Monday, January 15, 2018

The Darkest Vision

M.T. Anderson wrote Feed, which is not to be confused with Mira Grant's Feed, but which is widely admired and which appears to have predicted the world of social media, though it was published in 2002.  I still haven't read it, but all those recommendations were what pointed me at his new novella, Landscape with Invisible Hand.

I got an ARC from Netgalley a while ago, but the format wasn't cooperating with my Kindle, so I ended up reading it when it came out, especially after I saw Librarian Sam reading it she told me how great it was.  I checked it out and started reading, and it is great--incredibly well written and perfectly portrayed. But my GOD, what a downer.

In Feed, Anderson anticipated the overwhelming role of social media in society; Landscape is about poverty, economics, and social stratification.  Basically, an alien race called the vuvv have introduced themselves to Earth, offered cultural and economic exchange, and some have come to live here. Their advanced technology changes everything.

In fact, it almost eliminates the need for a workforce.  Adam is a high school student and aspiring artist; his parents can't find work and everyone in his town is living hand to mouth.  Adam and his girlfriend sign up to be a vuvv reality show, where their dates are televised and translated. Of course, the vuvv's understanding of human culture is based mostly on old TV, so the only way to "authentically" date is to go bowling or for moonlit walks.  And if, at some point, they decide to break up, they might be in breach of contract.

This is a dark story, and it's very much about helplessness, and what you're left with when you not only have nothing, but see avenues closed off to you one by one.  When your health and your finances and your relationships are all collapsing, and there are no resources, and, and, and.  It reminds me of another recent read, Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, by Linda Tirado, which is basically an account of being working-class poor in the US. There are specific points I would argue with that author, but her clear explanations of the logic of poverty just makes me outraged at everyone who fails to see that virtually every person is trying their hardest, and many of them are being screwed by the system.

Capitalism is rough, and a lousy social system. The vuvv treatment of humanity is exactly--precisely--how we treat the poor. The dystopia is that we're all living in the world that we've built for each other, but when we emerge from behind the veil of ignorance, we discover that we've all drawn the short straw that we expected someone else to get.

Well written and engrossing, I can't say it was a pleasure to read.  But it was worth it, and I actually liked the ending.  I couldn't have imagined an ending, happy or sad, that would satisfy me while I was reading it, but in the end it was what I needed. I definitely need to read more MT Anderson, though maybe not all at once.

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