Hazardous Imaginings: The Mondo Book of Politically Incorrect Science Fiction by Andrew Fox (MonstraCity Press, October 2020, tpb, 340 pp.)
“Six Wings Hath They”
“For Our Sins”
“The Kindly Ones”
“City of a Thousand Names”
Reviewed by Geoff Houghton
The first short story, “Six Wings Hath They,” is set in a small college town in present day Texas. The first person narrator is a born-again Christian who is very much a proxy for the quintessential American belief that education and wisdom are probably inversely related. Although a relatively uneducated cafeteria worker in the hierarchy of the college, she is the only person willing to listen to an insectoid alien who has come to warn that the Earth is doomed to imminent destruction.
The professors at this small-town college are straw-man caricatures of real academics, portrayed as wilfully closed-minded, as far from the real scientific method as the most fervent evangelical pastor could desire. However, the twist in the tale is that her reason for believing the warnings of the alien is as bizarre as the academics reasons for not doing so.
In the denouement, one side is vindicated and one is shown to be disastrously wrong, but the reader is left wondering if right and wrong is actually the real point of the story when the mechanisms of coming to their respective decisions is so flawed and flimsy in the first place.
The second offering is “Denier.” This novella begins in the Middle East in 1956 and explores the nature of reality and its possible mutability. It is peppered with racist language and stereotypes but is never-the-less a fascinating read.
An English archaeologist discovers compelling evidence that reality is not fixed but is merely an agreed construct that can be modified by the consensus opinion of the humans who inhabit it. He develops an extravagant plan to convince a majority of the world’s population that the Holocaust never happened, hoping to not only wipe it from the annals of history, but also from reality.
This alone would have made an interesting short story, but the author then expands “Denier” to novella size with an alternative history of the following three decades. In this alternative reality, Germany does not lose the services of its Jewish scientists and wins the race to develop an atomic bomb. Russia is reduced to a radioactive tribal wasteland and Adolf Hitler dies at an advanced age as a revered elder statesman. A triumphant Third Reich gradually morphs into a Commonwealth of European nations with German leadership but federal autonomy for its constituent parts. Israel is founded by Germany as an alternative and more humane “Final Solution” but the grinding wheel of history is not so easily stymied. The story ends in fire, blood and a delayed but even more complete holocaust.
“For Our Sins” is a short story set on the Earth in a distant future where a small population of humans (exactly 498,786 on the entire planet) are retained as slaves/zoo animals by the artificial intelligences that now rule the Earth. A few favoured humans are permitted to perform archaeological research under machine supervision but the centuries and millennia have obliterated nearly every information source and destroyed almost all artefacts. Only a few feminist tracts and fragments of the rambling works of the male supremacist John Norman have been discovered. As the reader may deduce, these serve to create an entirely false image of the period of human control of the planet. However, this skewed history is obediently written up as fact by the archaeologists.
Stylistically, this is the most difficult piece to read and some of the borrowed content may be uncomfortable. However, potential readers have already been adequately warned of the nature of this book. So caveat emptor—Let the buyer beware!
“The Kindly Ones” is set in the USA of a near future where current trends towards tolerance of sexual deviance and personal choice have become aggressively compulsory, even amongst minors. Narration is in the form of reports and notes from a young intern in the “Violence Intervention Bureau” of the State of Florida. The intervention described is the case of a 14 year old son requiring immediate rescue and removal from his family based on denial of access to his mobile phone! The charge sheet also includes further evidence of parental schizoid brainwashing, defined by this mythical bureau as belief in supernatural beings and distrust in the benignity of government.
The smugly self-satisfied bureaucratic support for an outlandishly skewed view of personal freedom is written in a very believable manner. In particular, the state-approved support of paedophilic relations between mature “sponsors” and younger teenagers is made all the more creepy by the matter of fact way that the young intern treats it as not only acceptable but as highly desirable. Once again, the author has squarely hit his target of leaving no sacred cow unbutchered.
The final, and very substantial, novella is “City of a Thousand Names.” It is set a few centuries into the future in a massively overpopulated Australian city. The problems of population density and unrest between ethnic and other grievance groups has been solved in a novel technological manner. Thanks to a massive decentralised computer system and individual computer implants into each citizen’s brain, members of each ethnic and grievance group are invisible to all those who don’t belong to their tribe.
The narrator is a female investigator sent from the Mars colony at the request of the co-ordinators of the City to apprehend and return a murderer who has overcome the normal limitations of the City and is able to freely move between the thousands of communities which are normally invisible to each other.
Her journey through these multiple jurisdictions allows the author to explore questions of cultural norms but essentially this is an adventure story, complete with acts of physical courage, the solving of problems and a classical confrontation with the villain. However, the reader should not expect that the confrontation will automatically resolve in favour of the “good guys.” There are more sides in play than our protagonist knows and even some question about who the “good guys” might be in the first place. This is the “safest” piece in a controversial collection but it is also the most finely drawn, with the greatest depth of characterisation and most complex plot elements. If any reader should abandon any of the other pieces in this collection as too unacceptable to their personal standards then they are still advised to continue to this one.
Geoff Houghton lives in a leafy village in rural England. He is a retired Healthcare Professional with a love of SF and a jackdaw-like appetite for gibbets of medical, scientific and historical knowledge.