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Totalitopia
by John Crowley

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted November 9, 2022

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With a new release in August, the Outspoken Authors series from PM Press has reached twenty-nine titles. John Crowley's Totalitopia was the nineteenth, published in July of 2017. I obtained it and several others last year free through Edelweiss. They are all short, consisting of stories or essays, a bibliography of the author up to that point, along with an interview by series editor Terry Bisson. Since those ARCs were for previously published work I didn't feel compelled to review them by a particular date, but the time seemed right for this one after reviewing Crowley's first four novels.

The first story, "This Is Our Town," is original to this book. It's written in first-person, the narrator a Catholic school girl living in "Timber Town," or perhaps she is using that metaphorically, that it is the town she identifies with since reading about it in a book by Sister Mary Marguierite. That is a real book, published by Ginn and Company in 1953. The reason I think the girl is placing herself within the story is she says Timber Town "was a small river town, where exactly the book never said, but it would have to be somewhere in the Northeast, maybe in Pennsylvania." No way to know if she related to it because it was similar to where she actually lived. The speculative element is that she can see and converse with her guardian angel, and is puzzled why others cannot see their own angel, or whether that was an ability people lost as they aged. Due to her faith she believes things will be right in the end, although no one could be sure of that until all of a story was written. Over the years she had started to wonder if it was true, but still continued to think she personally could enact change in the world to make sure it did turn out all right. A beautiful, but puzzled account of free will versus determinism.

"Totalitopia" first appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of Lapham's Quarterly. Crowley talks about how previous science fiction had incorrectly predicted the future, with his conclusion being that whatever the consensus opinion was at any given time, the more accurate prediction would be something completely opposite of that. Thus his idea that a One World government will actually happen, and there will be a lasting peace on Earth. Correct or not, might as well think positively. For several years Crowley contributed to the Easy Chair column for Harper's Magazine, one of the last of those being "Everything That Rises." It's an interesting companion piece to the previous essay. Based on a conference Crowley attended at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, along with later research, it talks about Cosmism, a term I'm not sure I had heard before. It derives from writings by several Russians from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. A combination of religious and ethical thought, along with natural history and evolution, one of the major figures was Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov, who proposed the resurrection of the dead, and the possible archiving of all human thought throughout history.

The next three entries are fiction. The copyright page says both "Gone" and "And Go Like This" are from Crowley's 2004 collection Novelties and Souvenirs, but "Gone" originally appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in September 1996. It won a Locus award in '97, and was also a Hugo and Sturgeon finalist. This version may have been revised. It's about mysterious aliens who come to Earth from their mother ship orbiting the Moon, offering to do everyday tasks for people; mowing the lawn, washing windows, repairing appliances, etc. Everyone had been informed not to respond to their offers of a "Good Will Ticket," since the only option given is YES (Why Not Say Yes?). The main character eventually decides what they are offering is exactly the opposite of what everyone else thinks. "In the Tom Mix Museum," the shortest in the collection, has to be fiction, or else the real Tom Mix Museum in Dewey, Oklahoma has changed since 1958. [Correction: the museum didn't open until 1965.] It must be a dream a young boy (Crowley himself?) had, since the museum consists of a giant statue of Mix ("ůmuch larger than you would think, taller than the statue of Paul Bunyan in that other town.") I'm even more confused as to the first appearance of "And Go Like This." I've tracked down copies of both the US and UK editions of Novelties and Souvenirs and neither shows it in their table of contents. ISFDb says it's from the 2011 Ellen Datlow edited anthology Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy, and its nomination for a Locus was in 2012. I also googled the quote that is the epigram to the story, and apparently Buckminster Fuller did say (or write) it: "There is room enough indoors in New York City for the whole 1963 world's population to enter, with room enough inside for all hands to dance the twist in average nightclub proximity." The story is about the world's population being offered free transportation to New York (all five boroughs), and at the designated time they begin to dance.

An article from the Boston Review, "Paul Park's Hidden Worlds" introduced me to a writer of whom I was previously unaware, but Crowley's descriptions of his books makes me want to correct that oversight soon. Lastly, other than the bibliography, is the interview, in which Crowley talks about the various places he has lived, studied, and worked. Born in Presque Isle, Maine the son of an Army officer, he later lived in Vermont, Kentucky, and Indiana, where he went to high school and attended Indiana University. An interest in filmmaking took him to New York, and while he did write several documentaries, he didn't see a future in it. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, and has taught creative writing at Yale since 1993. His major award wins are the American Academy of Arts and Letters for Literature in 1992, the World Fantasy Award for Little, Big, and a Life Achievement Award from that organization in 2006. As short as this book is, it gives a good cross-section of Crowley's interests, his vast knowledge, and insatiable curiosity. This and his first four novels are all that I have read, but I do want to explore more of his work. I recommend you do so as well.

 

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Author
John Crowley

Published
Stories: 1996-2017
Collection: 7/1/17

Awards
See review

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