I recently took a long plane ride to visit grandchildren living in Israel and then had a few days in London on the way home. I had a chance to read Alexander Weinstein’s new collection of short stories, Universal Love. The eleven stories are futuristic tales about our relationships to our partners, our children, our friends and colleagues, and our planet. They utilize imaginative technology in ways to demonstrate how we communicate with each other.
I thought about these stories when I entered England from Israel. I was “fast-tracked” so could slide through the immigration security line without waiting. I scanned my passport and the gate opened, I went through. There was no human interaction, no questions about the purpose or length of my stay. Likewise, when I returned home, I easily used my Global Services and TSA-Pre status to repeat the procedure, completely avoiding any human contact. There was no stamping of my passport, no “welcome home,” comment from US TSA officials.
While Alexander’s stories expose the permeation of technology in every facet of life, in many ways we’re already there. People are in front of screens all the time. I still read real books and newspapers, though I have an e-reader. What I miss with the e-reader is that I can’t see what people are reading, there’s no entry into a conversation about the book, the author, tastes in reading when you can’t see the titles. People walk around plugged in, stuffing Q-tip like appendages in their ears. They’re on the phone, they’re listening to podcasts, but whatever they’re doing, it precludes interruption for conversation. Biometric technology is already common place, as are all the hazards: hacking of personal data, hacking of community computer systems and coffers, and hacking of elections.
Here’s comments on a few:
In “The Year of Nostalgia”, a grieving family is able to connect with their deceased wife and mother through an app called Nostalgia. She’s able to reappear as a hologram.
The parents in “We Only Wanted Their Happiness” have chips removed from their children to reduce their addiction to screens.
In “Childhood,” two robots, Joey and Lacey are adopted as children. Lacey starts to remove her emotion card and later runs away, leaving Joey to question his existence: is he a son or merely a consumer item?
Alexander addresses world issues with three stories addressing climate change and one immigration. They’re edgy and provocative. They’re just enough above the norm to be speculative fiction, yet they’re eerily too close for comfort.
At a reading and book signing this week at the cozy Community Bookshop in Brooklyn, I had the chance to hear Alexander (who happens to be my cousin), speak about this book and his writing process. His first collection, Children of the New World, published in 2016, took him 10 years to write. Following that publication, he was immediately signed to create another, which he did in two years, writing 14 stories at the same time. Several stories from the first book are in the process of being made into movies.
These are both great books for teens to adults and great for book club discussions.