Saturday, April 3, 2010

Terry Hawkins, author of Rage of Achilles, reviews American Soma!

"Imagine that the original Twilight Zone had been an HBO mini series.

That’s right: the same deep irony, the same wild imagination, the same mordant wit. Maybe even the same Rod Serling with his fatal Lucky. But unburdened by censorship, free to prod the deepest abscesses of social and personal decay, unafraid of dark sexual ambiguities.

That’s American Soma.

The comparison to the Zone comes easily. Soma is 22 short stories spread over just 160 pages, so each is told with an economy of style without sacrifice of impact worthy the half hour original. And like the original it defies easy categorization. Is it science fiction, magical realism, or political satire? Or all three?

Take a look at a story from the middle of the book, “Fountain.” A guy drops his cellphone into a bar men’s room toilet. On fishing it out----as I said, HBO----he discovers that a digit missing since age 22 has miraculously regrown. Obviously there’s something special about that crapper. He tells the owner, who immediately realizes he’s onto something. A former wife want a piece of the action; a media circus ensues. The story ends with its protagonist bathing his dying mother in water from the fountain of youth. The son hides his face as his mother regresses to a hottie “any husband would be proud of”; he stares when the clock is turned back further still and “her chest was now flat. . . her nipples nearly flesh toned.” The protagonist, newly parentified, puts his hand on the child-mother’s head and promises her pancakes if she’ll pack in a hurry.
On the one hand, you can easily imagine Serling murmuring through smoke, “Larry thinks it’s just another day in a blue collar bar. . .” On the other, you can’t see the transgression of sexual boundaries making it past the censors.

Other stories dance on the third rail as well. In “Evolution” Schroll Guz wonders whether biochemical pollution will produce a new human species of hermaphrodites. Apocalyptic environmental degradation similarly emerges in “Postmodern Colonialism” and “North American Twilight.” And a fascination with death---or more accurately the transition between life and afterlife----appears in “December 15, 2012” and “An August Night in Paris”, the latter of which describes Princess Diana’s death and transfiguration.

As a writer of dystopian speculative fiction or magical realism, Schroll Guz serves a powerful imagination and commands an impressive knowledge of hard science. Her prose is evocative but still disciplined. Read this.

Rod would have loved it." -- Terry Hawkins, author of Rage of Achilles

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