The Brief History of the Dead is a 2006 fantasy and adventure novel by Kevin Brockmeier.
Once Upon a Time, in a land far, far away... really far away... there existed a city. It had no name, and nobody knew exactly where it was. It was just called The City. Its unnatural lack of an actual label and location in the world may be due to the fact that it's not even found in the world. It is an afterlife of sorts, but it's not the kind of heaven or hell that most people would expect. It is simply a place where the souls of the dead wind up after departing the Earth.
But unlike the typical depictions where people spend the rest of eternity lounging around in the afterlife, it turns out that the souls only stay in The City as long as there are people alive who remember them. Once everyone that ever knew them dies off, their soul ends up blinking out of The City, and it is unknown where these souls go. But lately, it seems that something is happening in The City. People seem to be vanishing more quickly than usual...
Cut to Antarctica, where a trio of researchers for Coca-Cola are trying to discover methods of using the polar ice in the manufacture of soft drinks (since the cap was already melting anyway). These three were Laura Byrd, Michael Puckett and Robert Joyce. The expedition was supposed to last only six months, but disaster struck when their communication arrays got busted. A while passed as they waited for Coca-Cola to re-establish contact with them or send a rescue team, but no such thing came along.
Eventually, they figured they needed to get out of this mess themselves, so Puckett and Joyce set out to find another station of researchers, these ones studying the migratory habits of emperor penguins. However, they had not returned to Laura for weeks after they departed, so after much sulking about on her own, Laura resolved to go out on her own to find the station, and hopefully Puckett and Joyce as well...
As the story goes back and forth between The City and Laura's exploits, the situation becomes clearer and clearer: a highly lethal virus has been spreading far and wide, and thanks to the severe increase in death rates, people in The City, of course, are starting to pop out as well. Eventually, Laura is the only person left alive on the Earth, and it is due to her absurdly spatious memory that there are still thousands of people left in The City. Now she must somehow endure the harsh trials of Antarctica, for once her death comes around, The City and everyone inside it will completely vanish.
Needs Wiki Magic.
This novel by Kevin Brockmeier includes examples of:
- Acting Unnatural: A Corrupt Corporate Executive, the last of the Coca Cola execs left in The City, decides to destroy the memorandum where they agreed to keep their part in The Plague a secret, realizes that there are no shredders in The City. Long story short, he ends up wandering around carrying a trashbin, then having to break a hole in an iced-over river to shove the dustbin through. He is entirely aware of how ridiculous and shady he must look.
- Ambiguous Situation: Even the characters aren't entirely sure what's about to happen at the ending.
- The Aloner: Laura Bird
- Apocalypse How: Class 3a.
- Apocalyptic Log: The diary Laura finds at the research station.
- But What About the Astronauts?: What about the researchers in Antarctica?. Turns out, they manage to catch The Blinks and die too, due to bringing Coca Cola with them.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Coca Cola executives, including the one who hired Laura to go on the expedition. They're actually not directly responsible for The Plague and its spread, but they do agree (after having a board meeting in the Afterlife) to keep it a secret.
- Divorce Is Temporary: Sort of. Laura's parents meet again in the afterlife and rekindle their relationship.
- Downer Ending
- Driven to Suicide: Several characters, for various reasons. One character did so after his family was killed by a landmine. He was thus reunited with them in The City.
- Everything's Better with Penguins: Laura finds and watches some penguins, shortly before she dies.
- For the Evulz: No clear reason is theorized or outright stated as to why whoever created the virus even did it. They just... did.
- Ghost City: Aside from the obvious pun one could make about The City, The City becomes this early on when a huge number of people die from The Plague. Part of the plot from there is the last remaining people running into each other, and the handful of new arrivals, and trying to figure out what happened.
- Hope Spot: Laura finally finds the research station after much trudging through the harsh weather for several days, and she can finally contact civilization. Too bad there's no civilization left on the other end.
- May Contain Evil: The Plague was spread by contaminating the syrup at a large Coca Cola bottling plant.
- The Nothing After Death: Played with. The departed souls of people end up in the afterlife in The City. It's after their time in The City when it's implied this happens.
- One Degree of Separation: Pretty much the entire plot.
- Our Souls Are Different
- Photographic Memory: Laura appears to have this, and it ends up saving thousands of people from popping out of existence, at least temporarily.
- The Plague: It turns out that a highly lethal virus named The Blinks is sweeping across the entire world.
- Typhoid Mary: Nobody really finds out the culprit, but it turns out they used Coca-Cola as the distribution nexus for the virus by mixing it into the syrup tanks. Everyone who drank Coke, and anyone who got near them, would be infected and killed quickly. This is how all the researchers in Antarctia got infected in the first place; they took Coke as part of their rations. Incidentally, this is how Laura survives so long, since she has an aversion to drinking Coke.