I wondered what sort of novel might arise from the writer/director of the ahead-of-its time documentary “What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire,” which portrays so many aspects contributing to the ongoing collapse of industrial civilization. (See “What a Way to Go: Meet the Filmmakers“, Peak Moment episode 72).
Or would Timothy Scott Bennett take us outside our consensual reality, beyond the myths of apocalypse and revolution? Having portrayed the myriad problems “in the box” by film, he propels us “outside the box” in this narrative.
All of the Above is a page-turner as fast paced as any from Dan Brown, but with a wider set of characters and situations that are out of this world — if not literally, then certainly figuratively. Plot turns pop up everywhere, and ordinary reality gets stretched.
Set in a fairly plausible near-future United States (but no hint of gas rationing yet), we immediately get engaged with characters we care about — a gutsy truth-telling woman president (elected as an outlier and populist) and a man who synchronistically meets her as she escapes.
Escapes? From what?
When President Linda Travis is briefed at gunpoint about the human-alien conspiracy that secretly controls her government, she does what none of her predecessors dared to do: she runs. In the ensuing chase, she encounters both obstacles and unexpected allies and forces operating beyond the materialist, command-and-control dominant culture. As she awakens to the converging crises of energy, economy, and environment that threaten the entire world, she begins to confront deep assumptions about the nature of reality, and begins to see what she must do to steer the ship of state onto a different course.
I began this novel while reading Derrick Jensen’s non-fictional Dreams (my review here). Each night I’d read some of Dreams, and then some of All of the Above. Jensen would write of “those on other sides” (e.g., dreamgivers and muses, deceased human and nonhumans, spirits of place), and then I’d encounter Bennett’s beings from “other sides” in action. I began to wonder who I’d meet each night. Sometimes it was goose-bump time.
Bennett portrays characters, capabilities and situations that are officially marginalized, ignored or denied by this culture — like UFOs, aliens, out-of-body experiences, expanded mental and physical capabilities — anything that can’t be quantified or controlled. We meet indigenous people abandoning this culture to return to their indigenous roots, invoking appearances of mythic ancestral beings. An armada of alien craft appear watchfully (protectively?) as our characters take a deeper step in their journey.
Bennett seems to be saying we’ve got to widen our frame of reference. I am reminded of Einstein saying we couldn’t solve problems using the same thinking that created them in the first place.
On the downside, I found some of the early chapters of the book confusing. Even as the plot compellingly drove me onward, I tripped over unusual names, situations and allegiances that were only partially revealed and thus hard to contextualize. Reading it again a second time made it possible for me to really enjoy the story, to drink in the nuances in relationships, the flashbacks, some extraordinary realities, and deep wisdom conveyed by one character in particular (who was a bit wordy but had a lot to convey). A first-time reader may want to create a cheat sheet listing characters and their roles and relationships to reduce the hurdles.
So, here’s a quiz: Is Bennett saying
- humans are undergoing a major shift in consciousness, like going for adolescence to adulthood?
- power structures are undergoing major shifts, even if not visibly?
- intervention by non-humans is happening or is necessary?
Perhaps All of the Above.
Perhaps not. We’ll have to wait and see in the sequel to this first volume of the None so Blind series. I’m eager to read what’s “downloading from the Universe” next.
Beam me aboard, Scotty.