SUM: Forty Tales from the Afterlives, by David Eagleman is a collection of 40 flash stories, each packed with dense, lucid, playful ironies about what might come after this life. Many play with SF tropes, like the idea that we can transfer our minds into computers, or perhaps we were created by other intelligences that aren’t necessarily godlike, or what it means to understand the equations behind reality. It’s not so much about life after death, but death becoming a moment of illumination when the illusion of life is stripped away and you see what existence really is.

The many samples available are like the old Lay’s Potato chips commercials: No one can read just one. One of my favorites gives a vivid description of what it might be like to be reborn as a horse. Another suggests we are part of a cosmic observing device. Another examines what it might really mean to have a Heaven populated with the people we knew.

Maybe in the afterlife we exist at all the ages we ever were. Maybe we discover that the only quantum overlay we truly understand is the experience of a committed relationship that might break up at any moment. Maybe all of existence is written by a single quark moving back and forth in time. This last one is so visual, I think it would make a great animated short. No wonder the book has already been adapted into an opera.

I love the humor in these stories. I love the twisted layers of irony. I love the way it plays with God, love, and the universe. Even the ones that fall flat are interesting.

One could argue that it doesn’t range quite as far as it claims. The variations rung here are largely within the domain of the Western concept of God the Creator, at least some kind of Creator. The various heavens and hells are still Heaven and Hell. Or one could simply enjoy the variety of changes rung within this domain.