Published by Picador
Publication date: September 13th 2016
If this election season isn’t freaking you out enough about the future of America, then you need to read Alexander Weinstein’s short stories, Children of the New World. Thankfully, unlike this election, these stories are not real, but they are brilliant in their take on how we’ll be living in the not-so-distant future. And, depending on your perspective they’ll either leave you laughing or crying. I did both.
The stories in Children of the New World constitute a panoply of the ways we decide to let technology take over what were once human functions. In The Cartographers memories can be bought and implanted, which allows for experiences beyond what occurred in real life, but one of the company’s memory testers begins to find that he can’t tell the difference. Sex also takes a hit, with procreation being a thing of the past, thanks to cloning. Erogenous zones are superfluous so in The Pyramid and the Ass the rapid downloading of massive data files from one person to another is the route to a mental orgasm/reboot. Openness is about the decreased need for speech because all information/emotions/interactions are via visual texts etc. The more you get to know a person the more they open their files to you so you ‘learn’ them without ever verbally interacting.
Weinstein doesn’t miss a trick in generating this future environment—we’ve decimated the land so that in The Heartland the topsoil has all been sold off, the water is undrinkable and in the book’s final story Ice Age it is just that, people across America living in igloos on ice that covers the lost world below. The economy is dominated by tech companies leaving multitudes unemployed unless they’re working multiple jobs in service industries or contemplating selling pictures of their children to porn websites to pay the bills. All of this has ramped up our desire for what we don’t have: enlightenment. Except in this accelerated world it’s like everything else—just make-me-feel-better-NOW. The result, in Moksha, is instant enlightenment administered by a computer program through something resembling an old-fashioned hair dryer cap.
In each of these stories Weinstein subtly pokes at the desire for more-better-faster by taking it to a level not usually explored. If you can buy memories, then how can you trust your own memory? Or how can you define yourself when you may not even be you? Weinstein tweaks it all—the individual, love, relationships, the business world, and finally the survival of man—in stories that contain the appeal of a life of ease and enhancement. Everything working through your own eyes or at least from the software downloaded and implanted in your brain until those same eyes are opened and what has been lost is so much greater than what was gained.