Monday, 29 August 2011

FALL INTO TIME BY DOUGLAS LAIN

I'd actually read two of these stories when they first appeared in online magazines. This is Lain's second book-form publication, the first was his debut short story collection, Last Week's Apocalypse. Lain's stories exist somewhere on the intersection of PKD, Kafka and a William Gibson who is more engaged with personal spaces and ideological possibilities than that funky data dance. I consider him one of the most exciting and intriguing writers I've encountered in the contemporary SF field, albeit one who does not press the buttons the bulk of genre fans expect their writers to. I'll try and weigh in with a more detailed version of this review sometime when it isn't a saturday evening and I don't have a bottle of excellent whiskey at hand.

*time elapses*

Right, it's Monday morning. You know, I used to spread drinking through the week, but lately I seem to get it all done in a few hours on Saturday evenings. Improved time management skills, I suppose.

I'd like to add a story-by-story review of this book which is easy because it only contains 4 stories.

The Last Apollo Mission: Lain parlays moon landing fraud theories and post-9/11 conspiracy paranoia into a story about a failed (or is she?) writer's intersection with a top-secret Kubrick project and the very bizarre aftermath. When you accept that everything's part of a conspiracy theory, what happens when conspiracies collide?

Resurfacing Billy: In a near-future where toxic waste is being dumped in public spaces and seeping out everywhere, a man tries to invent a miracle substance that will seal the garbage in for good. At the same time, the private franchise school he sends his son Billy to is attempting to find ways to curb Billy's supposedly anti-social streak, and is willing to use means that extend all the way up to lobotomy. Something about our increasingly counter-productive problem-solving strategies as a species, I think. The most emotionally poignant story in this set.

Alien Invasion/Coffee Cup Story: Dozens of SF fans love to hate this parody of the slice-of-life epiphany short story, spliced with an infuriatingly static alien invasion scenario. We expect too much from things, whether they're drunken conversations in bars or gleaming spacecraft hanging in the sky.

Chomsky And The Time Box: In a recent essay on Zizek, Lain says 'The only thing to expect from Zizek is that he challenges us to think and create new modes of Praxis. Not that we should stay at Zizek's level of political intervention, but rather that we should brutally test his ideas and criticize him so that we can discover to what degree the impossible is possible'. I think this story is of a piece with that sentiment, it's partly a commentary on our need to find gurus, using two such disparate figures as Chomsky and mushroom-mystic Terence McKenna to convey this point. It's also a hilarious, frustrating take on the history-changing time travel trope and there are one or two things here about our consumerist obsession with gadgets and gratification.

I may have made these stories seem like dry exercises in making points; in fact each of them has a richly textured narrative and is often downright hilarious. I'm a steadily-lapsing SF fan who finds that most current strands of the genre have very little to do with his own futuristic or literary interests. Lain is the rare writer who addresses my increasing need to read SF that engages with the currents that are really shaping our world in a mode that owes more to the 70s New Wave, for instance, than to Crichton-envy. Well done!

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