November 6, 2011

He Wrote About Us

To call Norman Spinrad's He Walked Among Us Science Fiction is really stretching the genre.  True, Spinrad is one of the elder statesmen of SciFi, but this work is more important than sadly the genre would allow.

At times a critique on our media obsessed culture, the book deftly follows the trajectory of a comic (Ralf), claiming to be from the future 500 years from now as he rises to become a small time cable television star modified and cultivated by his agent, "Texas Jimmy" Balaban, science fiction author, Dexter Lampkin, and new age networker, Amanda Robin.   The book also acts as a critique of the SciFi/Comic Con convention business where hoards of loyal fans dress up as their favorite character from StarTrek, World of Warcraft, etc. and parade in hotel conference rooms hooking up, drinking, and talking all the while thinking that this is all somehow making a difference when they are really only being manipulated by the publishing industry for financial gain.

In many ways the book is not fun to read and Spinrad's humor quite often is not funny at all, but he's not crafting this as a sort of audition for writing for late night.  No, he's more appropriately labelled a satirist in the same vein as Jonathan Swift.   Is this really the culture we've created?  And is it any wonder we seem to be heading for a collision with a bleak, almost unlivable future?

Being a Science Fiction writer, Spinrad deftly wields the technical jargon into the story effortlessly and perhaps adds more fuel to a debate that resonates when looking out on the various Occupy protests even as I write this.  Under the guise of Ralf's closing monologue, Spinrad writes, "We are the crown of creation!  We are the Giant Turnip God of the Double Helix!....I have seen the Light and it is us, oh yeah!  It's time to hijack this crappy old airplane that's auguring in to the toilet bowl and tell the guys in the cockpit to fly us to Tomorrowland!" (343).

Outside of the guise of a Science Fiction novel, the idea that we control our own destiny; the future isn't written and no one is going to come from the future to help us avert a cataclysm or no savior is going to beam down from a cloud to take the reins and create a heaven on Earth would be cause for celebration and discussion.   Sadly, this book, along with too many, gets the same sort of promotion and publicity as typical genre fiction and languishes on a bookshelf when it should be read by people, a lot more people.

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