Book review: Darwin's Bastards, edited by Zsuzsi Gartner

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      Published by Douglas & McIntyre, 416 pp, $21.95, softcover

      If the futurists of the 1950s had had their way, I’d be driving a flying car and living on the 457th floor of some Jetsons-worthy apartment tower, with a robot dog and a cyborg wife. Alas, such pleasures are available only to residents of Dubai and the other United Arab Emirates.

      In fact, I’m afraid—quite afraid—that the real-life future is going to be more like some of the dismal scenarios collected in this brave attempt to scrutinize the inscrutable. In Darwin’s Bastards, editor and former Georgia Straight contributor Zsuzsi Gartner has polled 22 Canadian short-story authors to see where we might be going, and the prognosis is grim.

      Disasters loom large. In Adam Lewis Schroeder’s “This Is Not the End My Friend”, rising sea levels have swamped Manitoba and Saskatchewan, the B.C. coastline begins at Hope, and the U.S.–Canada border has been sealed, presumably to contain the feral insanity generated down south by a steady diet of celebrity skin and reality TV. Up here, fame is banned, and only the most intrepid researchers are willing to risk death to interview an 81-year-old Leslie Feist, living alone and forgotten in the bush.

      More immediate horrors infect other stories. In Douglas Coupland’s gonzoid “Survivor”, nuclear Armageddon has come, leaving as the only survivors the cast and crew of a reality-TV show being shot on a remote Pacific atoll. It’s Lord of the Flies with an adult cast. And in “1999”, Pasha Malla has all the men on the planet vanish, mysteriously, on the cusp of the millennium—except for one: Prince.

      Malla’s vision is one signal that for all its plagues, ecological collapses, and economic disintegrations, Darwin’s Bastards is as riotously enjoyable as it is genuinely scarifying. Gartner’s intent was that the book reflect her idea of fun—“entertaining and provocative, punch-drunk on language, fizzing with ideas”—and for the most part her guests have delivered, laughing in the face of the one verifiable fact we do know about the future. Which, of course, is that we’re all going to die.

      If it’s best to greet the great unknown with a grin on your face, this book will help put one there.