Broken Turtle Blog

Broken Turtle Blog

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sci-Fi for the 99%

By Phillip Bannowsky

by Franetta McMillian

With monks who channel voudoun spirits and bisexual scientists who heal the earth, Franetta McMillian’s Love in the Time of Unraveling confronts our current dysfunctions as few post-apocalyptic works dare. Mad Max and The Road more escape our world than expose it, abandoning their heroes to a feral struggle in an empty landscape. We may enjoy vicarious bloodletting or lament our Hobbesian fate, but either way, the life we know is over.

In McMillian’s future, set in the latter part of the present century, the power structure that preceded the collapse is still holding on. One-percenters luxuriate beneath an air-conditioned Dome while we ninety-nine percenters wheeze through short and brutish lives in a toxic “Outside,” texting and sharing videos from hermetic abodes. We don hazmat suits to commute, often on ferries, given the high sea level of our iceless world. The smog that choked 2013 Bejing and Mexico City is ubiquitous now and getting worse. October swelters but the sun never shines. Beauty fades before it ripens, and we die young of disease or crushed in collapsing mines.  Protest is permissible, but only in “free-speech” zones, just like 2013. Adding insult to injury, Domer do-gooders slum in the Outside. The press gossips, but rarely reveals. The market is up, while prosperity is down. Yet spiritually and sexually, our world is very much alive.

The first in this collection of interrelated stories concerns Magdalena Ocunto, a seven-foot former hacker and black priest-in-training in the Knights of the New Star, a monastic order of the “New Catholic Church.” When the environmental cataclysm split the Church, it also unraveled Cartesian reality. Ocunto can read thoughts; the voudoun demigods will speak through her. Her first big assignment is to write computer code to crash the stock market during the G20, still doing mischief at century’s end. Her church, in the borderlands between politics and spirit, calls this a “deep act of conscience.”

Then we meet billionaire scientist Lillian Ruby, whose androgyny in name and orientation re-enforces the borderlands theme. Lillian, who came from the “Deep Outside,” a now uninhabitable part of Louisiana, gathers fellow prodigies to heal the earth. One of his recruits is David Grove. Over red wine and marijuana (Lillian’s preference), their collaboration grows to love. Love is the healing alchemy in this work.

For example, Allison Flowers, a Domer and revolutionary graffiti artist, has the power to heal with touch or, for more serious maladies, with sex.

Love, both sacred and worldly, binds Morian Watts and his mentor, Father Allen, who trains him to release the souls of the dying and perform exorcisms. Though he hates the super rich, Morian exorcises seven-year-old Caitlyn Traynor, a mine baron’s daughter, who is haunted by the workers who died in her father’s mine, called Destination Hill.

This echo of the 2010 Massey Mine disaster is not the only place where McMillian confronts our contemporary calamities. The Upper Ninth Zone, setting for much of the action, is located in a region known as the Crescent and suggests the inundated Ninth Ward of New Orleans, the “Crescent City.” There is Great Mountain Security, a Blackwater-like private army that protects the barons from the growing revolt. There is even a super hurricane called Kali, sounding like Katrina and Sandy and named for the Hindu goddess of time-doomsday-death. Accompanying all these disasters are End Times Signs and Wonders. Of Kali, Morian Watts says, “Sometimes an event is so unthinkably horrible that it actually blows a hole in time and everything becomes unsettled.” He adds that the outcome, unlike that of Tim LaHaye’s Armageddon, “is malleable. It could all turn up roses or it could all go to shit.”

The extraordinary cast includes members of the Richard Corey Club, teens planning suicide by the supernatural psychedelic Blue Sky; Mei Ling, a Beijing transgender hooker-cum-weaponized HIV terrorist; and various members of the families Traynor, Flowers, and Storm: Innesto Storm, an Outsider and Allison’s summer fling; his estranged wife Angie, a psychic and devotee of voudon; and son Zaden, a prodigy who declines to join Lillian Ruby’s firm. By the time we get to the final episode, a letter by Lillian Ruby to Allison Flowers, we are invested in these characters and their struggles, not only because they are so gripping, but because they are our own. Happily, Lillian’s letter suggests a sequel.

Science fiction often projects a limited notion of the future. Whether it is gee-whiz-bang gimmickry or dystopian nightmares, it tends to repeat our dominant ideology of individual entrepreneurs discovering exotic natives. It is blind to the humanity not only of the natives that dwell in the future, but of the natives that struggle in the now.

If you are one of these natives, this book is for you, for Love in the Time of Unraveling is about now, where now is heading, and how we may prevail. Franetta McMillian peels off our time’s blinkers and lets us look outside the lines, in the borderlands between genders, classes, and races and between Cartesian reality and the spirit world.

As Lillian Ruby asserts in his missive to Allison Flowers “You lived in the borderlands, outside the lines, and there is a wealth of power there.”

You can order Love in the Time of Unraveling at Amazon.

Sci-Fi for the 99%