Review by Luis Villazon. Ira Nayman bills himself as the proprietor of the “Alternate Reality News Service”, a sort of Reuters for the multiverse. This collection of short stories is structured like a newspaper, with technology stories, crime reports, obituaries and advice columns supplied by ARNS correspondents from across time, space and various parallel dimensions. The pace is breakneck, with 73 different news stories packed into this book, along with a slightly longer narrative, broken into six chapters interleaved with the other stories.
Each piece begins with an interesting idea or a science fiction trope and then takes it in an unexpected direction, but only very briefly; stories barely have time to establish their premise before we are rushed to the conclusion and Nayman is off on the next wild tangent. The title story, for example concerns an election battle for the Mayor of a moon base. One of the candidates stands on an anti-immigration platform, ignoring the fact that it is impossible to sneak into a domed city on a barren rock with no atmosphere, and everyone on the base is by definition an immigrant anyway. Despite all the reasoned arguments of his opponents, the xenophobic rhetoric wins out and all the candidates end up joining in, for fear of seeming soft on immigration. In case you hadn’t already spotted that he is poking fun at American politics here, Nayman has one of the candidates call for a 12-foot high electrified perimeter fence around the outside of the colony’s pressurised bubble.
The journalistic style is self-consciously wacky, with lots of parenthetical asides, and reporters interrupting their story to argue with the readers or their editor. And the names - oh God, the names! Frederica Von McToast-Hyphen, Gideon Ginrachmanjinja-vitus, Marcella Carborundurem McVortvort, Nancy Gonglikwanyeoheeeeeeeh… they are all like this. It’s a collision of Spike Milligan, Douglas Adams and Peter Cook, which sounds as if it would be a good thing, but is instead mainly just exhausting.
And that’s a shame because there are some very clever ideas here. A woman who ‘murders’ her smart home, because it is forcing her to eat healthily; an expedition to track down the butterfly in China that causes all the hurricanes in the USA; an alien invasion thwarted because the attackers did not have the necessary paperwork; the creeping disease of Apos’trophos’is’. Some of the set-ups are reminiscent of Alan Coren. Although most of them lack enough of a punchline or a twist to make them satisfying as short stories, there is something rather moorish about this microwave-popcorn superficiality. You’ll eat the whole bag without meaning to. And then feel slightly sick.
Written on 14th May 2012 by Luis.
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