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The Endless Vessel


The Endless Vessel

Even a casual look around will show that things are bad. There’s climate change, economic instability, nuclear warheads at the ready, loneliness and despair. Is it unreasonable to imagine a deep and contagious depression sweeping across humanity? On the other hand, the world is --- and always has been --- full of creativity and love. People have held fast to this in the darkest times and on the brightest days. These conflicting, but all-too-human, impulses create the tension in Charles Soule’s THE ENDLESS VESSEL, a thrilling and thoughtful speculative tale of grief and hope.

"THE ENDLESS VESSEL is an entertaining novel written with a confidence and ease that only serve to highlight the seriousness of its tender and dynamic heart."

Lily Barnes is a British expat living in Hong Kong. A materials engineer, she is interested in how things are made and how they respond to stress. It is a metaphor for who she is as a character; she tests limits, strives to understand what the world is made of, and deals in both breaking points and strength. The world around Lily is not quite the one she was born into. A terrible depression, moving from person to person in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, is impacting much of humanity. For most affected by “The Grey,” life loses meaning, and they become emotionally shut down. For others, they are infected with a strain of gleeful nihilism and join the ranks of Team Joy Joy, led by Auntie Jane in a campaign of global destruction.

When a mysterious cylinder with the capability to heal much of the world’s climate crisis arrives at Lily’s office, she recognizes its inner wiring as her father’s signature. But he has been dead for 17 years. Taking the device with her, Lily sets out to understand this almost miraculous object. It’s a journey that will bring her face to face with both Team Joy Joy and a centuries-old secret society of thinkers and dreamers who might have the ability to change the world for the better.

After Lily traces the cylinder to a company called Calder & Calder, she finds herself in the strange office of a Mr. Coriander. Coriander and his associates are fearful of helping Lily, though they welcome her to the “Wonder Path.” One man, however, steps up and offers to accompany her on her quest: the international rock star Peter Match. Almost completely silenced by throat cancer, Peter has little to lose; before she knows it, he is flying her to England in his private jet to see her mother. It is just the first leg of their trek in hopes of locating the creators of the cylinder.

Soule then takes readers back to Boston in the late 1770s as Molly and Apollo Calder consider the future of their business, a thriving textile mill. When Apollo dies, Molly, like Lily, sets off on a quest. Hers is more esoteric as she hopes to solve the mystery of death and pursue the even loftier goal of reuniting the living and the dead. Over many decades, Molly creates a singular utopia --- the Lazarene community --- and sets a group of radical and inventive thinkers to her task. Molly’s vision, Lily’s questions, and her father’s life work exploring the “innerfinity” all come together just as The Grey, aided by Team Joy Joy, threatens to destroy civilization once and for all. Can the developments of the Lazarenes work to stop the destruction, or must this earthly realm be abandoned?

From Hong Kong to the compelling and powerful Echolands, from just after the American Revolution to the day after this one, Soule’s story is sprawling in time, space and ideas yet composed with a laser-sharp focus on the themes of loss, love, sorrow, connection and discovery. Carefully placed historical figures root this fantasy in our world, but Soule’s ideas soar. THE ENDLESS VESSEL is an entertaining novel written with a confidence and ease that only serve to highlight the seriousness of its tender and dynamic heart.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on June 10, 2023

The Endless Vessel
by Charles Soule