The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 12 May 2004


Nine Stories of an Imminent Future

by Walter Mosley

Walter Mosley, perhaps most famous for his hardboiled fiction, has penned a couple of science fiction books as well. In this one, he posits a disturbing future of corporate power gone wild and the loss of individual human rights worldwide. It isn't that difficult a future to envision. It is a bleak possibility and Mosley manages to make it snappy and entertaining, if a little curt at times. Herein are nine stories of that future. They are disparate but all take place within the world to come. It is 2055 or thereabouts, and the planet is transformed. But some of it goes a little too far. Perhaps in another couple centuries, rather than five decades. This is a world in which the Consititution has ten new amendments, most of them to the advantage of corporations. All of the stories here are about individual freedoms lost to a world of technological and corporate hegemony. The issue of race and social structure is at the core of the stories, perhaps to a fault. And, since the stories are so short, the plot development is often truncated and abrupt. There is a pulpy feel to the writing as well, but there are valuable moments throughout the book. The stories are short enough, and the world they inhabit is consistent enough, that this book is closer to a novel than a collection of stories. The later stories fill in gaps in the earlier ones rather than stand on their own. Some of the stories, however, would stand alone, but as a collection, there is more cohesion to the selection.

Whispers in the Dark is the shortest story, in which we meet young Ptolemy Bent, a brilliant child reading at a high level at the age of two and a half. He has a dark destiny that entwines the fates of those who love him most. In The Greatest we encounter Fera, a young woman who has taken the boxing world by storm. Her strength makes her an appealing target for marketers and politicians alike. The story is much like public life today, taken to what might seem an extreme degree. We shall see. Doctor Kismet is the leader of small island west of Mexico. He is outrageously rich, and with his corporate power, has purchased influence all over the world. The radical leader Fayez Akwande, also globally influential, has come to the island to strike a bargain with Kismet for the health and economic security of his Malian countrymen. The whole is decided over a tennis match. Angel's Island is an advanced prison with extremely high tech methods of inmate control. The prisoners have sophisticated packets of electronics and chemicals permanently attached to their arms. Bits, a new inmate, looks for a way to foil these nefarious devices, with the help of an international Nazi and his own programming prowess. All before the "snakes" can be applied to the world population at large. The Electric Eye, is a hardboiled detective story along the lines of Chandler's Philip Marlowe. Folio Johnson goes looking for whoever is killing off the members of a small think tank. The story is short and quick and has a somewhat too convenient solution. In Voices, our boxer's father features in his own struggle against Pulse, a legal drug that tends to cause the human brain to collapse upon itself. Leon is hearing voices in his head, but they come from an entirely unexpected source. In the cryptically titled Little Brother, we return to the technical realm of the criminal justice system. With advanced cyborg technology, the "justice" system is practically fully automated. With clever arguments, and the help of Doctor Kismet, our hero tries to talk his way out of execution, with somewhat surprising results, though with the story a little too dependent on the assumptions of the technology. At one hundred pages, En Masse is the longest story in this collection. Neil is a lowly prod, a cog on the production line for electronic prototypes. He works in a tower in Mosley's dystopic Manhattan, but is absorbed into a rogue work group which practices a form of total quality management bordering on the revolutionary. This is the best story in the collection. And, finally, in The Nig in Me, this disturbing new world gets its due with plague and disaster. But is this a happy ending?

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