Helen does not emote normally, displaying none of the usual reactions exhibited by her fellow citizens – with their guilty consciences and sorrows – even when contemplating employment that takes advantage of her interest in sadomasochism, and so, it seems, she must be kept under constant surveillance by a panopticon-like government, and by a man a bit too
fascinated by her psychological development from youth to young adult and her romantic infidelities.
That is the plot of Forecast by Shya Scanlon
, a book about which I literally knew nothing until the author himself handed out free autographed copies at one of the Literary Death Match events Todd Zuniga hosts. But you may want to pay for a copy. If nothing else, the book is a very good example of the way in which sci-fi sensibilities – especially cyberpunk – have blended with what has become the default tone of hip literary fiction, which is a sort of whimsical, game-playing, fanciful, clever – but sort of fey and non-commital – one, not so unlike what has happened to indie music and TV/film comedy, I suppose.
Even the most ardent capitalist – by which I mean me, compared to whom your are all
communists – has to love the way he depicts a future so media-saturated and preference-satisfying that holographic corporate logos literally crawl continually all over one’s apartment, attaching themselves to products that could be replaced or upgraded and giving you a holographic glimpse of a better future. All too plausible – and more than a little creepy. (Likewise, we all knew that one scene in Minority Report
with the personalized advertising was too logical an outcome to avoid for long – and indeed we didn’t, yet that was still ostensibly sci-fi when it came out in 2002.) It is not, I suppose, a coincidence that Scanlon went to Brown and that the world he imagines rings true to me.
The funniest (yet still creepy) conceit in Forecast
is that in a post-electrical near future, the grid is powered by negative and repressed emotions (in an artificial-raincloud-shrouded Seattle, amongst other places). That’s why Helen’s failure to generate her share of power – and thus her unusual psyche – is of interest to the authorities and one tracker in particular. With no trustworthy allies besides a talking dog, she will attempt to escape observation and her husband.
Scanlon manages to tell a very human, even poignant story, and if he can do that while being hyper-postmodern and sci-fi-satirical, I hope he’s showing us a bit of the real human future after all, as good sci-fi usually has, instead of just showing off his present-day writer chops. Bravo, Scanlon! (Or perhaps I should say, “Good boy! Here’s a Dirty Dog!”)
Whether the topic was mysticism, literary theatre, comedy, the inevitable comedic-argumentative non sequiturs on the show Politically Incorrect
, or postmodern fiction – I’ve seen that the easiest route to success is often to confuse people. But that’s not what I want to do. Magicians have their place, but the truth will set you free, and I’m on the truth’s side. People do not appreciate, I think, how much this constrains a conscientious writer (in much the same way that refusing to base verbal wit on insults does, on which more in a moment). If you want kindness and honesty in the real world, I think it has to show in your aesthetics, no matter how much that ties a creative hand behind your back.
An interesting debate could be had about whether Scanlon’s foray into a very media-saturated sci-fi future, one that is in a way more Blade Runner
than Blade Runner
, enlightens or confuses, but I think it ultimately does the former.
Speaking of a man whose wife Helen probably dreamt of escape, James Thurber – whose essay collection Thurber Country
was given to me by very nice sex columnist Tracy Quan recently – is hilarious, but he has made me even more acutely aware of a troubling literary tradition peaking, by my crude estimation, around mid-twentieth-century, which is writers who are (A) acerbic, (B) clever, (C) obsessed with wordplay, (D) nasty and misanthropic, (E) slightly “off” sexually, and (F) severely alcoholic. I spotted him as one of those types (I’m getting better at that in recent years) while reading this collection – much more readily than I spotted the pattern when I was reading him as a teen and merely thinking he was funny ha-ha.
I don’t know exactly why the qualities listed above keep going together, but it seems to