The Impossible Bird by Patrick O'Leary
List Price: $25.95
Hardcover - 368 pages 1 Ed edition (January, 2002)
Tor; ISBN: 076530337X
Review by Ernest Lilley
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Summer 1962. Mike and Daniel Glynn are two boys lying in a wheat field near Saginaw Michigan discussing science fiction movies (Gort...Barrada...Nickto...Your world will be a burned out cinder!). Then they share a moment of lost time that will last them the rest of their lives, or longer. And walk home in the crisp autumn breeze swearing to never abandon each other.

Years intervene and the boys go their own ways. Mike becomes a globe trotting movie producer and Daniel a professor of literature. Then one day, while Daniel is still wandering around his house in shock and grief over the loss of his wife, government agents show up at the door and ask him to come with them. Quietly. Somewhere else Mike is having a similar conversation, but with less polite agents. Much less polite.

Soon the two are on the run from G-men, enmeshed in a plot to find out something that explains why a) the world is suddenly strangely empty b) why hummingbirds are showing up everywhere.

And c) why everyone keeps telling them they're dead.

If you did not know what it meant to be dead before you read The Impossible Bird, you will surely be clueless by the time you finish it. Like Philip Jose Farmer's classic Riverworld series, mankind, or at least anyone who has died since this particular afterlife was constructed finds themselves in a virtual world painstakingly created to look like the one they left.

Who dunnit? Why? How?

Good questions, but I'll let you find out from the book.

Not everyone likes the idea of reincarnation in a virtual world, and there's a movement to get out, and onto the "true death." To do that, or at the very least, to be expunged from this afterlife, you need to commit three murders. A stranger, a friend, and a family member. Why not just kill yourself? Because the dead return.

Now, not everyone has a family member around, so some are stuck in this peaceful world between life and death, and somehow word has gotten out to both the Crossovers (who want to stay in the virtual afterlife forever) and the Correctors (a group out to shut the whole thing down) that Mike and Daniel hold the key to the whole show. So, driven by different motivators, they're set on a manhunt for each other with little option for failure across a surreal American landscape, and through the memories of their lives. The Impossible Bird forces them to find each other after a lifetime of drifting apart, and face their roles in each other's lives, as well as their deaths.

Somewhere between Science Fiction and Fantasy, The Impossible Bird should appeal to fans of Vonnegut, Neil Gaiman, and Philip K. Dick and others who mix the familiar and the inexplicable with style.

Author Patrick O'Leary continues to develop as a remarkable writer in this, his third book, following Door Number Three and The Gift (SFRevu Nov. 97) and his interest in death as a part of life. In The Gift, the story revolves around a quest to return death to the world after it is magically banned, and the realization that life needs death to be complete. As a writer and storyteller, he continues to explore new venues with an engaging voice,  and we can look forward to whatever he does next.                                                                        

2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu   el 01.26.02