meandering tale that has the feel of interconnected short stories Many of these links are made through vague or seemingly unimportant interactions leaving me to pondering how many times I missed a puzzle piece that would have fit neatly into the larger confusion had I been paying better attention. While this elegant weaving was initially disorienting, the end result was satisfying as the patterns became more apparent.

The pseudo-isolated stories share the common thread of a terrible virus sweeping the globe that has horrifying effects on children. Though as the story progresses, the virus mutates again, and again, leaving the world scrambling to adapt each time. Especially in the beginning, How High We Go In The Dark was slightly triggering after the past two years we’ve experienced, though the Arctic virus is much more damaging and deadly. The stories Nagamatsu somehow manages to overlap are highly ambitious as each one takes on a life of its own before the next one picks up. Initially I found myself curious and slightly disappointed when I realized that stories would not be revisited, until I started recognizing familiar characters showing up in the periphery of the other stories. At that point it became a game to see how fast I could make the connections on my own. These links were sometimes so fague that I started to search names in each story on my ebook to see if that name was one we had encountered before, usually with the answer in the affirmative. 

I can’t emphasize enough how ambitious  How High We Go In The Dark is with the stories spanning a variety of settings and professions, ranging from a research site in Siberia, a euthenasia rollercoaster, far off planets, various science laboratories, the inner workings of a death hotel, a tinkering robot mechanic, the role of virtual reality, group connected consciousness, evolving community relationships, and I’m not even remotely coming close to spanning the wide array of topics covered by Nagamatsu. Each chapter which served as its own short story drew the reader in and invested them before moving on to a new topic. Nagamatsu somehow managed to write engaging short stories where the characters and their lives felt real, regardless of how crazy their situations might have seemed, and turned it into a cohesive novel.  This formatting made it easy to put down this book in between chapters, with the flow being disjointed, but the curiosity as to where the story was headed made the breaks short.

Overall, this was one of the best plague, pandemic books I’ve read in a long time, with these seemingly independent stories overlapping in the most intricate of ways, leaving a reread in my future to see what connections I might have missed the first time around.

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound)

  • The City of Laughter was something out of a horror movie. I just can’t imagine getting to that point of desperation. How would you even fake happiness knowing the ending?
  • U.S.S. Yamato and space travel added a whole new dimension to this story. I could have gotten lost just in their adventure alone. What tribulations did they encounter? How many times did they almost stop? How did setting up their colony go? How much has changed on the Earth? Does Earth still remember them? What about the other ships that set out? Such a fascinating addition.
  • What happened to the baby in the isolated group that they let go at the top of the human pyramid? What happened to those people when they died in the shared consciousness? Did people meet up after being  released from the shared consciousness? Or maybe they were already dead there because the guy working at The City of Laughter was there, but then the guy sending the letter to his street mentions being there. I’m still confused apparently.  
  • With how damaging the virus ended up being, how did the infrastructure of the world not collapse? 
  • Clara came back to life as Theresa. Did she seek out her child again? If Clara had not fallen would she have destroyed her 30,000 year old daughter’s remains? Or was she trying to find the virus to reduce population? I’m still a bit fuzzy on her goals. What about her other daughter, Nuri? That must have been the pod that fell in the ocean off California. Where did Nuri go? Did they eventually find each other? Who was Ms. Takahashi? Were there other aliens around? What about the planets the humans were exploring? What other aliens were also breaking the rules?
  • My favorite part of this book focused on Snortorious. I hated the ending and the sacrifice. What made this pig special? Were there others?

Vocabulary Builder:

Diazepam: a tranquilizer C16H13ClN2O used especially to relieve anxiety and tension and as a muscle relaxant

Schooners: a typically 2-masted fore-and-aft rigged vessel with a foremast and a mainmast stepped nearly amidships


  1. Thank you for your commentary.


    I have answers to a few of your questions:

    Ms. Takahashi is Nuri. At least that’s how I understand it. She says her mother gave her the pendant and she’s searching for her (80%; Melancholy Nights). It is about 10 years after the plague began, so I believe Theresa (Qweli) and Ms Takahashi (Nuri) are both on earth at the same time.

    What happened to the baby is in Grave Friends, 87% of the book.

    What happened to everyone else who had a shared experience in the dark is at 73%, in The Used-to-be Party.

    When those with the virus slipped into a coma, they shared their life experiences together in the dark. And those who came out of the coma, who survived, remember this place still.

    The way in which they lifted the baby out, the glimpses of their pasts, the real transformations of body parts into other parts, and the glow sometimes seen under the skin are all manifestations of the virus source, a world-building, shape-shifting being who glows.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the spoilers! I will have to go back to reread those sections to link everything back up. I love how delightfully complex this read was and need to do a reread. 🙂 Did you enjoy it too?


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