“Of course you don't die. Nobody dies. Death doesn't exist. You only reach a new level of vision, a new realm of consciousness, a new unknown world.” – Henry Miller
Do you believe in the afterlife? Or do you believe that when we die we simply rot away, and that’s the end? What about God? Do you believe in a loving God, an angry God, or no God at all? Sum: forty tales from the afterlives is an imaginative work that proposes 40 different scenarios of what happens after we draw that last breath.
The tales in Sum are short; most are only two or three pages, and they are beautifully told. Even when he presents us with no God or no afterlife, David Eagleman offers an inventive array of things that could be, but probably aren’t, our after-death fates. The first, and titular, tale offers a view of the afterlife that is both boring and captivating; it not only makes us imagine the hereafter but also to think about what we are doing with our lifetime. It is the perfect introduction to a book of stories that may be indescribable for some.
Perhaps imaging God as so many characters could be labeled blasphemous. People that closed-minded won’t be picking this book up unless they are planning a book burning. The many Gods we are offered include a happy God, a bored God, a married couple God, a microbial God, and a God whose favorite book is Frankenstein (think about it; it makes sense), as well as no God at all. Since I believe that we really have no clue as to what God is or looks like, all these possibilities are intriguing.
Imagine awakening in the next world only to find that you are in suburbia. As pleasant and satisfying as it is, it lacks something — truly good people. This is the heaven that sinners attain. God has let those who have led exemplary lives rest in peace, rotting and becoming one with the earth. Those He dislikes He punishes with everlasting, ever-boring life, for “we were created not only in His image but His social situation as well.” And He’s found that situation to be pretty damn boring.
Throughout Sum there are classic visions of Heaven with fluffy clouds and harps, but there are also dystopian images of an afterlife that one might not pray to enter. Eagleman warns us that dying doesn’t necessarily mean you will see celestial shores or lush gardens, even if the theists are right about God.