Gordon Van Gelder says in his preface to ‘Welcome To Dystopia’ that he wanted lots of short stories for this anthology rather than just a few long ones. He succeeded. There are forty-five tales packed in here and even the most meticulous reviewer isn’t going to cover all of them, though I have read them all. My favourites are listed below in no particular order.
Everyone knows immigrants are the source of all a country’s problems so in the future the crackdown on foreigners, except those needed as cheap labour, will be more severe. The book opens strongly with ‘Sneakers’ by Michael Libling. Two innocent Canadians go south to buy a pair of sneakers, which are cheaper in the United States. Regrettably, things have changed on the border and their situation becomes difficult, even scary. This has a great kick in the tail and may be a warning for those ex-colonials in the savage north. They should have stayed under the rule of good Queen Bess. We Brits would have taken care of them.
‘Glow’ by S.S. Breukelaar has real aliens from another planet who are under threat on election night from Bud Towers and the Humanity First Party. Some actually support him, assuming that Bud is only out to get lowlife aliens and not respectable folks like themselves. Bud’s opponent is an alien-loving woman, who will go to jail for financial misdemeanours if he wins. The theme of this anthology invites allegory.
In my extensive reading, I haven’t come across many female protagonists mad for sex (I don’t read those sort of books) but there’s one in ‘His Sweat Like Stars On The Rio Grande’ by Janis Jan. Working for Local Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the famous Wall, she meets a hot Mexican, fourth generation with a rare green card. She’s ruthless in pursuit of her libidinous longings but, despite her job, this is really about slavery. We do like our cheap food.
A scarier story of slavery is ‘The Adventure of You’ by Paul la Forge. It consists of a list of instructions to coal miner John Arnold Arnold (that is his name). They come from the Synod which forbids certain things, not least among them escaping to the surface which is a myth and doesn’t exist anyway. As dear old Harold Macmillan knew, the best way of keeping the oppressed down is to convince them they’re actually very lucky.
‘Newsletter’ by Jennifer Marie Brisset is in the form of a newsletter to a book group from the community bookstore. It warns them that the state now monitors which books they buy and that certain titles are no longer available. The prospect is chilling for readers but hopefully, things won’t get this bad.
‘Loser’ is by Matthew Hughes who writes many good stories for ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’. Loser 114 is in a camp doing hard labour. He used to work for ‘National Commentator’ magazine and wrote an interesting piece on how people switched from ‘citizens in a society’ to ‘consumers in an economy’. He’s recruited to betray his old comrades who have fled to Canada with his wife and child held hostage to make sure he complies. This is a thoughtful and interesting narrative from an author more noted for his humour.
‘Dangerous’ by Lisa Mason is a hilarious story about compulsory vagina registration with the federal government. No mention of male reproductive organs which are presumably free to hang out wherever they like.
‘Statues Of Limitations’ by Jay Russell is a conversation between Sal and Bobby in New York. Incorrect statues are being replaced all over the city. Atlas is removed from Rockefeller Center for being ‘an insidious three-dimensional trope for two thousand years of hegemonic patriarchy’. This was hilarious, the best thing in the book and a warning to look left as well as right when guarding your freedom of speech.
One of the longest here is ‘Burning Down The House’ by Ted White. Nik’s block is burnt down by armed gangs so she goes to see Jonny, a pimp. She won’t work for him but they are sort of friends. He arranges for her to meet a One Percenter who’s doing an IQ experiment to prove that poor people aren’t stupid. A sad story of exploitation but Nik’s struggle makes an interesting yarn.
Ron Goulart enjoys himself with ‘The Amazing Transformation Of The White House Dog.’ Like FDR and Nixon, the President wants to have a dog but he’s allergic to them. Norbert’s Uncle Josh is an inventor and has made Fido #7, a clever talking robot canine. J. Edgar Nofzinger, head of the Alternative FBI comes to check it out. Fido is approved and will keep the president company in the wee small hours while he tweets. Great fun and a pleasant change from the myriad bleak visions, though I admit there’s a lot to be bleak about.
‘Designed For Your Safety’ by Elizabeth Bourne is told in the form of emails from Sophie Goldstein to Emily Wilson. Sophie has obtained a good job in a fantastic new office building that’s solar-powered with a huge roof garden which uses the workers own processed poo as manure. It’s practically self-sufficient which is just as well when the outside world falls apart and they are locked in by the building for their own safety. This is almost an updated ‘Lord Of The Flies’ with adults. The crisis worsens steadily in a clever plot and if it was stretched out a bit it might make a good film.
Overall, this is a worthy anthology. In fact, there wasn’t a duff story in the bunch but as many are very short the book as a whole is a bitty read. The brief to keep it brief led many writers to go the epistolary route, usually e-mails between parties but also a newsletter and even a story told in Facebook posts. The general tone was inevitably serious, that’s the nature of dystopian fiction, but the loaf is leavened by bits of humour.
Although not all the stories are about Trump-related issues, they are all set in a near future USA and this is, in general, a howl of rage by the liberals of America against the new president and a feast of fiction guaranteed to make red necks redder. There are brief notes on the authors at the back of the book if you want to find out more about them. I doff my cap to Thomas Kaufsek who has remained ‘true to his resolution not to have his own website’.
Roll on the Mid-Term elections!
(pub: OR Books. 406 page ebook. £ 7.21 (UK), $10.11 (US). ASIN: B0797YR1KF)
check out website: www.orbooks.com