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The pandemic in Peng Shepherd’s debut novel, The Book of M, starts with magic—the disappearance of a man’s shadow.

The occurrence, broadcast worldwide, is greeted with delight until more and more people lose their shadows. People start losing their memories as well—while gaining an ability to change the world with the power of their imaginations.

As society collapses, the landscape becomes as beautiful as it is terrifying: deers have wings, clouds tinkle like bells, lakes appear overnight, flowers bloom in winter.

The Book of M has garnered widespread praise, earning recommendations from The Today Show and USA Today, and making Amazon’s list of Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2018. A reviewer on Bustle called it a “post-apocalyptic masterpiece.”

In a world of vanishing memories, Shepherd finds an unlikely hero: a patient with classic amnesia. Unlike the “shadowless”—who eventually forget everything, including how to speak or eat or breathe—the amnesiac never forgets how the world works. This allows him to explore, in a race against the seemingly unstoppable pandemic, ways to save the memories of the few who remain.

For several of Shepherd’s characters, the worst thing that can happen to them is losing their connection to those they love. “Their greatest fear is the people they care about who’ve lost their shadows [will forget] their love and the memories they have together,” Shepherd says.

The book is mum about the pandemic’s cause—as is Shepherd. “I sort of felt like if this really happened to all of us and the world was plunged into this kind of dream-like forgetting state, probably nobody would [know the cause] but everyone would have their theories. Some make more sense than others.”

Rob Wolf is the host of New Books in Science Fiction and the author of The Alternate Universe and The Escape. Follow him on Twitter: @robwolfbooks

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