Future Welcome: The Moosehead Anthology X edited by Todd Swift
DC Books, 2005
For the 2005 (and tenth) issue of the Canadian Moosehead Anthology guest editor Todd Swift has added an X ('the X-Files aspect') to the publication's title. Although retrofitted with fifties B-grade movie genre characteristics and preoccupations, it claims to deal with 'exceptionally pressing contemporary issues, images and invasions'; and the editor muses on the possibilities of a new 'B-grade' genre of poetry and prose which, like the fifties sci-fi and horror movies, would manage to break through the surface 'to speak of the hopes and fears of the time'.
This is an anthology moving well beyond the confines of simply speculative fiction: 'Buyer beware' the unsuspecting public is warned. Swift's earnest, almost spruiker-like editorial is reminiscent of the awkward prologues to some of those fifties movies, the warning to the unsuspecting buyer designed perhaps to attract readers who are tired of the pervasive distinction between 'high' and 'low' art. Here are inter-related concerns: endangered environments, DNA programmed ignorance and convenience, the mechanisms of 'advertainment', endless skill-testing, viruses, disequilibrium and interchangeable virtual realities that are no longer conceptually contained but invade existences with unstoppable, vengeful intent
Swift has a track record of six anthologies he has either co-edited or edited, and in the 21st century alone, this is his fourth. He claims to be at the source of work gathered from some of the best writers now working in Canada (and elsewhere), prose and poetry sent to him over the last few years and selected for this anthology from what he considers 'the best' or 'what best works to create the right mood'. Swift observes that 2005 became a good year for Moosehead to release a futuristic anthology as it echoed similarly inspired releases in the USA and the UK. 2005 also marked Japan's Aichi World Exposition which 'thrust on the world the most agile and robust household robots yet' and which Swift himself attended. He ends the editorial with these rather uncompromising words: 'I envy you your future, reader: however terrible, at least it contains this book'.
In all earnestness I think that Swift's anthology bears testimony to a new post-neocolonial consciousness. Within the B-grade movie framework, it turns media and technology language inside out and upside down, drawing the continual intimidation and purposeful alienation aspects of transnational media to their ultimate conclusion. The ill-wind of newspaper and popular fiction hype is allowed here to blow across painfully surrealistic landscapes of flesh and blood, the glitter finally stripped away from cracks that no longer can be covered over because, Ladies and Gentlemen, hold on to your seats: time has finally run out for the world as we know it.
Amidst all of this, the anthology comes across like a huge literary spaceship where not only the 50s retrospective but all sorts of influences have been retained (saved). I was pleased to meet an old friend, Goethe's sorcerer's apprentice, in Richard Peabody's 'Funeral Tango' which is probably my favourite piece. The dream of military glory is shattered by the sudden death of Lance Cpl. John Doe, 24, killed when a makeshift bomb explodes near his Humvee in Mosul, Northwest of Baghdad. John meets his creator – well, he meets somebody anyway – in a setting very much like a library and full of magic. John, still in a daze, tells the story like the soldier he was (is), a soldier in uniform without much empathy with the books that are shown to him- everything becomes like a whirlwind of letters:
You look to the open pages and where you expect words and letters, at least letters in the usual configuration, you discover instead a beehive of activity. Letters dance across the page in tiny twisters of black ink which rise off the page in 3-D. You drop the book and it hits the floor with a slam.
'Now now, that's no way to treat our friends,' the bearded man tut tuts. 'Get a hold of yourself, man.' He picks up the book once more, flips it back to what must be the same page, and hands it to you again.
'Where do ideas come from?' he asks.
The page is once again covered with tiny twisters of letters rising up from the page, and converging into one rapidly expanding twister, which continues to grow in size.
'Surely it must have crossed your mind?'
'Well, no, not really.'
'Youth is truly wasted on the lame and clueless.' The bearded man shakes his head and points to the twister of words which is increasing in size and volume and tall enough now to tower over your chair.
'The great William S. Burroughs once said that 'Language is a virus from outer space.' '
And oddly enough you recognize the phrase. How do you know that? You've never read William S. who?
'A virus' you intone.
'Yes, now think of it. A virus. And imagine a civilization of viruses. What would a virus from outer space look like? Eh? Ever wondered?'
If this anthology is meant to be proof of a new B-grade literary genre, it is delivered (as promised) with 'style, imagination, sexiness and bravado'. Hopes, fears, dreams, sounds, immediate impressions and the very act of writing make their mark on the page, stark and uncluttered, concerned with darkness and light. The imagined future a series of definitions imbued with a sense of retro kitsch running a gamut of emotions: from insurrectional restlessness to existential estrangement, from fearful anxiety to orgasmic seamlessness, from hopeless boredom to the quaint excitation conveyed to fellow intergalactic explorers at new timeframe discoveries of the human apocalyptic past-to even the wondrous weirdness of death itself.
If you like travel writing, you'll be mightily surprised by Michelle Noteboom's 'Chia Letters'. The precious and, by necessity, concise notes taken (in slim Moleskin notebooks whilst travelling though romanticized 'old' world landscapes) here take the form of language so compressed, it feels like it's squeezed out of a tube or taken in pill form. In the post-apocalyptic search for meaning in the debris of our world (or perhaps somebody else's world) a research party is still interested in the 'roots' of Western culture:
Ever since the crew stumbled upon a recombinant DNA frieze in what's now become the main chamber, dramatic changes in the interstitial alloy and overlapping textures of the datascape have been recorded. Runa's in charge of casting the chiselled glyphs, bar codes, and genetic sequences with her elastomer silicones and polyester composites.
Painted on the west wall, there's a herd of uncannily lifelike bison, each one fitted with what can only be described as a backpack microprocessor. Such a discovery forces us to revaluate any theory we'd thus far managed to erect concerning the advent of biobots as concomitant to the Nanomechanical Age (not to mention what it does to the way we look at primitive hunting techniques).
In the spoken word piece '2199 All Is Relative' by Peter Forrest feelings of helplessness and despair are sadly of no consequence at all when faced with a technologically predestined, yet totally inept future. In 'Craft' by Louise Bak involuntary behaviour and extraterrestrial language are interrupted by stubborn, mundane juxtapositions that only vaguely make sense. Here I could hear echoes of one of my own favourite sci-fi genres, the 1970s feminist sci-fi short story, and some of the most evocative pieces from that era, such as 'The Ship Who Sang' by Anne McCaffey where the main character is a female cyborg, a spaceship with thoughts and emotions that are still recognizably human.
Even within the changed political and sociological context of the 50 years timeframe, Moosehead X's earthlings remain the keepers of light and love, their existences reaffirmed by a Jazz-inspired relativity. In the intergalactic soundscapes that are overrun by genetic modifications, mutants, clones, robots and the like, you are sure to meet an old friend somewhere, somehow with the help of this literary spaceship. But beware: old friends are not at all what they seem.