It’s true, of course: we all make up a self. We invent and perform multiple selves. But writers—especially writers who choose an autobiographical first person, as Myles does—have a particularly bizarre relationship to that invented self because the construction is also the basis for the art. Then the art generates further ideas about the invented self, and sometimes the maker gets a bit famous, and now which is which? Is the constructed self the writer? Is the writer the work? Is the work the image, the fame? Is the image or fame the same as the life? There it is: the hall of mirrors.
“For five seconds or perhaps longer, the world was perfectly still and immensely quiet. Then the screaming began.” The novelist Mischa Berlinski wrote those words in February, 2010, a month after the earthquake that devastated Haiti. He had been living there since 2007; his wife was working for the United Nations; he had embarked on his second novel.
I have wrestled with how to review it, circled my metaphors like a wary cat, and finally abandoned the enterprise of trying to live up to its accomplishment. I will be honest, and blunt, because this is a book that has scoured me of language and insight and left itself rattling around inside the shell of me.
I have never been so moved by a collection of short fiction. I was at times afraid to read more. Every single story struck chords in me profound enough to hurt, whether about the love and cruelty of families; the melancholy of thermodynamics; the vicious unfairness of history and the humbling grace with which people endure its weight. Stories so often take us out of ourselves; Liu's stories went deep into my marrow, laying bare painful truths, meticulously slicing through the layers of pearl to find the grain of sand at its heart.
The perennial adolescent complaint that adults have ruined the world (and that blameless young people will inherit it) has some real kick in these days of catastrophic storms and retreating glaciers. The last generation to take a stable season-cycle for granted could be reading right now; in any case, young people growing up today will face the consequences of our industrial activity more concretely than any previous generation. So it is no surprise that science fiction’s latest subgenre — climate fiction, or cli-fi — has produced a number of works intended for young readers.
Paolo Bacigalupi is one of cli-fi’s most successful practitioners. Almost every one of his novels and stories is set in a near-future devastated by rising sea levels and dwindling resources. Several of his books, in fact, seem to be set in the same collapsed future.