Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fiction: Ephemera by Jeffery M. Anderson

The cover paints a picture every bit as graphic as one I might share: a tattered American flag drips blood on a landscape of rubble. This is the future. And it pretty much does not look bright.

It’s a couple of decades into the future and we meet Nester Cab, a hack magazine writer of questionable talent who, as he approaches mid-life, is not likely to leave his mark with his pen.

The future Nester occupies is painted by the title: Ephemera. A world filled with stuff not intended to be loved or cherished or held. Everything is transitory and nothing, really, seems still. But the drawing of said world is not subtle and, for me, it was held together by colors so bright they were cartoony. Not necessarily a bad thing, but big, big, big: think Fifth Element in film or Gun With Occasional Music in books. (And don’t get me wrong: being compared with Lethem is never a bad thing.) There is also a touch of the deceptive darkness of William Gibsons’s cyberpunkish visions. Clearly, Anderson has a lot to share in Ephemera and he has a lot to say and he mostly says it successfully.

Despite his less-than-sterling qualities as a journalist, Nester finds himself on the hunt for a missing soldier and, in the process, he unwraps a secret anti-government organization -- think tea party without the exciting hats. From there, it’s more or less downhill for Nester who becomes a sort of Alice in a dark and nasty future Wonderland.

And Ephemera is dark. And sometimes it seems hopeless. A brightly colored, darkly sinister future with a graphic novel’s grasp on a frighteningly garish tomorrowland. Anderson’s vision is bleak and incredibly well drawn and part of the journey here is just hanging on and seeing what he throws at us next. Synthetic pets, custom ordered penguins and ham made of chicken. Early in the book, a dowager television presenter remarks on the penguins, then continues:
An infernal procession of inconsequence continued on, weddings with forty-foot cakes, a cola company celebrating its one hundredth anniversary, synthetic parrot warns its owner, famous singer arrested, commercial orbital shuttle breaks record, horror as wife feeds husband to homeless, anomalous snow falls in Arizona, and an interview with some expert in some scientific field from some university with some impressive degree explaining that technology was imminently headed to market that will make it possible for you, the consumer, to send you car to run errands for you while you monitor and control it from the comfort of your own den.
Part of the delight of Ephemera is Anderson’s rich imagination, well-shared. Ephemera is darkly dystopic and the truth Nester must search for is illusive and always just out of his grasp, but Anderson’s clear voice makes a challenging journey worthwhile.



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