In his collection of 13 short stories, “Children of the New World,” author Alexander Weinstein explores our relationship with technology and its impact on our lives.
The timely, nuanced stories in Alexander Weinstein’s “Children of the New World” (Picador paperback original, 240 pp., $16) are some of the most brilliantly disconcerting fiction in recent memory, stranding the reader in 13 eerily plausible futures. In riveting scenarios that call to mind the cult BBC TV series “Black Mirror,” Weinstein deftly explores our evolving relationship with technology and its repercussions on our inner and outer lives.
In the poignant first story, “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” the family’s android baby-sitter suffers a sudden, fatal malfunction one morning at the breakfast table. Past warranty, his circuits irreparably fried, Yang is clearly for the scrap heap, yet his survivors struggle to understand the emotional aftermath of their loved one’s death.
In the title story, a couple’s existential investment in virtual reality bears unexpected fruit in a pair of beloved imaginary children. These parents’ joy is threatened when their forays into a virtual red-light district fling open their door to terrifying, fully dimensional spam and malware that wreaks havoc on their happy home. Describing the lure of this make-believe world, they observe, “We were like babies. Like Adam and Eve, … we were free to experience a physical connection that we’d always longed for in the real world but had never been able to achieve. Who can blame us for being reckless?”
The author of “Children of the New World” will appear at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13, at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave.; free (206-624-6600 or elliottbaybook.com).
As Weinstein’s characters grapple with increasingly attenuated daily lives, their longings, quandaries and follies are our own. They worry about the world they are leaving to their children, and like us they struggle to understand and find meaning in a culture where ingenuity outpaces wisdom, and where neither love, dreams, spirituality, nor consciousness escapes commodification. If you’ve ever suffered through a crashed hard drive or struggled to unplug over the weekend, you’re already living in a Weinstein story.
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Some of his people dwell amid the ravages of this culture, such as the family in “Heartland,” stuck in a blighted clay belt where all the topsoil has been sold off and working-class families strive to make ends meet in an economy buoyed by funny home videos and porn. In “Migration,” a son rebels against a world of networked, virtual body-suited shut-ins by brazenly riding his bike through the deserted streets to what once was the mall.
As bleak as these futures are, truly macabre moments are rare, as in “Rocket Night,” a grim little fable of space-age ostracism reminiscent of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” The darkest dystopia is approached obliquely, as with the unsettling neologisms in “Excerpts from The New World Authorized Dictionary” which provide glimpses of a ghastly future society pitiably akin to our own.
As with George Saunders or Ray Bradbury, Weinstein’s satiric ingenuity seldom overpowers his deep compassion for our wayward species. To this he adds a keenly observant sense of the everyday that suggests we might be getting a sneak peak at an annual installment of The Best American Short Stories circa 2050. The resulting cautionary tales are superlatively moving and thought-provoking, imbued with disarming pathos and a palpable sense of wonder and loss.