Dare to Know
What if knowing the exact date of your death was a luxury good?
James Kennedy’s debut novel Order of the Odd-Fish ran like a very successful of dares between the author and himself — Kennedy just kept ratcheting up the weirdness in the book, piling up the comic and surreal, to the point where the book should, by all rights, have collapsed beneath its own silliness. But it didn’t!
Instead, Kennedy produced a tale of magic. As I wrote in my review, “This is what Harry Potter would be if its magic world was truly wondrous and magnificent, as opposed to plain reality with broomsticks and funny robes.”
Here’s how I ended that review: “An epic novel of exotic pie, Götterdämmerung, mutants, evil, crime, and musical theater, Odd-Fish is a truly odd fish, as mannered and crazy as an eel in a tuxedo dropped down your trousers during a performance of The Ring Cycle.”
That was in 2011. After that, I didn’t see any more books from Kennedy, though I held onto my copy of Odd-Fish and thought of it from time to time. Now, 11 years later, I’ve just finished Kennedy’s second novel, Dare to Know, a much darker book that still walks a fine line between fanciful and formless — and nails it.
The premise of Dare to Know is a good, old-fashioned science fiction idea: what if there was a science that could predict your death? It’s an idea as least as old as Heinlein’s “Life-Line” — his first story.
It’s an idea that’s been taken up for the internet age, too, of course: most notably by Ryan North, David Malki and and Matthew Bennardo’s “Machine of Death,” a pair of shared world anthologies (and a game!) about a machine that could predict the manner of your death.
The vast differences between “Life-Line,” “Machine of Death,” and Dare to Know are quite a testament to the unimportance of “originality” — ideas are easy, execution is hard. Charlie Stross, Neal Stephenson and I all published gold-farming heist novels within a few months of each other (Rule 34, Reamde and For the Win) and they are wildly different books.
Kennedy’s time-of-death story revolves around a failed wunderkind, a nameless salesman who works for Dare to Know, a company whose product is a precise calculation of your moment of death. Once…