Totalitopia: A (Longer) Locus Review


Locus Magazine
July 2017

John Crowley’s Totalitopia is the latest in PM Press’s ongoing series of wine-flight samplers of some of the most interesting political and speculative writers, and in Crowley’s case any new material is attention-getting: his ‘‘collected stories’’ in Novelties and Souvenirs back in 2004 amounted to only 15 stories, and there have prob- ably been fewer than a half-dozen stories since. Fortunately, Totalitopia does offer one previously unpublished story, ‘‘This Is Our Town’’, and, as we might expect, it’s a gorgeously written piece that negotiates with genre only obliquely. Its narrator is a woman recalling several months of her Catholic childhood in 1953 in Timber Town, which, we are told in the very first line, ‘‘can be found in a book called This is Our Town, which is part of the ‘Faith and Freedom’ series of readers’’ published by Ginn and Company in 1953. That book is real enough – I looked it up – but whether Crowley’s version of Timber Town has anything at all in common with it is suspect. The point is that Crowley’s story appears to be narrated by a character from a children’s religious book, who as a child talked with her guardian angel, but who as an adult ‘‘lived in many places, and things happened to me that I could not even have known were possible in the world.’’ The blurred lines between the world of the children’s book and the world of the narrator’s life reflect the blurred lines of innocence and experience that any coming-of-age story concerns, and Crowley plays the devotional tone of the narrator’s youthful optimism like a master violinist.

The most straightforward SF story here is ‘‘Gone’’, a rather waggish alien invasion tale in which the aliens, called ‘‘elmers,’’ simply show up offering to do household tasks like washing dishes or mowing the lawn, but ominously expecting the recipient of these services to sign a cryptic message, ‘‘ALL ALL RIGHT WITH LOVE AFTERWARDS.’’ For veteran SF readers, this inevitably evokes Damon Knight’s ‘‘To Serve Man’’, but Crowley has something quite a bit more subtle and character-oriented in mind. ‘‘And Go Like This’’ is a brief fantasia on Buckminster Fuller’s old claim that the entire population of the world in 1963 could t indoors in New York City, and ‘‘In the Tom Mix Museum’’ is an even briefer bit of tall-tale nostalgia. Of the three essays, the title piece ‘‘Totalitopia’’ is an interesting speculation which begin with the provocative suggestion that the best way to imagine the future is by simply reversing ‘‘the reigning assumptions about what the future was likely to hold,’’ with some insightful comments on Huxley, Orwell, and Zamyatin, while ‘‘Everything that Rises’’ considers the future from another perspective, that of the Russian ‘‘cosmists’’ and in particular the philosopher Nikolai Federov.

‘‘Paul Park’s Hidden Worlds’’ is an appreciative overview of that author’s work from the early fantasy-tinged SF of the Starbridge Chronicles, through the Princess of Roumania series, to the family fantasia of All Those Vanished Engines. As is usual in the PM series, the book is rounded out by a bibliography and an irreverent interview by Terry Bisson.

Back to John Crowley’s Author Page