After reading the quick little collection Fall Into Time (2011), I think Douglas Lain may be one of my favorite short story writers. As I mentioned in my review of Last Week’s Apocalypse, I don’t always get what he’s doing…but I think that’s part of what I like about it. I find his voice consistently funny and intelligent, and he makes me think in weird new ways.
A strong undercurrent of sociopolitical critique propels these four stories, which blend conventional SF tropes with something of a fabulist feel – mundane surfaces, spun fantastically. Celebrity cameos, political theory, pop-culture riffs, and historical references color the proceedings, making these very much stories of their time, even as they possess a thematic timelessness. The strongest here, I think, is “Noam Chomsky and the Time Box,” an addictively entertaining novelette in which time travel becomes ubiquitous thanks to an iPhone-like consumer electronics device. Unfortunately, because the timeline appears to be immutable, the phenomenon turns out to be a flash-in-the-pan fad, but not for an obsessed tech blogger determined to reshape history. Behind the snappy, engaging voice is a heavy embedded message about ineffectual human systems. That said, I think “Resurfacing Billy” – one of my favorite stories we published at Futurismic – may also be my favorite in this collection, though surely I’m biased. (Sadly, Futurisma is incorrectly cited the credits; now ain’t that a kick in the teeth!) This story, about a waste management designer struggling to help his son adjust to a disturbingly dystopian near future, is a humorous but unsettling metaphor for American disposability. The bizarre stream-of-consciousness of “The Last Apollo Mission” and the amusing, recursive metafiction of “Alien Invasion / Coffee Cup Story” round off a short but satisfying collection. It’s a thought-provoking sampler of Lain’s work, using a light, quirky touch to wrestle with thorny, serious subject matter.