Vintage Sci-Fi is always fun to discuss! There’s even an official “Vintage Sci-Fi Month” (January). As I recall, the rule they have for calling something “Vintage” is that it was written before you were born, but feel free to adjust that as you like. Follow Vintage Sci-Fi Month on Twitter and get in on the fun, too.
Moderan by David R. Bunch
I spotted Moderan on the shelf at my local bookstore, a pristine new edition of a collection of olde stories. The cover’s haunting oddness spoke to me–there was a strangeness to it that both repelled and called to me. The Foreword by Jeff Vandermeer hyped me up even more. The back cover has a quote from Brian Aldiss describing it “As if Whitman and Nietzsche had collaborated.” That did it. I knew this odd collection of horrifying stories of post-humanity needed to be on my shelf. I bought it and then, over the course of months, read about one story per day.
Moderan is a collection of stories centered around one Stronghold’s post-human existence. Humans have gone to extremes to become immortal, and the celebration of various frivolities, excesses, and beauty have taken over various parts of Earth. For our protagonist, whose story links most of the short stories together, this endeavor took over his body in an extremely painful procedure that turned his body (minus a few flesh strips) into a fighting Stronghold, capable of waging endless, delightful war on the plastic-covered Earth.
No element of Earth or its humans is untouched by the push for the ever more modern, ever more immortal post-humanity. No aspect of humanity is unplumbed, and in the rare moments in which a human character breaks through with a realization that things may not be as perfect as imagined, our narrator reasons himself into a new stupor, denying his own humanity for the sake of the Moderan myth.
Mythmaking is a major part of the stories, operating often in the background but occasionally coming into focus. Our narrator rants about the “monster god of contrivance,” the God who dared to create humans such that they have bodies that tick down into uselessness over time rather than the “science of infinite life” (52-53). He scorns those who allow any but the elite to survive as pandering to weakness. Only those who he believes could contribute to the great moderan society–a society of endless faux warfare and destruction–should be allowed to survive (72-73). But even he must answer “THE QUESTION” of whether to let human life–that is, non post-humans–to survive, and finds in himself a startling weakness. Namely, that he would have voted to allow them to continue after all (75-76).
The oscillation between absurdity and poignancy found throughout this collection is surely intentional. Readers are buffeted with series of images that enthrall and repel; which are ridiculous and astute. Bunch creates a cacophony of wild imagery while he simultaneously takes the time to slow down and watch the (plastic/fake) birds fly across the skies of Earth. The imagery alone could yield endless fruits for the imagination and reflection.
The stories themselves are largely small windows into the mind of our narrator and the events he encounteres in the Moderan world. I mentioned above the absurdity–and that’s a good word. At first glance, the stories are absurd to the point of silliness at times. But the backbone of their existence is found in a contemplative spirit that pervades the whole collection and asks us to take the deepest questions of humanity into our hearts and wonder at them.
God, humanity, mortality, sexuality–all are contemplated under the strange microscope of Bunch’s collection of strange tales. Moderan is exquisite in its pain, agony, and denial. Bunch’s masterpiece deserves to be read by all fans of science fiction.
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I first ran into Bunch in Dangerous Visions, where Harlan put in 2 of his stories, despite limiting everyone else to 1. I was hooked and loved the 1971 Avon edition. I have to get this new edition, which apparently has a few more stories.
Oh there are many, many more stories than what’s in Dangerous Visions. Let me know if you end up reading it!
Yeah, the 1971 Avon edition had a lot more stories than the 2 in DV, but the new edition has even more than the Avon.