Arts in Review

Book Review: Darwin’s Bastards- Astounding tales from tomorrow ed. by Zsuzsi Gartner

Oh Canada, you have such quirky writers. And Darwin’s Bastards: Astounding Tales from Tomorrow is just the place to find many of them. When I came across this little gem, it seemed almost too good to be true. Original short stories by Douglas Coupland, Jessica Grant, Yann Martel and Annabel Lyon all crammed into one collection? Oh, pinch me! But, there it was, rounded out by writers like Heather O’Neill, Lee Henderson and oh so many more.

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by Sonja Szlovicsak (Editor-in-Chief)

Oh Canada, you have such quirky writers. And Darwin’s Bastards: Astounding Tales from Tomorrow is just the place to find many of them.

When I came across this little gem, it seemed almost too good to be true. Original short stories by Douglas Coupland, Jessica Grant, Yann Martel and Annabel Lyon all crammed into one collection? Oh, pinch me! But, there it was, rounded out by writers like Heather O’Neill, Lee Henderson and oh so many more.

So, once I stopped drooling long enough to open the cover, I was greeted by 23 short stories about the future. And not the depressing, dystopian 1984 future (although apocalypses and all-around depressing futures are a-plenty here); no, this collection, explains editor Zsuzsi Gartner in the introduction, is fun. A warning: if you’re not a fan of “cartoon characters” (as some stuck-up readers refer to Coupland’s characters), you should probably pass on this collection; I acknowledge that not everyone drools over punny short fiction. Since the only thing that seems to hold these stories together is the “What if?” idea, and since this is my review, I’ll do a brief review of three stories from the collection.

Love in the Pneumatic Tube Era” by Jessica Grant

Grant’s recent novel, Come Thou Tortoise, was punny. Her short story, Love in the Pneumatic Tube Era, holds onto that same tone. The two lovers in her story work at Jiffy Lubes across the country. They were lovers as teenagers, but got separated as adults. Since travel has become ridiculously expensive, and the characters are separated by a continent, they keep in touch through messages shipped through pneumatic tubes, and written on Jiffy Lube papers.

The beauty of Grant’s writing is in her word play. With all seriousness, she writes “We gallop like the letter L,” when describing the characters relationship. When reading her work, you can’t help but imagine a wide-eyed Grant reading to you. But that’s part of her charm.

Survivor” by Douglas Coupland

Yes, Coupland has written another apocalyptic story. But unlike Girlfriend in a Coma, there are no depressing, mystical ties to something bigger than humanity. This story is simple: a rather unlikable cameraman is filming Survivor. The world ends. Nobody knows why, although there is a rather eerie scene where a destroyed tanker floats by.

Coupland uses his typical wry wit with this story. The protagonist is a booze-driven horndog and has nothing but disdain for the contestants on the show. And he seems rather unconcerned with what happened to the world. All he’s concerned with is surviving.

“The Dream Life of Toasters” by Heather O’Neill

Androids are such lonely creatures. There are stories abound about robots wanting emotions (or a heart), but this is a story about an android that actually experiences emotions. Android 4F6 falls in love and gives birth. And she doesn’t quite know what to do about it.

While the prose feels almost robotic, it’s the little touches in description that make the story so endearing. Androids, unlike humans, don’t wonder about their origins; they have the original grant application from 2015 requesting funding for robotics research.

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