Publisher: Picador. September 13, 2016.
Genre: Short Stories
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Children of the New World introduces readers to a near-future world of social media implants, memory manufacturers, dangerously immersive virtual reality games, and alarmingly intuitive robots. Many of these characters live in a utopian future of instant connection and technological gratification that belies an unbridgeable human distance, while others inhabit a post-collapse landscape made primitive by disaster, which they must work to rebuild as we once did millennia ago.
Children of the New World grapples with our unease in this modern world and how our ever-growing dependence on new technologies has changed the shape of our society.-Goodreads
I haven't been this excited about reading a book in what feels like forever. I knew that I'd like this collection of short stories. It was pitched to me as akin to the TV show Black Mirror, which I absolutely loved. And they weren't wrong about that. Here we have a collection of stories that are all speculative. Set in the very near future, things are just a little different from how they are now. People are a little more hooked into technology, the environment is more fucked, etc. Our scenarios are set up quickly and with apparent ease, and we then get to see normal people interacting with each other in these worlds. The result is at times funny, at times devastating, often both. Weinstein provides riveting stories about being human as well as biting commentary on our world. In the stories, we've got robotic siblings to help out with biological children, and what you do when they malfunction. Enlightenment as a drug (Moksha). Manufactured memories. Support groups for the loss of virtual children. It's all so good, and none of it feels wildly off base from where we are as a society right now.
Moksha, it turned out, wasn't bullshit. It'd just gone into hiding ever since the twenties when the U.S. cracked down on Nepali distribution. There had been nonstop busts at yoga studios and health spas in the U.S. An oxygen bar in Sedona had been found with makeshift crown plates hooked up to an old Sega Genesis console.
I really emphatically enjoyed this whole collection. The only thing keeping me from loving it unconditionally is the fact that none of the stories have a female main character and none of them pass the Bechdel test. To be fair, two of the stories have weird formats and don't actually have a character. One of the shorter stories never specifies the gender. But it was still disappointing. I get if you're somebody who writes about a certain thing. I do. But to both 1) not take up the challenge to write about somebody different from you, or 2) not see females as "just another kind of person" that should be relatively easy to write about because, again, they are just another kind of person, is a disappointment. If the plots of the stories weren't so intriguing, I probably would've begun to find the "wearied male trying to make his family/life work" character that reappeared in most of the stories boring.
It was Rocket Night at our daughter's elementary school, the night when parents, students, and administrators gather to place the least-liked child in a rocket and shoot him into the stars.
Truly, though, that is my only qualm with the book. I want everyone to read these stories, but my point above is something to be aware of and think about. This is one of the most consistently solid collections of short stories that I've read in a while. I've actually sat and read them aloud to people, they're so good. Dark, cleverly written, and brilliantly imagined. I laughed and I cried. Alexander Weinstein gets it. He fucking gets it. And, if you were wondering, my favorite story was "The Cartographers."
"I'm afraid all of your family is corrupted," the supervisor told me. "You'll just end up bringing the virus with you. It's an easy process to reboot. Simply hold down the power button on your console for twenty seconds and--"
"These are my children!" I yelled.
"If it's any consolation, they won't feel a thing; they're just data."