Splinterlands by John Feffer (Haymarket Books, £10.99)
SPLINTERLANDS, an intriguing near-novella set in 2050, conjures a dystopian vision of a new barbaric age defined by conflict and confusion.
This is a Lord-of-the-Flies scenario on a global scale.
A fictional annotated peer review of geopalaeontologist Julian West’s final virtual travels, it reflects on his seminal prophetic work Splinterlands, which three decades earlier had foretold the collapse of the established world order.
The major global powers — China, the European Union, Russia and the US — have imploded, broken under the weight of their own internal contradictions and the centrifugal forces unleashed by the concentrated ownership of the means of production, especially technology, that have outgrown the constrictions of the state.
Corporations, all of which are involved in criminal activities of one sort or another and aided by the ubiquitous use of virtual reality platforms, pretty much call the shots.
This is the central contradiction at the heart of John Feffer’s work — the exponential advancement of technology that facilitates and records the regressive ordering of human affairs.
As he comes into contact with his diasporic family in various struggling statelets or communes, West’s personal life and morality have decayed in line with that of just about everything else.
With health failing and spirit undermined, the fact that his earlier predictions were largely right now give him little comfort.
Attempting seemingly genuine rapprochements with his wife and estranged children through revisiting his seminal work, we witness his virtual avatar’s awkward encounters in a war-torn Brussels, the central Chinese klepto-republic of Yinchuan City, a relatively peaceful Botswana and Arcadia, a self-sufficient society in Vermont.
The dialectics of these meetings reveal West’s true character. Essentially a narcissist, he’s a cheat who’s arrogant and deluded — he does, after all, harken after the EU as an example of the ideal society.
His failings mirror the new world order he foresaw and within which he now resides.
So Splinterlands offers the reader a bleak prospect.
But it’s one which should also inspire a resounding cry of defiance for personal and collective revolution.