Cover image of "An Absolutely Remarkable Thing," a funny First Contact novel

You probably think this novel is science fiction. After all, that’s how Amazon categorizes it, and I’m following suit. Many of its reviewers have called it that, too. But it’s not science fiction, not really. There’s barely a hint of science in its 350 pages. Try science-fictiony instead. And be forewarned. It starts out weird. Then it gets really weird. And, yes . . . even . . . weirder. In the final analysis, Hank Green’s debut novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, is a funny First Contact novel. And I mean “funny” in both senses of the word. Funny ha-ha, and funny strange. You’ll love it if you like that sort of thing.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Something’s happening but you don’t know what it is.

You may suspect something’s up when you read on the very first page that the novel’s protagonist and narrator is a young woman named April May. She describes herself as “one of the most important things that has ever happened to the human race,” so you get the point, right? It turns out that April is 23 years old and works a 16-hour day at a tech start-up in Manhattan as a designer. She’s bisexual but is currently living with a woman named Maya in a tiny apartment. They, and April’s best friend, a young man named Andy Skampt, met in art school. But April doesn’t dwell on the autobiographical details. She jumps right into the heart of her story on page four.

Here’s how it goes. April is walking along 23rd Street at 2:45 am when she notices “a really . . . REALLY exceptional sculpture.” It’s “a ten-foot-tall Transformer wearing a suit of samurai armor.” April wakes up Andy, who rushes out to the sidewalk to film April pointing to the statue and raving about how it’s an “ABSOLUTELY PERFECT AND REMARKABLE THING.” Local news picks up the footage they post, and soon it goes viral, beginning April’s rapid climb to worldwide stardom. Because samurai statues identical to “New York Carl” (April’s name) show up in 63 other big cities all across the world. They suddenly appear out of nowhere . . . and April is the first to notice and go live on video talking about it.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing (The Carls #1) by Hank Green (2018) 352 pages ★★★★☆

Photo of samurai warrior in armor like the Carls in this funny First Contact novel
Does this model of a samurai in armor resemble the Carls as Hank Green imagines them? Who knows? Image:

Funny thing: Carl is “probably from outer space.”

You know, because I’ve already told you, that this is about a funny First Contact. But it takes April, Andy, Maya, and pretty much everyone else a godawful long time to figure out that what April has called New York Carl is “probably from outer space. Like, a not-of-this-earth, ‘E.T. phone home’ space alien.” And, so, therefore, are the other 63 “Carls” as well. But in the long, drawn-out process during which everyone in the world figures out that, yes, what’s happening here is First Contact, April becomes world-famous and really rich from all the things that flow from her becoming a celebrity. She acquires a killer Hollywood agent through Andy’s father, who’s an agent himself, and her life becomes an unending whirl of media appearances, mob scenes, repeated bouts of relationship angst, and a tell-all book.

Eventually, surprising stuff happens. Lots of stuff. And it all leads to a REALLY HUGE conclusion. I guarantee you won’t see it coming. But along the way you’ll read April’s ruminations about fame and truth and the great political divide that’s ripping apart our country.

About the author

Photo of Hank Green, author of this funny First Contact novel
Hank Green in 2023 announcing that he has contracted cancer. Image: Wikipedia

Hank Green is a fascinating character. He is best known as the younger of the Vlogbrothers, who are YouTube personalities. Their channel is “not about anything in particular” but has gained a great deal of attention, including a Wikipedia page. However, Green is better known as a science communicator for creating and hosting educational YouTube channels on scientific topics. And both he and his brother, John Green, an author, are serial entrepreneurs, having founded multiple companies related to their work online.

Green was born in 1980 in Alabama, raised in Florida, and received a bachelor’s of science there, and his master’s in environmental studies at the University of Montana. He has been diagnosed with a form of blood cancer called Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This funny First Contact story was his first novel.

For related reading

Check out My 10 favorite funny novels. And if you’re interested in less fanciful novels of this type, see The five best First Contact novels.

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