By Jonathan Lethem. This is a collection of seven short stories by one of my newest favorite authors, Jonathan Lethem. I find Lethem a little hit-and-miss sometimes, and I think the short stories here don’t allow him the space to flesh out his ideas, although the premise is often strong enough to carry the story through. Lethem operates in that netherworld of speculative fiction — not quite full-out sci-fi, but not a slice-of-life either.
In “Vanilla Dunk” we are taken to a world in which basketball players wear exosuits programmed with the skills of famous NBS stars — Vanilla Dunk is a white guy who gets Michael Jordan’s skills. The story is from another player’s perspective. He’s not one of the elites, but one of the solid players who make up the rest of the team. From the hypothesis of a world in which the exosuits exist, Lethem focuses in on the impact on the players themselves. In “Five Fucks” we get a series of vignettes in which reality shifts every time this woman hooks up with this man. It’s like LeGuin’s “The Lathe of Heaven,” but more compact and sketchy, almost as if Lethem was telling you about the story in a bar. “The Hardened Criminals” is about a jail in which the walls are made of prisoners compressed together and laquered over, like something out of an H.R. Geiger painting. “Light And The Sufferer” is about a drug deal gone horribly awry, and these inexplicable aliens who are drawn to troubled souls.
As I said before, the stories are hit-and-miss. It seems like he was writing out some ideas he had before finding one which could sustain a novel. But it’s worth taking a look at if you want to read something reality-bending.