Splin­ter­lands

John Fef­fer

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - PETER DABBENE

Hay­mar­ket Books Soft­cover $13.95 (130pp) 978-1-60846-724-2

A wild ride through a bleak fu­ture casts a harsh, thought-pro­vok­ing light on to­day’s de­ci­sions.

John Fef­fer paints the gritty por­trait of an all-too-be­liev­able fu­ture dystopia in his novel Splin­ter­lands.

Fef­fer brings a unique blend of ex­pe­ri­ence and in­sight to what what might first seem a com­mon­va­ri­ety, cau­tion­ary sci­ence-fic­tion tale. Serv­ing as direc­tor of the For­eign Pol­icy in Fo­cus project at the In­sti­tute for Pol­icy Stud­ies, Fef­fer doesn’t just imag­ine the world of 2050, he ex­trap­o­lates from his en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge of the state of af­fairs in 2016, in­cor­po­rat­ing po­lit­i­cal, tech­no­log­i­cal, and so­cial trends to cre­ate a vivid and con­vinc­ing world full of mis­takes that, in real-life 2016, mostly have yet to hap­pen.

Fef­fer leads this tour of the world through the eyes of the fic­tional Ju­lian West, a sci­en­tist and au­thor of the hugely im­pact­ful book Splin­ter­lands. While a bit con­fus­ing at first, it’s an art­ful touch, and, com­bined with foot­notes by a sep­a­rate nar­ra­tor that of­ten cast doubts on West’s ver­sion of events, the re­sult is a book that reads like an en­gag­ing mys­tery that just hap­pens to take place in the fu­ture.

West seeks out his fam­ily mem­bers in Europe, China, Africa, and a com­mune in Ver­mont, look­ing for some form of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion for past wrongs, but with a hid­den agenda that re­veals it­self only in the fi­nal few pages of the book.

At times, West’s ex­cur­sions, un­der­taken through vir­tual re­al­ity, can seem less in­ter­est­ing than the ideas and fic­tional causes of the sit­u­a­tions he steps into. But Fef­fer is usu­ally able to weave the drama, the pro­jec­tions, and the imag­in­ings into a co­he­sive whole: a world where the Euro­pean Union no longer ex­ists, and CRISPR genomeed­it­ing tech­nol­ogy plays a prom­i­nent role.

Splin­ter­lands serves as en­ter­tain­ment, but also as provo­ca­tion; to­ward the end of the book, West muses:

Thirty-five years and end­less catas­tro­phes later, on a poorer, bleaker, less hos­pitable planet, it’s clear that we just weren’t pay­ing suf­fi­cient at­ten­tion. Fef­fer’s book is a wild ride through a bleak fu­ture, cast­ing a harsh, thought-pro­vok­ing light on that fu­ture’s mod­ern-day roots.

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