(thanks to Erewhon Books and NetGalley for granting me an ARC of this book!)
Read if you like: existentialism, mystery, angst, politics of all kinds, relatable/”lower” sci-fi, murder investigations, anti-capitalism, unreliable narrators, psychology, amnesia, anarchy, the power/cost of love, workaholism getting its due, intellectual worldbuilding
Triggers: workaholism, profanity, alcoholism, narcotics, violence, corruption
Journalist Jamie Vega is Sleepless: he can’t sleep, nor does he need to. When his boss dies on the eve of a controversial corporate takeover, Jamie doesn’t buy the too-convenient explanation of suicide, and launches an investigation of his own.
But everything goes awry when Jamie discovers that he was the last person who saw Simon alive. Not only do the police suspect him, Jamie himself has no memory of that night. Alarmingly, his memory loss may have to do with how he became Sleepless: not naturally, like other Sleepless people, but through a risky and illegal biohacking process.
As Jamie delves deeper into Simon’s final days, he tangles with extremist organizations and powerful corporate interests, all while confronting past traumas and unforeseen consequences of his medical experimentation. But Jamie soon faces the most dangerous decision of all as he uncovers a terrifying truth about Sleeplessness that imperils him—and all of humanity.
(Goodreads book profile here)
Manibo has created a deeply intellectual novel that explores the common existentialist question:
“What if we had more time?”
What if we never had to sleep, for instance? What would that mean for us? For those we love? For history? For culture? For politics? For the environment?
Humankind has always been obsessed with legacy. With time. With immortality. And Manibo’s book is centered on what that obsession might mean for a modern, diverse society.
Manibo’s answers to all these questions are successful, in my opinion, because he manages to root the answers in a world that feels concurrent (despite technically being set in the future). I could see this happening. I could believe it. And this is because I’m given a solid social, cultural, and political framework that felt relatable. If I woke up tomorrow and was told that Manibo himself is sleepless and that this is his way of breaking the news to us, then I wouldn’t bat an eyelash. I’d say “duh!”
Moreover, Manibo also succeeds at providing answers that consider all angles. There is no antagonist and protagonist here. There are just individual people believing in whatever they believe in, for whatever personal reason. Just as in real life. It’s a stark reminder that politics are made up by individuals. Politics is all about what individuals want, and how they achieve it via allies and opposition. It works on a much more singular scope than what it pretends to do, and Manibo reminds us of this.
If we delve into the actual plot of the book, Manibo specifically addresses how capitalism exploits the existentialist fear of “so much to do, so little time”. He addresses toxic work culture, unethical business practices, and corrupt politicians. He also highlights the sustainability debate and how a world of sleepless people will negatively impact the environment.
But this isn’t just a book of high stakes; it’s also a book of low stakes.
The low stakes are the personal stakes of the protagonist, Jamie, a journalist who is thrown into a murder investigation. The novel is a whodunit scenario in which Jamie must solve the details of the murder to prove his innocence in the matter. The murder is of his boss and mentor, meaning that Jamie’s arc is largely centered on loss and grief. Throughout the book, Jamie must decide what he’s willing to personally sacrifice for professional success. He goes from being a workaholic who is in denial of his situation, to a workaholic who attempts to save what few personal relationships he has left (alongside his freedom and life, of course). He must decide how selfish he wants to be, and how selfless he needs to be in order to turn the tide around. These are existentialist choices in their own right, albeit of a smaller scale, but they make you care about the book as a whole.
I’ve talked a lot about politics and plot so far, but this is a very character-driven story at its core.
Being character-driven, the pacing is also on the slower side. Especially for a whodunit plot. It’s less “piecing different plot elements together” and more “personal revelations that alter the plot and thus the mystery”. Basically, we care about this world because we care about Jamie. Not the other way around. And Manibo expertly unveils Jamie’s backstory at just the right pace for a character-driven narrative, weaving it seamlessly together with his relatable sci-fi worldbuilding.
And this, of course, reinforces the point I made earlier, namely that politics are made up by individuals, and Jamie is one such individual.
Even if you don’t like reading about politics, you will like reading about Jamie.