I had no idea what to expect when I decided to review Literature® for Underground Book Reviews. (I reviewed it first here.)
Literature® is a smart novella that gets right down to business. Set in the future, the time and place really doesn’t matter. We’re at a point where books are illegal, Literature® has become a watered-down product used for practical purposes, and corporations are in control. Specifically Gripping Tails, which is unveiling transit lines that run on story. Words that fit within carefully established parameters are used to take people from A to B.
The tech doesn’t really matter that much. It definitely lends a sci fi component to this work, but it’s more important to understand how people are being governed. The price of being caught with a paperback or being “Lit” – having old-school literary thinking – is your life.
Literature® starts us on what may very well be the worst day of Billy Stringer’s life. He’s a sports reporter and is on an assignment to cover the latest Gripping Tails launch. His questions betray the truth and Billy finds himself under the watchful eye of counter-terrorism and a thug from Gripping Tails. He’s on the run and in fear and more than just his life hangs in the balance. This novella delivers the climax right at the conclusion and throws in a bit of a surprise for you.
There are many things that Literature® has made me think about since reading it.
One of the key things that’s weighed on my mind is the commentary about formula fiction. You see, now that story is used to power transit, it must fall within rigid parameters. Anything experimental could be disastrous.
This is a not-so-subtle jab at trying to squeeze story into mathematical formulas and unrelenting structural guidelines. Formulaic fiction is ultimately self-destructive. It’s limited, and it becomes about function (hence the idea of story powering transit). It’s just a practical service.
It ties in with another theme running throughout Literature® about art and commercialism. When we try to reduce art to something practical or to being a product, we lose something. We lose innovation, the willingness to take risks, the opportunity to blaze a trail to some new greatness. Think about it in simplistic terms. If television remained controlled by networks we wouldn’t have Netflix or Hulu or other streaming services. The form changed. With those changes came more options for viewers and a range of series that might not otherwise have been made. (Think Bosch on Prime and The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu and Stranger Things on Netflix, just to name a few series that have earned high praise in recent years.)
In Literature®, when Billy gets introduced to books the text refers to him discovering worlds, and it’s clear that every story takes him to a place that feels more real than the world he lives in. Anyone who’s caught the reading bug understands this. And this is exactly the kind of experience the authorities don’t want you to have.
You could compare Literature® to Fahrenheit 451. You could contrast certain elements with 1984. You could sit for a day and talk about whether or not Literature® fits the definition of noir.
That’s because in the space of about a hundred pages, Guillermo Stitch packs a lot of food for thought. What’s most impressive is that he does it without sacrificing story. Any time a person claims that an action-packed thriller can’t be insightful and contain symbolism I will call bullshit and send them a link to Literature®. I could see this as a movie, easily, and that takes nothing away from it being a compelling read.
Buy it. Read it. Process it. Enjoy it. Take a ride with Billy and see whether the future has more to fear, or more to hope for. This dystopican sci fi noir thriller is a page-turner that will keep you guessing to the end, knows how to deliver a twist and uses a few words to say a hell of a lot about the state of the world and commercialization of art.
Check out my interview with Guillermo Stitch here.
** This could be the best book I’ve read this year, and I’ve read a lot of great stuff, including Freeze-Frame Revolution, The Oddling Prince, Deepest Blue.. It’s been a damn good year for thought-provoking fiction.