Children of the New World

fdfaea_146b3e3c3d2c4f04b3db7b71fb8e7552.jpgThis book was sent to me by the publisher at no cost. It will be out on 31 October; RRP $22.99.

This collection of short stories reminded me a bit of Rob Shearman’s work. These aren’t quite as weird as Shearman’s (in the ‘New Weird’ sense, not just really quite strange), but there’s a similarity in the focus on everyday details in a weird, sometimes science fictional setting; an emphasis on relationships and humanity amidst technology and worlds (both local and global) falling apart.

I’ll bet this doesn’t often get talked about as science fiction; I bet it gets discussed as literary fiction, like The Book of Strange New Things. But for me, it’s definitely sf.

The stories are not quite set tomorrow, like William Gibson’s more recent work; many of them are more next week, set in a world that’s a logical, if frequently horrifying, extension of today. Perhaps the most radical is “Ice Age” where climate change has brought about just that, and people are living in Michigan on a glacier… and the story focusses on community, and the things that bind or destroy it. Then there’s the technology that appears in several stories, utilising Brain/Web interfaces, like having layers around your virtual identity and you choose how much people can access – strangers see the most superficial layer or you can let someone in to access absolutely everything: memories, current feelings, passing thoughts (“Openness”). Or, similarly to “Total Recall,” in “The Cartographers” which imagines people creating and then accessing invented memories; if anything, this story is even darker than the Phillip K Dick. Like any number of other stories, “Saying Goodbye to Yang” explores the notion of an artificial intelligence in a humanoid body and how a family might interact with it, as well as the issue of cloning; “Children of the New World” takes the concept of Second Life and goes way out there. “Migration” made me pause and consider the fact that I prefer to do my shopping online, focusing as it does on the logical extension of more and more people doing so (although the reality that I was reading outside made me feel a bit better about my life choices). “Fall Line” means a lot more to me after having seen Travis Rice’s snowboarding films The Art of Flight and The Fourth Phase.

Weinstein’s stories are always focussed on a male narrator; women are present, but usually as sexual partners. There’s little mention of race, but I’m presuming the men are meant to be white (not least from the lack of mention of race, plus the fact that two stories focus on attitudes towards Asians – which are mostly negative in the worlds presented), and whenever sexuality is mentioned it’s always hetero (for the narrator). So… not a lot of diversity. In fact, basically none; as well, having or being a part of a ‘normal’ family is the reality for, or is meant to be the goal of, each narrator. For all that the characters frequently confront difficult situations, the stories are not presenting characters who stand out in the least.

I enjoyed these stories more than I expected to. The issues – especially of the creeping ever-presence of technology, especially suggested through the use of contact lenses than can stream the user’s experiences, as well as the idea of controlling ‘eyemail’ through eye movements and so on – rather struck a chord, as did the problem of technology destroying community. The stories are well-paced and some of the descriptions – of towns abandoned or destroyed – are powerful. But when I reflected on that lack of diversity in characterisation, I was pretty sad. It’s not what I expect to see any more.

In the end… I do think most of the stories are good (I didn’t love “The Pyramid and the Ass”). But reading all of them in one go was a bit numbing, it turns out.

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