Book Review: The Endless Vessel by Charles Soule

I read The Endless Vessel by Charles Soule back in April thanks to NetGalley and marked it as four stars on Goodreads. It seemed like the kind of fiction that I find fascinating. A creative hook and imaginative story line that wrestles with ideas:

A few years from now, in a world similar to ours, there exists a sort of “depression plague” that people refer to simply as “The Grey.” No one can predict whom it will afflict, or how, but once infected, there’s no coming back.

A young Hong Kong based scientist, Lily Barnes, is trying to maintain her inner light in an increasingly dark world. The human race is dwindling, and people fighting to push forward are increasingly rare. One day, Lily comes across something that seems to be addressing her directly, calling to her, asking her to follow a path to whatever lies at its end. Is this the Endless Vessel to happiness? She leaves her life behind and sets out through time and space to find out.

From its opening heart-stopping scene in the present day at the Louvre in Paris, through the earthly meetings between Lily and her loved ones past and present, to a shocking and satisfying conclusion in a truly enchanted forest, Charles Soule has channeled history, science and drama to create a story for the ages—a story of hope and love and possibility.

But when on pub day I thought about writing a review I realized I didn’t have a clear idea in my mind what to say. So I decided to re-read so things were fresh in my mind.

Despite knowing the ending, I really enjoyed reading it again. It is a great summer read. With elements of science fiction, history, family dynamics, psychology, sociology, and more. It has thought provoking ideas about culture and society, technology development and the future but also suspense, action and strong characters. All these threads are woven into a compelling story.

One of the things I like about it was that it wasn’t simplistic or moralizing even though there is an underlying message that grows out of the story. The bad guys, Team Joy Joy, are sort of ironic, semi-nihilistic, terrorists who believe that humans have had their time and that the only way to live is in the moment until the end comes. Possessed of a mental virus of sorts, called The Grey, they seek to remove anything that serves to distract humanity from this ultimate fate (art and beauty, history and memory, technology and development).

They drive the action of the story and there is a certain cold power and ruthlessness that make them, if not sympathetic, attractive in some ways. There are clearly echoes of the extreme elements of the environmental movement here.

On the flip side, the group that seems poised to be the “good guys” – The Lazerene – are not without their faults. Isolated and rather arrogant, they have leveraged the power of freedom, science, and ideas to literally change the world and open up doors to other worlds. But when it comes time to save humanity they are tragically ambivalent.

The main character, Lily Barnes, gets caught up in these events and seems poised to be destroyed and abandoned like the rest of humanity (the story of her life in some ways). But despite her traumatic childhood and seeming weakness, she makes a connection-understands the power of connection-that could change the future of humanity. But can she survive and convince The Lazerene to take a risk and give humanity a chance at a future?

The Endless Vessel is inventive, suspenseful, and thought provoking. It is the kind of book where you want to block out chunks of time to read, to just enjoy the story. But aspects of it also stick with you as you think about big ideas like despair, risk, relationships, and what really matters. It may be a cliché but human connection really does lie at the heart of a meaningful life and a thriving community.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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