Author du Jour: Alexander Weinstein, “Children of the New World”
(Picador, P 240, $ 16.00)
Since we have not covered a single short-story collection yet, I thought it was time to remedy the problem. “Children of the New World,” which is garnering tons of accolades in the publishing world, is the perfect book to initiate this book review page. This volume is not your customary middle of the road sentimental or experimental story collection. Rather it is a speculative one, in a new genre, often referred to as Human Future fiction. What is at stake here is the becoming of Man, and I mean Man in the broadest possible sense, as in mankind, for the stories reflect on the effect of technology and our interaction with it, notably the increasing blurring between reality and the virtual world. Our children do not seem to have an issue with it, except when you ask them while facing the sun to tell you which way they are facing. The virtual has become even more real than the real. They can answer but only after consulting an App. Granted you could claim that all this transformation is part of the natural evolution, and the people finding problems with it are just the transitional generation, bound to go the way of the dinosaurs sooner rather than later.
Part Magic Realism part sci-fi, the story collection will take you back and forth into a hard-to-breathe utopian-dystopian world of societies gone numb. Here robots have better gut-feelings than humans. Social media lives inside your brain. Video games are integrated into lives. Memories are manufactured, as in “The Cartographer,” where the main character makes virtual memories, while he grapples with someone he once loved, and only a “memory bank” helps him to retrace his past and experience it again. But the most frightening aspect about the stories is not the obvious lost of practical ability in daily life, such as writing, but the widespread disembodiment that comes with relying only on simulated technology. All the protagonists run around steeped in technology to fill out existential voids unaware that the very technology reinforces the sense of disconnection and loss. It is all uneasy and completely creepy, but what a read.