Published December 24, 2016 by Smashwords Edition
Writing dystopian fiction in this day and age poses many challenges, not the least of which is this: how do you keep up? Many of the dystopian premises we see in literature are already popping up in the news — in some form — and often, as Lord Byron famously observed, truth is stranger than fiction.
That was my reaction this week when the media revealed, not for the first time, that employers are microchipping workers. (One of my dogs has a microchip. But if I hired someone to work for me, I would trust them not to wander off and get lost.)
Although I’ve quipped that I fear the dystopian genre has become obsolete, it flourishes — and smart, imaginative writers keep it fresh, vibrant and, at times, horrifying.
Each short story in Closer Than You Think is set in the future and, like the television series Black Mirror, focuses on some aspect of technology. It begins in the near future, in a comfortably familiar society full of self-driving cars, and eventually takes us to civilizations that are glimmers on the horizon of the world we know.
Many of these forms of technology, like meat grown from stem cells, actually exist but aren’t practical for widespread use. The themes — including erosion of civil liberties, the costs of over-reliance on technology, and exploitation of vulnerable citizens — also tie the past and present to the future.
I was quite taken with this author’s talent. He has a vibrant imagination, a straightforward but eloquent writing style, and insight into the themes he explores. He also has a flair for descriptive writing, which shines throughout the book. This lends itself to engaging worldbuilding and to scenes that are beautifully crafted, even when they describe things that are bleak and ugly.
Through the black spaces between the lights there drifted, on occasion, the lonely phosphorescence of the deep’s aboriginal life…The distances between the islands of human light grew wider and darker as the mersible progressed. The patterns of the domes and the narrow traffic flows of mersibles between them thinned and thinned more, becoming a rotten and tearing lace of civilization at the frontier, until the Mao Frodo swam free of the human realm altogether. Only a handful of hours thereafter the mersible steered into the stinking Stygia of the Taint, a slow-roiling green cloud of pus marking the bottom of the continental shelf like a border marked on a map, built of the runoff and decay products of an ancestral era in which — historians swore it was true but students couldn’t help feeling it must be at least half myth — humans rose to intelligence and thrived in the unmanageable chaos environments of open atmosphere.
This short story collection consistently held my interest, and there were many stories I loved, which have stuck with me tenaciously (especially “Goat Ba’nannies” and “Sick Tube”). I also savored the author’s smart, witty writing and exceptional flair with words.