Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Summer Political Fiction"

The Huffington Post published a column by Jeff VanderMeer today: "Summer Political Fiction: From Jessica Z to Black Clock 9." He writes that although summer is the proverbial time for sinking into frothy beach books,

[T]his summer has seen the release of some engrossing novels (and one magazine) in which politics and social commentary take center stage. These texts reflect a post 9-11 sensibility that assimilates and responds to the last seven years of absurdity, horror, heartbreak, stupidity, and dueling cynicism-idealism. That many of these recommended reads use the near-future as a way to comment on the present shouldn't surprise you. What writer really wants to dwell in the here-and-now given all the challenges facing the world? And who can really make sense of it all without a little distance?

The books he covers range from Shawn Klomparens's Jessica Z, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, David Ohle's The Pisstown Chaos to L. Timmel Duchamp's Stretto, John Joseph Adams's anthology Seeds of Change and perhaps most interesting of all, the ninth issue of Black Clock:

But there's still a distance, a way to escape our present, in each of the novels recommended above. In the new political issue of the highly respected literary magazine Black Clock (California Institute of the Arts), that distance has all but evaporated, and the anger, the satire, and the quest for understanding have a necessarily raw edge. Taking the short view, and focusing on the current election cycle, Black Clock #9, edited by iconic American surrealist Steve Erickson, features fiction and nonfiction by Jonathan Lethem, Brian Evenson, Rick Moody, and many more. Seth Greenland inhabits the point-of-view of Al Gore in "Al Agonistes." Brian Evenson's "The Body Politic" examines elections after something called the Collapse. Ben Ehrenreich's "The Coup" includes a "Minister of Feathers" in a wryly satirical modern fairy tale about governance, while this correspondent's "Goat Variations Redux" describes alternate realities in which Obama, Clinton, and McCain all win the election.

In the magazine's introduction, Erickson writes about this year's election from the point of view of a fiction writer all but frozen by the possibilities: "But an election with three great characters? If you're a writer, peering beyond the ideological agenda involved, the imagination almost can't grasp its good fortune. This year the three are the stuff of pulp archetypes, out of an Allen Drury novel. [See JV's column for the description.] Can you make this up? Well, yes, but it's not as good." Indeed, that's the challenge for any fiction writer today: when the world of politics is so strange, so fertile with outlandish stories, how do you compete with reality?

You can read the rest of Jeff's column here.

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