erry Bisson's latest book is a laugh-out-loud fantastic tale. It's a critique and a question: what does an individual have to do to stand out from the crowd? But on the surface, this novel is a simple tale of a man and his dog, and how the man manages to lose everything, starting with his government job.
In this near-future world, the Bureau of Arts and Entertainment (BAE) is a nebulous organization that has purview over choosing which pieces of art (including music, film, sculpture, etc.) stay, and which are deleted. Our hero, Hank, is a pickup artist, the internal term for a BAE operative. He picks up such things as old books, CDs, films and prints, and takes them back to the bureau to be destroyed all in the name of making space for new artists to emerge. When Hank becomes curious about a Hank Williams album, he gets involved with bootleggers and quickly loses all connections to his past life: legal job, friendly bar and all.
With this novel, Bisson enters the land of Vonnegut, Douglas Adams and even Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Hank's naivete lets us accept at face value the world as presented: talking dogs, pregnancies that go on for eight years, corpses addicted to Last Rites, a revivifying drug and more. Hank has a touch of Candide about him. He takes all that's thrown at him with an elan that makes him either the coolest operative since Sam Spade, or (and this seems somewhat more likely) a little slow on the uptake.
Bisson takes accurate and funny potshots at life and political concerns of the early 21st century: state tax is avoided by Ôflee markets' that cross over state lines every day; Native American-owned casinos have been sold to a Danish concern; and the world is run more by a coterie of rich industrialists than any governmental organization. Like Bisson's short stories (he is the author of the collections Bears Discover Fire and In the Upper Room and Other Likely Stories), this novel is mordantly funny, fast-moving and sharp. If, as he claims, Kurt Vonnegut really has given up writing novels, we can relax a bit Terry Bisson will keep us on our toes.
Gavin J. Grant lives in Brooklyn, where he spends most of his time reviewing, writing and publishing speculative fiction.