Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Mandibles: 2029, Chapter 2 (Karmic Clumping)

In Chapter 2, we switch over to another group of characters who fiddle with their various gadget fetishist devices, exchange speeches on economic minutiae, and then one of them goes to work. I hope you can get a refund for the part of your seat you won't be using - everything except the edge this book was written on!

The perspective switches from designated victim Florence to her sister Avery and her husband Lowell. They have three children whom we don't see in this chapter, a daughter named Savannah and two sons, Goog and Bing (Get it? Satire!). Lowell is a professor specializing in inflation and deflation. Avery...we'll get back to her a little later, I don't want to pop off too early here.

There's more worldbuilding in this chapter. First, this is where Shriver reminds us that this is THE FUTURE! so we get a regular children's treasury of tech blogger pornography. Driverless cars! Hyper-rez displays! Books as obsolete objects! Voice controls on everything! (That don't work at all! Satire!) Most importantly, a gadget called the "fleX" that's basically a cross between a smartphone and that roll-up calculator I ordered through the Nintendo Power catalog when I was eleven. The fleX, we learn, has replaced absolutely everything else...except for television, because "open fire" and all that shit. An awful lot of this chapter is devoted to this gadget and some not at all stale and overdone digs about people staring at screen instead of talking to each other. It's all so interesting and new and you'll excuse me if I skip all of it.

Second, we learn a bit more about the family. There's a brother, Jarred, who's basically a prepper and recently bought himself a farm on which to ride out the coming catastrophe. That leads Avery to launch into a completely unrehearsed multi-page speech about what apocalyptic thinking really means, and...oh right, I wasn't talking about her yet. It's hard to avoid since she never shuts up. We also learn about Grandfather Mandible, who insists on being called the "Grand Man" because Shriver wants me to hate this narrative. Gramps is loaded, it seems, and everyone's kind of waiting for him to die. If you've read the jacket copy then you know how this is going to turn out, but I'll feign ignorance.

There are a few other expository odds and ends here, most of them rooted in the kinds of fiscal markers that make economics such a truly scintillating field. There's also mention of sabotage by "the Caliphate," because if we're going to Mess'cans, we might as well save a little time for the A-rabs. But we don't know yet how the nation got into such a dismal state (unless we read the jacket copy, of course).

We do get something of a hint, though. It happens after Avery, like any good right-wing crank relative, decides to inject a personal grievance into the discourse. It seems that the Chinese (a.k.a. the last of the Trumpian betes noires) are trying to have the +1 country code reassigned to them, because that's something they have time to do in the middle of a global economic crisis. After arguing with dunderheaded liberal Florence for a bit, Avery treats us to an extended internal infodump:
Florence's living with a Real Live Mexican had given her airs...maybe when white folks were a minority, too, they'd get their own university White Studies departments, which could unashamedly tout Herman Melville. Her children would get cut extra slack in college admissions regardless of their test scores. They could all suddenly assert that being called "white" was insulting, so that now you had to say "Western-European America," the whole mouthful. While to each other they'd cry "What's up, cracker?" with a pally, insider collusion, any nonwhites who employed such a bigoted term would get raked over the coals on CNN...
There's more, but you get the idea.

I'm going to avoid the easy criticism of the whiny entitlement on display - one could argue that this is meant to be current POV character Avery's opinion, not the author's. Perhaps a better question is: Since when is it acceptable for an author to use an aside to just flat-out describe a character's feelings like that?

I'm not sorry that I'm already resorting to using Futurama clips. I'm just sorry that the book's that trite.

After a few more Don DeLillo-esque floridly didactic speeches, we end the chapter with Lowell reading on that the dollar is crashing in Europe. Is that a plot I see pulling into the station? We'll see together, dear reader.

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