Another Review at MyShelf.Com

Publisher: Back Bay Books
Release Date: May 5, 2003
ISBN: 0-446-53093-X
Format Reviewed:Paperback
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Genre: Short Stories --- Science Fiction
Reviewed: 2003
Reviewer: Kristin Johnson
Reviewer Notes:

Super Flat Times
By Matthew Derby 

     Fans of Martin Amis' Einstein's Monsters (a short-story chronicle of the terrifying reality of a nuclear strike aftermath) will devour Matthew Derby's oddly humorous, unsettling tales as children in his short story "Meat Tower" lap up "chilk," chocolate milk made, like much of the food in this bizarre but frighteningly plausible world, of meat. If readers bought Einstein's Monsters together with Super Flat Times in an apocalyptic set, the result would be shock and awe, indeed.

     The truly shocking and awe-inspiring aspect of Derby's work is not the trippy, bleak vision of the future, but the poetic, vivid rendering a la Raymond Carver or Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner). Critics may deride as cynical hipness his description of a world in which language erodes, men are mass-executed for having hair on their backs, it's possible (a la Frequency) to communicate with your past via a "Father Helmet" (though this is not a hopeful John Cusack vehicle), and women take pills that allow them to produce twenty eggs a month, so that they move "forever afterward like angry, three-wheeled vegetable carts." But Derby's prose, suitably open-ended in the trend of American literary fiction and art film, and not soap-operatic, renders his dystopia believable through his characters, who are alien, because "we have met the enemy, and he is us."

     Derby's characters trade memories of family for food, chafe at--but seem to need--absurd government regulations, and have an obsession with food appallingly plausible in America, where the joy of eating has been replaced by epidemics of obesity and diabetes, fad diets, and lawsuits. Consumer technology gone awry is apparent to anyone who has ever watched infomercials. And forgetting history, rewriting history, and valiantly trying to recover it (the book is presented as the retelling of a barbaric period named in the title), is not far off in a culture that excises the phrase "Founding Fathers" from textbooks in order not to offend the minority. Like all great science fiction and lasting literature, Super Flat Times allows us to see ourselves through a mirror clearly.

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