The afterlife has always fascinated me. I don’t believe we only get one shot at getting it right. One life, then judgement and an eternity of suffering or bland repose. It seems too simplistic for the complex vortex of matter and energy our universe is made up of. Nor do I believe we just meet oblivion at the end of our lives. Nature recycles. The law of conservation of energy suggests to me that spirit, also, could be recycled. We are bigger than our bodies. I won’t go further into my personal beliefs about spirit and the nature of the hidden universe, but I believe we go on. We get recycled. The energy we carry through our lives as ‘us’ stays with us when we die, and the universe assigns new matter to contain it. We are reborn.
These ideas formed the core concept of The Second Life of Bethany Sweet. While the spiritual ideas behind it aren’t explored within the novel, the notion of our spirit continuing to a new life after death made me wonder… what if we get recycled to a different planet, different universe, different time? What if it happens the instant, or very shortly after, we die, so we remember the life we had before? What if, instead of being born as an infant, we’re all grown up and ready for the world? And what if, instead of the universe choosing our next incarnation, someone else does? For their own nefarious purposes.
With that core concept in mind, I didn’t want the new world Bethany Sweet is reborn in to be entirely alien. While inventing a new world can be fun for the author, it makes for a slow read, and I wanted Second Life to be an adventure. There was no room for describing an entirely different world, or a people and culture so removed from anything we’re familiar with that exploring them takes over the plot. It isn’t, therefore, a milieu book. Much of it is earth-like, the people are human.
Bethany Sweet dies at the beginning, when we know nothing about her or her previous life, and therefore have little attachment to either. I could have spent considerable page-space exploring her feelings on that event. I chose not to. Beth wakes up on the new world thinking she’s still in hospital, until she’s dragged, literally, into the new life she’s been given. She’s not a superhero. She’s just your average girl next door, who’s ill-prepared for what she faces. She doesn’t know how to fight, kill, or survive, but somehow she must.
What she quickly finds out is that the new body she’s been given is a revered icon, and physically perfect. If that sounds too good to be true, also remember, the new body is literally new. It’s never eaten before, never run, never lifted anything. Aside from the muscle-tone provided it by the machine that made it, it’s weak, vulnerable and, well.. pretty useless, really.
With no prior knowledge of the world, it’s history or its political situation, Beth has to work out what’s going on, and why she’s there. Because she doesn’t know, neither does the reader, so it’s pretty much up to them to figure out what’s going on, along with Bethany Sweet. With each puzzle comes an answer, but only at the price of another puzzle.
While there’s time for discussion and reflection between characters, a lot of the book involves action. Beth’s new life is threatened and she has to evade the people trying to kill her. Try doing that when everyone knows your face, and when your body has never walked, let alone run before.
The book, I hope, keeps the reader guessing, the pace moving, right until the end, which is really not the end, just a new beginning.