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Reincarnation Blues by Michael Poore

Published by Del Rey on August 22, 2017

Reincarnation Blues begins with the protagonist, Milo, being eaten by a shark. Milo has died almost ten thousand times since 2600 B.C. but still, being eaten by a shark isn’t a pleasant death. His most recent life revolved around fishing and drinking, which didn’t earn him many points on Judgment Day. The fact that he’s having sex with Death (when he's not alive) doesn’t improve his standing with those who give judgment, but falling in love with Death is never a good idea.

Sadly, Milo’s first life was his best, and the rewards bestowed after each subsequent death have dwindled. His hopes of reaching Perfection quickly ended centuries before his current death. But Milo enjoys living imperfect lives; he’s decided that Perfection is overrated, much to the consternation of the spiritual guides who encourage or chastise him after every death. But Milo is running out of lives. He needs to get it right soon to avoid Nothingness.

The novel skips around among Milo’s thousands of lives, not giving much attention to his stint as a catfish (that one was a punishment). Milo’s most interesting lives include the one he was living when most life on Earth ended (not long from now), the one he lived inside a prison made from a hollow asteroid after humanity spread to the stars, and the one in which he discovers that Buddha has Alzheimer’s. But there are many other lives, and they all teach him something, even if the lesson is that it’s not smart to reach for deadly spiders.

As you might expect, a novel about the difficulty of reaching perfection comes with messages. One message is that people can’t be productive if they are angry or afraid. Another is that people are shaped by when and where they are born (Milo appreciated the lives in which he knew Muslims were evil because he was born a Christian, and those in which he knew Christians were evil because he was born a Muslim, since God was making it easy for him to identify evil). Another is that (perhaps because of how we are shaped by the place and time of our birth), overcoming limits and achieving Perfection (or even decency) isn’t easy.

But the real message is that living is itself a form of Perfection. The better your life, measured in terms of how you help others, or at least avoid harming them, the more rewarding your life will be. That’s a good message, and Reincarnation Blues teaches it with a great deal of humor and very little preaching. It’s easy to root for Milo and his girlfriend Death, because they’re just ordinary people (well, except for Death), doing the best they can with the lives they have. Or maybe not the best they can, because Milo has a tendency to veer us away from Perfection, but the story offers hope that living a meaningful life is an attainable goal, and that placing an emphasis on love and compassion and helpfulness is the best route to make a life worthy — even if we might have to do it a few thousand times more before we get it right.


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