Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"It Pays to Advertise"

Billboards is a new collection of short stories by author Clifford Meth, who also maintains the Everyone's Wrong and I'm Right blog, which I'm sure you all have bookmarked. I was recently (and I use that term very loosely, it's been some time and for my tardiness I apologize) given the opportunity to read and review a PDF of this release- and in the spirit of better late than never, here's what I thought.

The collection leads off with the titular story, one of the two longish tales that bookend the collection, and it's a slice of William Gibson/Blade Runnerish dysfunctional future SF slash social commentary about a world to come in which people rent out their bodies for billboard space in the form of illuminated tattoos (hence the title), and it's probably the best one of the set, with a resolution that I didn't see coming. It's also the only story that has illustrations, and they're fine, but one thing bugged me- at one point we're told that the young lady on the cover at left there has words tatted on her eyelids in five point Friz Quadrata type, but the illo shows a font that looks like at least 12 point and and is most definitely not Friz. Picky, I know, but it's the graphic designer/typesetter in me. Whaddaya gonna do. Communication breakdowns aside, Meth gets in some good shots about the ever-spreading rampant commercialism we deal with now, and he knows as well as we do that it's only going to get worse.

After that, we get a handful of vignettes about different subjects; in the first, we sit in on a business meeting of "Advanced Septic Systems", yep, that's right, A.S.S., as they plan to go forward with a system that can transform feces into toothpaste. It's got some crude humor and a cynical surly tone, something which informs many of these shorts. Next up is a script conference between a "smaller god" and a "medium god", said script seeming to be an account to a pregnant woman going away on a trip with her (and I'm assuming here, from the tone of his description) gay son; we cut back and forth between the script conference and the events of the script, and it ends abruptly with a big deal being made of said son being unable to get comfortable in his airplane seat. There's a "Princess and the Pea" joke inferred here, a play on the title "Revisions on the Pea"...and I'm sorry, I just don't get it. I guess there's something there I'm not seeing- wouldn't be the first time.

Next up, "Blowing Smoke", another script conference of sorts, this one set in the children's book world. It at least makes surface sense and has some amusing lines, mostly involving the book's title- Timmy's Weiner. Stan Lee also gets some namedropping in the course of the discussion. I suppose the idea here is to once again make a statement about how absurd creative people (and the not-so-creative people that tend to make decisions affecting them) can be. It, too, ends on an odd note, as the exec in charge reveals a brainstorm involving a new form of mass communication involving smoke signals. Again, I feel like there's a big underlying point I'm missing, but I just don't see it. "The Other Woman" follows, and it's a fairly straightforward account of a man being harassed by a nutjob young lady who apparently was also the cause of the breakup of his marriage. This one at least has some verisimilitude, but both leads aren't particularly likable or interesting (and in all fairness, the story's so short we don't get the chance to get acquainted), and that blunts the impact a bit. Speaking of crazy girlfriends, the next story also deals with that sort of thing as well as a writer deals with a phone call of a fan who seems to be on the Annie Wilkes side, although it really never gets that serious. The intent here is to make a comment on the whole obsessed fan mentality, I'd think, but it's resolved in a somewhat weak, or at least unremarkable, fashion. Ascribing real-life motives to fictional stories is always a sucker's game, but I can't help but wonder if there aren't some real-life events with the writer that may have informed some of these shorts.

Finally, the second of the two longish stories, "Queers", rounds out the collection. It imagines a future where people are genetically engineered to be predisposed to be attracted to the same sex, and attraction to the opposite sex is looked down upon and persecuted. However, our protagonist Craig is different- he's attracted to girls, especially a new girl at school, Alynn. Complications ensue, as Craig fends off the advances of a young man who takes him to the prom, and he somehow makes the connection with the real object of his desire- which leads to a conclusion that I didn't see coming (and neither did Craig, I have to say). Meth saves the best for last here; Craig's plight was quite involving.

So there you go- while I can't say this was the best book, or collection of short stories, I've ever read, I was entertained and drawn in to the longer ones, and can say that you might enjoy the collection if you're so inclined to check it out and are looking for social satire with an attitude.

It can be purchased through Amazon, and other venues.

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