the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘consumerism

The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff

available June 2019

where I got it: Received advanced review copy (Thanks!)

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I’m gonna give you the bookends first, and then sorta kinda fill in the middle, ok?

 

My first thought about this book was “what’s up with that title? It makes no sense!”

 

My last thought when I was finishing the book was “oh, now I get it! The title makes sense now!”, and then a few pages later “oh. Now I really get it. Oh my.”  An unplanned coincidence that I read that last story on the day before Passover.

 

Ok, now for all the tasty middle bits:

 

The History of Soul 2065 is a mosaic novel.  What’s a mosaic novel you ask? Mosaic novels are strange and wonderful volumes that  usually involve interconnected short stories or vignettes, they can have location and time-jumps, a character who is a child in one story may be a grandparent in another, someone who seems so important in one story may never show up again. Like most mosaic novels, many of the stores in The History of Soul 2065 appeared previously in other magazines and anthologies (such as Mythic Delirium magazine, Clockwork Phoenix, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Weird Tales, and Apex Magazine, among others), with a handful that were original to this novel. Some older stories have been slightly reworked to better fit into the chronology.

 

Reading The History of Soul 2065 is like looking through a photo album – and when you touch someone’s photo, you get pulled into what they were going through at the moment the photo was taken.  Maybe when that photo was taken they were happy, maybe they were sad, maybe they were missing someone, maybe they had just helped someone. Krasnoff gilds the stories with magical realism, superstitions, and a few things you’ve just got to take on faith, and while she presents the family’s story in sort of chronological order in a healthy mix of longer stories and flash fiction length pieces,  what she’s actually doing is telling a far more important story, and magically telling it backwards.

 

And yes, if you didn’t pick up in from the cover art, this is a very Jewish book. The two families involved in the stories are Jewish, there are constant cultural and religious references, historical references, faded numbers on arms. There are references to specific Jewish prayers, and these things are not explained in the text.  As a Jew, I knew what they meant, non-Jews may not get the references (and that’s OK! That’s what Google is for).  If you’ve never met someone who is Jewish, I can’t think of a better introduction to the Jewish culture than this book.

 

Many of my favorite stories were the ones that made my cry.  Is that weird? Here are a few of my favorites, only some of which made me cry:

 

I came across “Sabbath Wine” in a Clockwork Phoenix anthology, are stories this beautiful supposed to make you cry so much? I was overjoyed to see that story as one of the openers in this novel, that I read it, cried a ton, and then I was trying to explain the plot of the story to my husband and was just a cry-y, snotty mess.  It’s a story of two kids who become unlikely friends, and the friendship that their fathers forge. It’s a harsh reminder of how fractured Jewish communities can become, how cruel we can be to each other, and the unexpected oddness of finding you have something in common with a stranger.

 

“Hearts and Minds” didn’t make me cry, but it could have.  And we get introduced to Ben! I have such a soft spot for him, but what is he doing in this story, playing cards with all these old people? If you ever want to know what my favorite kind of story telling twist is, it’s the one at the end of this story.

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Nexhuman by Francesco Verso

Publishing date Aug 14th, 2018 (click here to pre-order)

Where I got it: Received copy for review from Apex Books*

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#sorrynotsorry, I’m going to give you a spoiler right out of the gate:

 

Nexhuman will offer you enough ideas and discussion topics and thought experiments to keep you busy for the next ten years. In fact, an entire Convention programming track could be built just around the questions and ideas in this book.

 

What Nexhuman does not offer is concrete answers to any of the questions that are brought up.

 

It’s something you should know before you pick up this book: If you are the kind of reader who wants a book to ask questions and then cleanly answer them, Nexhuman will be one confusing and disappointing read.  On the flip side, if you enjoy science fiction books that ask questions about how society works, why humans act the way they do, why we make the decisions we make, how obsession and fear and passion work, a book that invites you to pull your own thoughts apart and examine them, and oh  yeah, if you love beautiful prose that doesn’t rely on snark to get a point across, Nexhuman could be the best book you read this year. Interested in how any of this came about? Francesco Verso recently published a short essay in Apex Magazine about the origins of the novel.

