Back at the end of October, I met Bryan L. Young hawking his books while waiting to attend a panel led by Billy West (the voice actor). He slipped me a small pamphlet, containing his story “An Original”. I read through it then, and thought it was a pretty good story, if a little short side. Then and there I bought his short story collection “Man Against the Future” and his novel “Operation Montauk”.
Unfortunately “Man Against the Future” ended up being a really, really uneven collection of stories, and I nearly threw down the book about halfway through because of one story. I’m glad I stuck with it, because I think the best story in the collection is near the end, and it turned it around from being really unpleasant to mildly unpleasant.
A majority of the stories in the collection essentially boil down to heavy-handed political fables. The opener, “The Hope of Humanity” essentially boils down to what happens when Randian ubermensch run society – on the brink of an environmental disaster, a rocket full of scientists is sent as a time capsule to ensure that in 50 years time, there will be someone left to pick up the pieces. Before it goes anywhere, it blows up on the launchpad, because it was built by the lowest bidder. That’s essentially the extent of the story.
Most of the political stories in the book follow the same trend. “A Simple Country Murder” is about a young boy getting arrested for murdering thousands of potential children because of anti-abortion laws. “A Badge and a Gun” is about what would happen if ‘if they really wanted to themselves from that shooter, they should have been armed’ actually happened. Predictably, 8-year olds are emotionally incapable of solving playground disputes sensibly.
Now, I understand that these are actual viewpoints being pushed to their logical extremes, but these stories don’t really seem to have any development to them. There was a specific message being pushed, but the story took the most direct route there and didn’t really develop anything other than the message itself. Worse, while reading these stories I kind of felt like Mr. Young was calling attention to how clever he’s being by adding some sort of twist at the end to make the parable even more effective. The end result comes across as more obnoxious than
Perhaps it’s my taste as a reader. I like short stories, but in Man Against the Future it just feels like most of these stories are sketches, not really fleshed out to their fullest extent. It’s like having half a teaspoon of ice cream, it tastes really good, but there’s so little of it that you kind of wish you hadn’t had any at all.
It should come as no surprise, then, that I liked some of the longer stories in the book, especially when Mr. Young gets off the subject of politics. It seems like there’s less focus on getting to a specific point that he wants to make, and more on letting the story develop naturally. “My Cross to Bear” is a good example of this – a man is in love with a replicant in an Old West society where replicants are illegal. “A Pistol Full of Silver” and “The Hero and the Horror” deal with werewolves and vampires, respectfully, and both allow the protagonist to develop in the presence of the monster they’re facing down.
So now that I’ve got most of the stories taken care of, let me roll into a rant about what is easily one of the most unpleasant stories I’ve had the honor of reading outside of fanfiction or Mormon Space Whale Rape. “The Train From Hell to Heaven”, in which Nixon and Reagan are portrayed as worse than Hitler. Literally, that’s about the extent of the story. Ol’ Adolf wants to apologize for all the Jews he killed. Nixon responds: “Guilt? What’s to feel guilty for? I’d never apologize for the people I hurt. They’re just collateral damage.” Reagan: “You know, I did a lot of things I’m not proud of, and maybe I’m sorry for them, but why would I go out of my way to apologize? I thought about going up there once or twice, you know, to apologize to a few of the soldiers who died at the hands of Iranians with weapons I sold them, but what good would it do? They’re still dead, and nothing I could say would bring them back or right the wrong I did.”
AGDHKLGJSadlgha Hitler is literally portrayed as a better person than Nixon or Reagan. The two men had serious flaws, and don’t get me wrong I don’t believe their innocent men but they were not literally Hitler. Really, the story boils down to how in death Hitler is more willing to seek forgiveness than two corrupt politicians. What in the flying ****. If you want to trash a politician, there are a bunch of more original ways of going about it than saying “even Hitler was a better person.”
Really, I don’t think I could recommend this collection to anyone at all. There’s a handful of good stories here, but I don’t think the good comes anywhere close to outweighing the bad.