By Dan Clendenin
Alexander Weinstein, Children of the New World: Stories (New York: Picador, 2016), 229pp.
The thirteen short stories in this collection are all set in a digital dystopia of the not-too-distant future. Indeed, while some of the details might seem far-fetched, others are already with us. The dark techno-future that Alexander Weinstein imagines is a world of eyemail, innercourse with avatars rather than with real human beings, brainfleas, thought ads, and a debate about whether consciousness is a private or public right. Real books with paper pages, something ancient like a pen, and, most of all, “real life experiences,” are all old school relics that are hard to find.
In the title story “Children of the New World,” parents lament “that other life” in “that other world,” and must “delete” their children because they contracted a virus and it’s too expensive to repair them. Their friend consoles them, “if it’s any consolation, they were just data.” There’s catastrophic environmental degradation in these stories. Ski slopes with no snow. Indiana cornfields that are but a distant memory, and that are now sold for their topsoil. With no jobs, and suburban neighborhoods that are half empty, perhaps parents could earn a little money selling images of their adolescent children to online vendors?
In “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” Jim and Kyra struggle when their robotic brother to their adopted daughter Mika must be recycled or buried in their back yard. There’s no denying how much he had been an “integral part” of their family. In “The Cartographers,” Adam works at a company that makes virtual, beamed memories. These fake memories “form a life that never happened.” Adam meets Cynthia in a coffee shop, where she’s writing down her real memories in a real book called a diary. She’s working hard to stay digitally-disconnected, and so when they fall in love you might imagine the problems.
The common denominator in these stories is the deep disconnect between whatever used to be called normal, real life, with all its joys and sorrows, and a techno-life lived digitally, with all its utopian promises and unforeseen consequences. Weinstein’s stories reminded me of the novel The Circle by Dave Eggers. And that’s an uncomfortable and even ominous feeling.
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