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Leiber, Fritz – “Coming Attraction” (1950)

07/10/2012

A post-apocalyptic story – but of the Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? tendency rather than the Riddley Walker strand: parts of New York City are irradiated after a Russian bombing (as are other parts of both countries), but society teeters on in a dystopian, culturally-degenerate-but-technologically-advanced state. Tonally, Neuromancer works just as well as a comparison, with cab drivers watching tv while driving, a woman with concealed metal claws, and people listening to robop. ROBOP! I can’t tell you how much that amuses me. Women here wear masks as a “social necessity” the same way lipstick and bras had been for earlier generations – a holdover from the radiation gear worn by the population during WWIII, and which the Soviets point to “as a last symptom of a capitalist degeneracy and collapse.” References are made to a conflict between “religionists” and “femalists,” and the radio plays an “antisex song” at one point, made popular by the “increasing puritanical morality” of the nation. Not that the rest of the world is faring much better. A distressed woman tells the protagonist, an Englishman, that she wants to escape back with him, and he replies “I’m not sure you’d like England. The austerity’s altogether different from your American brand of misery.”

Not, for that matter, that the Cold (Hot) War is even confined to the Earth anymore:

“I’m afraid of the Moon… You can’t look at it and not think of guided bombs.”
“It’s the same Moon over England,” I reminded her.
“But it’s not England’s Moon any more. It’s ours and Russia’s. You’re not responsible.”

A perfect compliment to the nascent warning against the military-industrial complex and globalization in the Young story, no?

Leiber gets close to having some worthwhile social commentary here, but misses the mark by turning in a disappointing woman character who, in the end, is just toying with the protagonist and wants to be left alone with her abusive boyfriend (pimp? I forget. Either way this took a problematic turn).

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