Back Bay Books
Date: May 5, 2003
it at Amazon
Short Stories --- Science Fiction
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 Amazon.com apocalyptic
set, the result would be shock and awe, indeed.
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."
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been replaced by epidemics of obesity and diabetes, fad diets, and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.