Novel: Chimpanzee by Darin Bradley

With his second novel, Darin Bradley continues to establish himself as one of SF’s most intriguing new voices. Like his first novel Noise, Chimpanzee (2014) is a timely, forward-looking, and harrowing vision that muses unflinchingly on the future while riffing off of the present.

It’s the story of Dr. Benjamin Cade, soon to be downgraded to Mr. Cade. In a future U.S. wracked by mass unemployment, Cade, like many others, has defaulted spectacularly on his student loans. This makes him a candidate for Renewal, a new government program to repossess already-delivered education. Cade’s fields of interest — cognitive theory, literature, the search for meaning — make his “knowledge-removal therapy” a particularly existential issue. But before the process is complete, he makes one last attempt to use his education, by doling it out for free, on the streets. His decision to turn the world into his classroom doesn’t sit well with the authorities, and it puts him at the center of a slowly mounting cultural revolution.

Bradley writes like a sinister distant cousin of Philip K. Dick, his work dark, disorienting, and unflinching in the best possible way. Chimpanzee unfolds in an eerie, unnerving manner, somehow cleverly assembling its chilling puzzle even as it methodically removes the pieces. I found it a fast, thought-provoking read, classic “if-this-goes-on” SF that confronts contemporary problems with fierce intelligence. It left me very interested to see more of Bradley’s work.

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