During an epic snowstorm in Tom Comitta's "The Nature Book" comes this sentence: "All nature seemed to tremble, everything in panicky motion." The statement serves as a fine summary of Comitta's novel, which explores the breadth and diversity of the natural world. "The Nature Book" moves through forests, jungles, deserts, plains, mountain ranges and river systems, the ocean depths and the limits of the galaxy. What's more, it does so without a single human character or trace of human influence.

Notably, the second half of that sentence is plagiarized directly — and purposefully — from Sinclair Lewis' "Main Street." And that speaks to the strategy of "The Nature Book," which collects passages from canonical English-language novels to construct a collage narrative. As for the first half of the sentence? It could be from any of more than 300 novels ranging from "Absalom, Absalom" to "Zone One." To be clear: Every image and phrase in "The Nature Book" is lifted from another novel. Call it a remix, a mashup or a supercut. As Comitta states in the preface, "This novel contains no words of my own."

The result is an epic journey — visual, textural and musical — that illustrates the vastness of our environment and its representation in literature. In choosing the novel's many sources, Comitta culled from the classics of Joseph Conrad, Mark Twain, Willa Cather and others. But to achieve greater diversity, Comitta also sought out more contemporary works, like from Louise Erdrich, Ruth Ozeki and Ursula K. Le Guin. The novel's source list, in fact, is as expansive as the evolutionary tree.

Yet "The Nature Book" is so much more than a simple catalog. Despite its formal challenges — no human actors, strict adherence to direct quotation — it reads just as a novel should. There is movement, progress, conflict and suspense. And for a narrative composed of disparate voices, there's an admirable sense of continuity. (The texts, as they're excerpted, aren't identified. That's for the best, as doing so would only have made clutter.)

For instance, in one passage we travel far beyond the land, observing as, "against all probability, a sperm whale had suddenly … appeared in the distance, tossed himself salmon-like to Heaven." As other whales float near the surface, they view two gannet seabirds in flight. Subtly, the narration then tracks the gannets, which fly many miles to an island, then explore its reefs and shores.

Elsewhere we encounter deer, beavers, wolves, gophers, caribou, seals and squid — all at times focal characters. We travel on the wind and rain, along rivers as they course toward the sea. "The Nature Book" makes for a case study in omniscience. It also manages a sly sense of humor, giving asides and cheeky commentary in footnotes.

In certain ways "The Nature Book" is prehuman, a record of Earth untouched by human industry. In other ways it's posthuman, an ecological vision of the world once we're gone. Yet what makes the novel truly original is how it imagines a world in which we, homo sapiens, are irrelevant. One could say "The Nature Book" is sans human.

Joseph Holt is the author of the story collection "Golden Heart Parade." He teaches at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The Nature Book
By: Tom Comitta.
Publisher: Coffee House Press, 272 pages, $17.95.