December 11, 2014

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Erickson’s main character, Charlie, begins the book as a normal, good hive-person trying to live an upright life, but he’s hijacked by a drugged, rebellious version of his younger self, and the plot gets weird”€”genuinely so”€”from there. The mutilation of human vision is mined repeatedly and effectively as a metaphor; anyone who deviates from what others want to see is labeled, often comically inappropriately, as a “€œwhite nationalist.”€

The most unusual thing about this dystopia”€”aside from its portrayal of leftist intolerance as not righteous but an evil”€”is its calmly delicious, drily funny tone: it’s wickedly humorous in its portrayal of the horrible things we let ourselves do in the name of good. Delicious little tastes of satire are scattered throughout:

I know you understand what I”€™m talking about because “€œelectronic haze”€ is a phrase I remember you using … It has spilled out into the streets and parks; it permeates the atmosphere, and it blankets every surface”€”every gray, drab surface. The endless variety of virtual reality coats the withered old reality. It is like make-up on a corpse.

This is the first volume of a trilogy, so the later books may prove me wrong, but so far there seems to be no easy solution, no simplistic “€œmuggle”€ villain. For all the feeling of menace and horror, every “€œbad guy”€ in Erickson’s world is a human being, in every dirty and uncomfortable sense of those words.

The problem with humanity in Erickson’s world isn”€™t some weird outside force. It’s not white racist trash, not “€œthose people,”€ nor even the miasma of capitalist oppression”€”it’s human stupidity, secrecy, intrigue, cupidity, curiosity, and malice. Each character displays mere ordinary human levels of bad intention and weakness, but it all adds up to a mindscape in which anomie is disproportionately powerful. It takes quite a few idiots to dig a mass grave.


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