- Nothing New Under the Sun
Fiction Collective 2
182 Pages; Print, $13.55
We truly live in an exciting age. The digital revolution has sparked technological progress on an unprecedented scale. With every new smartphone application, we're coming ever closer to the realization of that old dream of modernity—the emancipation from the confines of the natural world and our ascendancy into the realm of freedom.
Not so fast, cautioned economic historian Michael Lind in a 2010 Time Magazine article titled "The Boring Age." So far, the twenty-first century has produced nothing revelatory on the scale of the innovations of the nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth centuries. "In fact, the gadgets of the information age have had nothing like the transformative effects on life and industry that indoor electric lighting, refrigerators, electric and natural gas ovens and indoor plumbing produced in the early to mid-20th century," Lind writes. Thus, his outlook for the future is admittedly boring: the nation state will persist, as will fossil fuels. Advances in biotechnology, however, will allow people to "live longer and healthier lives, and consequently the largest single occupation in 2050 will be—drumroll, please—nursing!" Not excited by this vision? Neither is Lind, yet it reads more realistically than anything cooked up by Mark Zuckerberg and his hoard of epigones in the suburban sprawl outside of San Francisco.
Michael Martone's new short story collectionThe Moon Over Wapakoneta is a manifesto of and for the "boring age." What binds together the "Fictions and Science Fictions from Indiana and Beyond," which the book's subtitle promises, is a desire to arrest the march of time. Seconds are made to feel like hours and the hour or two it takes to read the book like an eternity. This is because each of the many, often extremely short, stories is a variation on the same theme, namely whether it's possible to write a story that's "concentrated and condensed into this bite-sized tablet." Elsewhere, we read that "Nothing happens here and yet everything does. There, it happened there, right there as the 'yet,' the fulcrum of the previous sentence, when things, things, turned."
The "here" is a version of that border zone between Ohio and Martone's native Indiana. Separated by a mere state line, moving between the states is an instance of time travel, where, depending on the direction of travel, you either gain or lose an hour— and ever so often, an atomic clock throws in a "leap second or two to bring the world up to speed." The book's recurring first-person narrator, of course, never does feel up to speed, and so this technological fix is required to bring him back into synchronicity with the march of time. In the book's title story, he is left to ruminate on the persistent change unfolding all around him, which has led to the colonization of the moon, our satellite companion that had been first stepped on by the Wapakoneta native Neil Armstrong. "Here's to the first man on the moon from the last person on earth," the narrator's melancholy toast goes.
Shortly after his famous expedition, Armstrong predicted that moon bases were surely to follow "in our lifetime." Unfortunately, nothing became of his optimistic vision. On the contrary, we are still locked in Cold War-like combat with the former Soviet Union, courtesy of a foreign policy and media apparatus to whom, too, time appears to stand still. In fact, it's plausible to think that the innovations in digital technology we encountered since 1969 have been little more than side effects of the Apollo space program. In other words, today we are riding the dying outliers of the last long wave of economic expansion, not the exciting rapid ones of an incoming new one. In this sense, Martone's often pointless, always boring experiments in metafictional narration are quite symptomatic of our age of stagnation— and deeply affirmative of it.
Take what is undoubtedly...