McIntosh's bracingly bleak novel, a triumph of believable doomsaying with a black–humored heart, stands firmly in the "Mundane SF" camp first staked out by Geoff Ryman and later best exemplified by Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, a book that's kissing cousin to McIntosh's. Eschewing the more outr? tropes and conceits of SF –– telepathy, interstellar empires, sentient robots –– Mundane SF focuses on the realistic near–term prospects of our planet. And as you might suspect, if you've even been scanning the headlines lately, those horizons can look awfully grim. McIntosh's genius what–if premise shows a bedrock simplicity: what would the world look and feel like if the conditions in Somalia circa 2011 –– amped up speculatively, of course –– prevailed everywhere? Specifically, In Savannah, Georgia, home to Jasper, our semi–likeable, semi–detestable antihero.
A Millennial Baby, Jasper was born in 1995, and we pick up his tale in the year 2023, when he's a homeless gypsy roaming the parched, designer virus–plagued, hate–filled American West with his fellow impoverished tribe members. He soon relocates back to his home city and finds life improving a tiny bit, as he grabs the lowest rung on the ladder of some kind of minimal stability and security, finding work in a convenience store. But all is relative. Jumpy–Jump terrorists roam the streets openly. Civil Defense forces are a venal extortion racket. Mutant bamboo sown by the Science Alliance erupts through the pavement unpredictably. And it's generally a dog–eat–dog (or person–eat–dog) existence.
McIntosh tells his tale in fluid first–person reportage, with chapters that function almost as stand–alone stories, but with recurrent characters and threads and symbols, following an arc of entropy and maturation. Each chapter leaps ahead significantly in time, giving the narrative a disorienting jump–cut momentum. We ride the shoulders of Jasper as, with his posse of idiosyncratic pals, he alternates between selfishness and altruism, despair and hope, lust and apathy.
McIntosh's unrelenting and unflinching car crash documentary of a novel surprises by just how tonic it is. There's a liberation to be had in envisioning the worst that can happen, and somehow living through it. Harking back to such landmarks as Fritz Leiber's "Coming Attraction," John Barnes's Century Next Door series, and Thomas Disch's 334, the book actually might be best likened to a season of Friends or Seinfeld, mated with John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up, pushing chrome–plated irony through bloody horror and emerging annealed.
Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul Di Filippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award –– all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, and The San Francisco Chronicle.