The Dystopian Nation of City-State: An Anthology – Origin, Corruption, and Rebellion by James Courtney
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
It cannot be emphasized enough that this anthology of vignettes is not a novel, nor the first in a series. It is an introduction to a well-thought-out, dystopian future nation in the form of vignettes that do not rise to the level of being short stories. The vignettes are character studies and scenes from across the Nation of City-State involving a smattering of mostly unrelated, or loosely associated characters. The effect is not unlike watching Sin City or Crash and waiting for the elements to coalesce into a larger narrative arc. That does not fully formulate here, despite the vignettes eventually starting to build on each other or pass a baton between themselves.
The strength of this collection, that rates a solid 3-stars, is the series of scenes firmly taking place twelve centuries into the future. After a few false starts and loose threads, the scenes start to trace a broad picture by leaving a dotted line to the next scene. For example, a character may catch a news report about an athlete at the end of a scene, the next scene may be about that athlete, and the subsequent scene has the new focal character pass the athlete on the street. This works, and it works well. Unfortunately, it takes a while for this successful pattern of world-building to emerge. The first two vignettes in the anthology take place a millennium prior, thereby delaying the entry into the book. These two moments are meant to serve as necessary history, but would have been just as useful as mythologized notions of history artfully dispensed throughout the anthology. Just as distracting is the third scene which is meant to be read as a government memorandum, but doesn’t read as such with its awkward history and civil engineering lessons. Again, these lessons could have been dispensed throughout to greater effect.
The anthology reads like an author’s background notes at times, and as world-building at other times. Clearly, a great story or series of stories can emerge from this background. I look forward to reading the finished product in the form of a novel (or series). The current form, however, was too scatter-shot for my taste and still full of errata which distracts from the immersive goal of science fiction.
There were a couple other distractions, too. There is a cult in the book, in which the cult members refer to themselves as a cult. That is a term I’d only imagine outsiders using to describe a group. From within, I expect to hear motivations and reasoning, no matter how whack. But I did not get a sense of any motivations from the cult. All actions were dismissed as acts of evil. But that is a hard concept to grasp. Evil, too, is an outsider’s explanation for inexplicable actions. From within, I’d expect to hear the crazy talk of true believers. I also found it odd, that in a memo between people within The Nation, the city was described as a futuristic city. This, too, is an outsider’s term, if not an anachronistic one. To the citizens, it is the only city that they know and clearly of their own time.
I received a free copy of this anthology through a Kindle-link on the author’s blog.
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