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Glass Soup    by Jonathan Carroll order for
Glass Soup
by Jonathan Carroll
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Jonathan Carroll's Glass Soup seems at first a series of connected short stories that reflect the speculative nature of SF. They're sassy, satirical, surreal - and they make you think, which is supposed to be the whole point of the genre. After a while it becomes clear that plot threads spider through all these tales, spinning an intriguing puzzle for the reader, who follows a trail of causation through chapters and the personalities that appear in them.

It opens on Simon's House of Lipstick, where we meet a charming loser, Simon Haden, revisiting the moment when he turned aside from living a better life (poor Simon feels like a failure even in his personalized purgatory). I very much enjoyed Carroll's vision of the afterlife as a composite of an individual's life and dream experiences (a darker version of what Alice Sebold portrayed in The Lovely Bones). Next we meet three good friends - Isabelle, Flora and Leni. Isabelle is pregnant with an important baby, Anjo, who sometimes tells her what to do. The father is Vincent, whom she brought back from death, helped by Petras who's been selling his life.

Isabelle keeps falling out of the lands of the living to fly through Simon Haden's afterlife. It seems that Simon must save her from a newly conscious Chaos, whose smooth and nasty agent, John Flannery, acts against her and her circle of friends in real life. Opposing agents of order include Petras, nineteen inch Broximon, a huge white polar bear named Bob, and an autographist. The titular 'Glass Soup' is a (largely misunderstood) message from the dead to the living. As the story evolves, Vincent cleverly fights chaos with cancer, and narrowly avoids making a deal with the devil, while Simon and Isabelle both succeed in unleashing their better selves.

The book addresses a struggle between order and chaos, whose agents operate in both the land of the living and in afterlives. Each of the early chapters of this developing story starts like contemporary fiction. Then Carroll casually drops in something weird that makes no sense - till later, the blurred picture suddenly sharpens. Though Glass Soup addresses the nature of dreams, the origins of the universe, and an evolving god, it's also somewhat of a soap opera set in purgatory. It offers much food for thought, speculation and discussion.

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