“Brave New Worlds” edited by John Joseph Adams (Nightshade Books, 2011)

Brave New Worlds
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1984 came and went without Big Brother rearing his ugly head in quite the way he did in the book; though one could say things got a little hairy during George W. Bush’s eight years of the Patriot Act and Home land Security, and yet in today’s world can you really say that you are completely free to do as you please without feeling like anybody’s watching you?  Perhaps you see this world in a different light: do you use a disposable phone, screen your calls, use “incognito mode” in all your online browsing, and feel like various agencies within the government are watching you constantly, whether it’s where you’re shopping, what you’re eating, or perhaps what books you’re checking out of the library.  If this is the case, you’re going to want to own a copy of Brave New Worlds, and if it’s not, well, you should read it too, because it’s a really fantastic collection of stories of a dystopian future where freedom is a whispered, secret word, not to be uttered aloud to anyone.

John Joseph Adams, bestselling editor of such great anthologies as Wastelands and The Living Dead does a fantastic job of collecting stories of dystopian worlds, covering just about the entire history of the science fiction genre.  Brave New Worlds starts off with “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson – a story many of us became familiar with in high school and college, but can now be read for sheer enjoyment; to Ursula LeGuin’s unforgettable “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” – a story of a paradise where every day is a joy for its citizens, except for one child locked away in a cell in constant suffering.  Many big name authors make the cut, with the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and Orson Scott Card; as well as some more recent bestselling names of the genre, like Paolo Bacigalupi, Cory Doctorow and Carrie Vaughan.

Some of these dystopian stories are similar, some are completely unique and surprising; all playing on the concept of having our necessary freedoms stripped away from us, leaving us hollow shells; the question is whether we choose to go along blindly and submit, or fight.  Perhaps you’re wondering if there’s a story about a future where young people donate their organs to old people, or looking forward the original short story of Philip K. Dick’s “The Minority Report”; either way,  Brave New Worlds will be an absolute delight for anyone who enjoys a story about a doomed future.

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Originally written on March 6, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

“God is Dead” by Ron Currie, Jr. (Viking, 2007)

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Ron Currie Jr. is a new author to the world of publishing, having had stories published in Glimmer Train, The Sun, Other Voices, and Night Train; God is Dead is his first novel.  It is a slim book, only 180 pages long, with an unusual layout: the pages are taller than a regular hardcover, but narrower.  With a haunting image on the front of a dog looking into a cage where there is another dog lying on its side, apparently dead; the package of God is Dead immediately catches one’s eye.

The title offers an obvious hint of what is to come in the novel.  The book is split up into nine chapters that in some ways stand on their own as short stories.  In the first God has taken the form of a young Dinka woman in the Sudan in the region of Darfur where she is injured and then killed.  God is now dead and word begins to spread, soon enveloping the entire world in this doom.  And so each story plays out in a different part of the world, with distinctive characters, in different times.

The second story is about a young girl who is now done with high school and wishes to sever all ties and connections with it, go to college in South Carolina, and pretend her past never happened.  The story ends with the poignant scene of a priest committing suicide by jumping off a bridge.  It is as a small and seemingly insignificant viewpoint that really speaks for the emotions and sensations that the rest of the world is going through.  Religion and faith now seem pointless and so the novel goes from there into different peoples’ lives: boys who can’t take the anarchy anymore and begin a group suicide; adults who turn their beliefs and faiths to children who are pure and innocent and seen brilliant; a war between the post-modern anthropologists and the environmental psychologists that involves the entire world.

Incredible story aside, Currie Jr. has a unique voice and a great talent for what he does, using a sharp and descriptive writing style that I will look forward to seeing again in his future novels.  Ron Currie Jr. is a great new novelist to be watched, and God is Dead is an impressive first novel that is more than an introduction to his imagination.

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Originally written on August 17th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.