fredag 27 april 2018

Review: LYFE (Sterzinger 2018)

LYFE is the latest novel by American author Ann Sterzinger. Lennart Svensson takes a look at it.

5th millennium AD. A nuclear war has made Earth inhabitable. In the fray a small group of people has managed to escape to a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, settling on its moon. A certain ore is discovered; it can be made into the drug Lyfe. Some who take it are enhanced by it, becoming virtually immortal. Some become junkies. And this creates a stratified society.

In this society we follow Elektra Burgundy, a low-life eeking out an existence as a waitress hooked to Lyfe. Her main motive in life is to seek revenge on her ex-girlfriend who has left her to marry a high-caste man. This novel is part one of a series.

So, a dystopia about drugs and misery, with a bisexual heroine – that’s not the kind of science fiction I relish. Quite the contrary. But – if you’re into the sleazier side of sf, like some of the stories of Harlan Ellison, Dick and Delany, then this might be up your alley. For, quite like these authors, Sterzinger can write, she has a way with words. Innuendos and ironic observations abound. But the style isn’t so “over the top” in 60s, early 70s style. Instead, the prose is rather transparent and clear and the author isn’t just out to shock and depress us. She’s out to paint a satirical portrait of (future) society. And she kind of succeeds in this.

A quote to get an impression of the style, maybe? I could give you many examples of the novel’s rather rough jargon and the witticisms of a life on the street, future and female variety. But I don’t care about that now. No swearing and four-letter words on this blog...! This is a conservative site, not a punk rock show. Thus, I’ll rather give you this detail from the environment of The City of Heaven which is the main habitat of the moon in question:
In the stand of artificial trees that separated a garish mansion from the grandest boulevard in the City of Heaven, a figure skulked in the shadow of a magnolia tree made of tin. On the moon where the City had been founded, the natural vegetation was all low to the ground. But the Sol-based primates who had landed there craved tall plants to look at— even if no one had seen a living tree in thousands of years—so they built them from whatever came to hand.

This pricey, chic metal magnolia was hand-coated in green enamel, with ever-pink and grey flowers in the shape of folded hands; it was highly stylized, since the design had been handed down through the ages, generation to generation of craftsmen who had never seen the real thing. Five years’ display outdoors had left its articulated leaves slightly chipped where they rustled against one another—although it hadn’t fared as badly as the unpainted tin oaks did in the public parks, where they accumulated an artificial underbrush of used junk food bags and syringes.
From a mere literary perspective, LYFE is value for money. Next, you might ask if this story as well could have played on Earth in 2018. A realistic plot with a low-life of the Western world, making sarcastic remarks about the times...? Well, maybe. But Sterzinger has already been there and done that (NVSQVAM; The Talkative Corpse). So I say, viva artistic freedom, here’s her trying it out in a science fictional mood. And she’s no amateur at that, the mere plot setting, the background details and neologisms sprinkled over the pages being indications of that.

I do admit that I’m quite uninterested in a future story themed along drug taking and misery, seasoned with ressentiment and sarcasm. Lyfe sucks, and then you die... I hear such all the time even from portrayers of today’s so-called society, in literature and the media. But – a redeeming feature of LYFE is the tangible artistic element, namely, that of having the theatre as a central feature of the society portrayed. Due to recording equipment being scarce and quite non-existent, being beyond the grasp of the current technology, theatre is the main mass medium. Being an actor is the most prestigious thing, even a low-caste person can make a career out of it. Thus, having a performance of Shakespeare in this strange environment makes it less strange; it’s an element creating a kind of "literary 3d image". It’s merely a detail but it’s quaint and relevant, given the framework of “serious fiction in popular form”.

I’d say, LYFE isn’t exactly material for a follow-up of my essay on right-wing sf, Science Fiction Seen from the Right. But – if you like a rough, edgy story, a tale in the genre of “futurist dirty realism,” then this might be for you.

Buy the book on Amazon.

Science Fiction Seen from the Right
Redeeming Lucifer (2017)
Burning Magnesium (2018)

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