Walter Mosley, best known as a mystery writer, makes his second
foray into science fiction with FUTURELAND, a set of related short
stories. Far less linear than a standard narrative, these nine
stories nevertheless share characters and a future dystopia marked
by a brutal economic system, carefully censored news, and an
influential church ruled by one of the planet's most evil
Into this world, Mosley inserts his cast of characters --- a female
boxer taking on the men at the sport's highest levels, a prisoner
stripped of his citizenship and controlled by a frightening device,
and a detective on the trail of an assassin, among many others ---
each of whom is struggling to subvert the rules of the system. They
do so with varying degrees of success, but it is this common theme
of individuals trying to rise above adversity that makes these
stories successful to the extent that they are. Most of Mosley's
protagonists are black, and despite all the changes he envisions in
the future, historical prejudices are still central to life and
provide much of the conflict found in the stories.
The best of the stories feature well-executed, if not entirely
original, storylines. "Angel's Island," for example, tells the
story of Bits, a hacker sentenced to a prison where everyone is
controlled by "snakes" attached to their arms. Part adventure
story, part exploration of the moral aspects of prisons, "Angel's
Island" works on a number of levels. "Little Brother" is a similar
story in which a defendant seeks to outwit his computerized judge
and jury. Questions of what constitutes a fair trial are at the
heart of this story.
The book's strongest story, however, is "Voices," a stunning
consideration of mind/body dualism that would have made Philip K.
Dick proud. Medical ethics, a most timely topic in this new age of
cloning and other scientific breakthroughs, are the foundation for
this beautifully rendered tale about brain transplants and where
Unfortunately, many of the stories, while rich in ideas, are
stylistically impoverished, relying too heavily on almost academic
discourses on the socioeconomic nature of the future. In addition,
Mosley occasionally serves up hackneyed writing reminiscent of the
worst of pulp science fiction. The first flaw is admittedly
difficult to overcome, as only the very best science fiction
writers consistently immerse readers in future worlds without
resorting to lengthy explanatory passages, and then sometimes at
the cost of clarity. The second problem, however, which results in
sentences like, "Now he had a five-pound X-ray flasher under his
red parka designed to save all of the black people of the world,"
is more serious if an author seeks to escape the stigma of
producing mere genre fiction.
At his best, Mosley offers up snatches of "literary" science
fiction, but FUTURELAND falls short of consistently reaching that
lofty goal and is, as a result, an uneven book.
Reviewed by NAME on January 22, 2011