 

Another spoiler: Nexhuman does not at all read like your typical popular American-style science fiction novel. What I mean by that is there is no snarky language for the sake of being snarky or shocky,  no sexy cinematic scenes, the language is often raw and blunt, and the characters don’t really care if you like, agree with, relate to, or sympathize with them. I mean no disrespect to science fiction when I say that Nexhuman reads like literature.

 

Most of the novel takes place in or around a dump that overflows with consumer goods. For me, this novel was a connecting keystone for works such as Battle Angel Alita, Wall-E, John Scalzi’s Lock In, Ferrett Steinmetz’s The Uploaded, David Brin’s Kiln People, and other stories that touch on hyperconsumerism and leaving our fleshbodies behind for one reason or another.

 

Peter and his family make their living by clawing through the trash to find bits and pieces that can be resold, recycled, reused. Many household items are 5th, 6th, nth hand. Having something that is brand new is a status symbol, but also a symbol of flagrant waste.  Even Peter’s prosthetic limbs are made of whatever he can find in the dump. If he wants a better arm or a better leg, he better hit the jackpot of finding outdated robot or android parts in the dump. I spent 80% of the book wondering if he was born with a birth defect, or if there had been an accident or infection that led to his amputations. Peter doesn’t like to talk about, and when I found how what had happened to him,  not only did I realize why he hates to talk about it, but everything in the beginning of the book suddenly made a ton more sense!

 

Ok, so what the hell is this book about?  On the edge of the dump is a commercial district. Teenage Peter has a puppy-dog crush on a young woman named Alba who works at the travel agency. He watches her from afar, he shyly says hello to her when she comes to unlock the business in the morning.   He begins to view himself as her protector. She politely engages in conversation with him, asks him how his day is going, says hello. Alba is the first person in his life who has ever shown him the slightest bit of unconditional kindness, so it’s no wonder his crush turns into infatuation.

 

Is it before or after Peter’s brother’s gang attacks Alba and tears her body apart at the seams that Peter realizes she is a Nexhuman?

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SAM_2429The Case Against Tomorrow (collection) by Frederik Pohl

Printed in 1957, stories originally published between 1954 – 1956

Where I got it: bought used

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America in the 1950s – WWII had ended but Korea and the Cold War were ramping up, the American economy was booming, with more production, more consumerism, more home ownership, more children entering school, and a new concept called “suburbia”. Public schools became integrated, racial tensions and national anxieties soared, McCarthyism was born.  It was a time of changes. Frederick Pohl observed and satirized everything around him – society, consumerism, politics, hubris,  and conservative views on race and class.  His matter of fact writing style feels like Vonnegut at times, and chillingly like Shirley Jackson at other times. Not every story in The Case Against Tomorrow is satire, but in my opinion most of them are.

Here are my thoughts on the 6 stories included in this thin little volume.

The Midas Plague (1954) –  Morey Fry has just married his beautiful bride, and at first everything is blissful, as is often the case with young love. They certainly aren’t rich, but they work as hard as they can and dutifully get their quota book stamped and inspected for their clothing and food and furniture.  But how much veal and expensive liquor and fancy clothes and opera tickets can two people possibly go through?  As the robots tirelessly work to efficiently build and manufacture as many consumer goods as they can, the consumers must work just as tirelessly to use all these consumer goods. It’s a closed system, after all. Wealth means escape from the system, thus a poorer family is required to eat more three course meals, use up more luxury goods,  go through more pairs of shoes, have a larger house that’s filled with yet more furniture.  And when Morey accidentally comes up with a solution, will he be labeled traitor or hero? A highly entertaining and eye opening satire of consumerism and an unchecked manufacturing industry.  The longest and best story in the collection.

The Census Takers  (1955) – this is one way to solve an overpopulation issue.  Cities can only handle so many people, so when a count is taken the overage must be handled.  And there is no escaping the census. Told through the eyes of our narrator, who passes judgement on large families (and everybody else), and convinces one patriarch to make the ultimate sacrifice to save his children. So obsessed with counting, overing, and handling, the supervisors and enumerators are blinded to what’s happening right under their eyes. Satirical and creepy!

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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