Review: The Prospect of My Arrival by Dwight Okita


title:  The Prospect of My Arrival

author:  Dwight Okita

pages: 277

format: Kindle

isbn/asin: 978-1460959893

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Adults or older teens (due to some relatively graphic sexual material).  Anyone experiencing an existential crisis.  Fans of near-future sci-fi, like The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke.  

My Ratings Explained

Thanks to a scientific breakthrough, a human embryo is allowed to preview the world before deciding whether or not to be born. The embryo, named Prospect, is given a starter kit of human knowledge and its consciousness is inserted into a synthetic twenty-year-old body. What will he make of the modern world with its over-the-counter solutions, rising tide of mean-spiritedness, and senseless violence? He meets a range of people to help him decide, from a greeting card writer with a knack for sympathy cards "because there's so much in the world to be sorry about" to his parents whose first child disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Battling over the soul of Prospect is a scientist who sees an opportunity to help the human race evolve -- and a businessman who is more interested in creating something marketable than something remarkable. Sprinkled with humor, The Prospect of My Arrival is a cautionary tale exploring the triumph of imagination, the limits of modern science, and the perils of losing one's sense of wonder.

the basics
I was drawn to this book by the highly original set-up.  A child choosing whether to be born?  It really takes a new spin on the abortion debate (or, if you're not political, sets up some great philosophical questions about the value of life).  Prospect is not always the easiest character to like.  Given that his mind is a fetus' with some downloaded posh, he can be stilted and stodgy.  That said, he also has a childlike naivete that both carries some of the conflict and allows readers to see a new world in his eyes.  The split-narrative structure worked well and gave some insight into the sinister business-side of things.  The writing is frequently beautiful, the plot frequently shocking.  Prospect lives a lot of life in his short trial period; his unique position draws him into griefs and struggles most never experience, and joys that everyone should.  The story of Prospect's journey would have been enough, but Okita ups the ante with an anti-Preborn militant group who finds the rule of science over God repugnant and does all they can to destroy the project--no matter who's hurt in the process.  What comes out is both a character-driven exploration of pure life and an exciting mystery/thriller with an ending that still unsettles me.  Okita's debut deeply moved and thrilled me, and left me with lingering questions that ensure I won't soon forget my read.  

plot . 4/5
When we meet Prospect, he's already been programmed into his temporary body with a preset repertoire of knowledge, skills, and social morays.  Enough to function in the world at a basic level, but without the experiential part.  Okita's fantastic at explaining the project without the dreaded info-dump, so the plot takes off right away.  Prospect meets his parents--yes, the woman who is pregnant and actually carrying his consciousness.  The strangeness of this meeting sets up a series of still-stranger events that always kept me guessing.  Basically, Prospect travels from host to host, each of whom is meant to show him a kind of life.  The life of someone who wants to be dead.  The life of someone who's truly happy.  

Along the way, Prospect encounters sex, suicide, death, and first love.  He's loved by some and hunted by others.  In interspersed chapters, we also see the founder of the project, whose own motives and struggles are equally compelling.  This isn't a totally sensical plot.  You have to take some leaps of faith and allow for some odd coincidences and strange happenings.  It's as much a thought experiment as a novel.  But for me, it worked.   There's also an exciting thriller threaded throughout, with Prospect hunted by an invisible organization who will do anything to end the Preborn project.  This side of the plot adds some tension and prevented me from being overwhelmed by philosophy.  

concept . 5/5
If you could have experienced life before you were born and chosen to live it, would you?  It's a question that's come up quite often in the abortion debate, particularly with respect to fetuses who show signs of disability, genetic disease, or other atypicalities.  If they knew how they'd live, would they want to?  It's not a question we can actually answer, but Okita takes a stab at it with the Preborn project.  Suspend your disbelief; this is not a hard-science, deeply researched, feasible thing.  If that's going to bother you, consider another book.  If you're willing to accept the premise, then you're in for a highly enjoyable exploration of what it means to live, to love, to experience joy and sorrow.  What it means to be humans.  What it means to live in a world where suffering is unavoidable.  Each of Prospect's encounters brings up half-answered questions about these big issues, and builds into something sweetly melancholy and thought-provoking.   

characters . 5/5
Like the plot, the character are just a little unbelievable.  There's a hint of magic realism about it.  Prospect himself is the trickiest, of course.  He's been given some knowledge about the world, but never had experiences.  Again, you have to take a leap of faith.  The implications of what this would actually look like are not fully explored and that was fine with me; I just accepted Okita's conceit.  Prospect himself is a little on the dull side, but he's also  great narrator.  His childlike innocence allows him to view the world in ways that I'd forgotten I could.  He also becomes more relatable as time goes on.  The scientist lady was less of a draw for me, perhaps because I found her selfish and annoying, but she works in the context of the story.  The Referrals (Prospect's host) were largely well done.  Lito, Irene, and Trevor were the clear winners.  Lito is a foster child, an outcast, sweet and immeasurably sad.  His relationship with Prospect is beautiful and heartwrenching.  Irene is the "happy" referral, a greeting card maker who has an aphorism for any situation.  Only her secret was marvelously shocking.  Then there's Trevor, the wildest of the bunch, exaggeratedly hedonistic but also violently anti-Preborn.  Each character adds something to the overall metaphor and, to some extent, contributes to the thriller side of the plot.  

style . 5/5
Okita's style is, frankly, poetic.  I stopped reading every few minutes because I had to highlight something.  He has an uncanny way of putting the most ordinary things into extraordinary forms, and making the extraordinary accessible.  He intersperses some philosophizing, but he's careful not to let it become overbearing.  I truly found his writing style gorgeous.  

mechanics . 5/5
The third person worked for me.  It made the book feel a little heavier, a little more literary.  The alternating chapters were sometimes annoying because I'd be dangling over a cliffhanger, so there's that.  For all the indie doubters out there, you wouldn't know this book wasn't Big Six.  It's finely polished, clearly professionally edited, and well-paced.  

take home message
A sweetly melancholy tale of life and love superimposed on an exciting thriller.  

Note: I received this copy in exchange for review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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