Meet The President! by Zadie Smith, 2013
The magic trick:
Combining a Dickensian flair for Englishness with a science fiction setting
Hard to know what to make of this story. It would appear to be Zadie Smith trying her hand at science fiction. The key to any kind of world-building in a dystopian future setting, I think, is to throw the reader into it without explanation but then make it pretty clear pretty quickly through a (preferably exciting) series of events how things work and why in this universe.
Smith certainly throws the reader into this new world without explanation. I question, though, whether she ever manages to explain the how-things-work-and-why part. Certainly there is very little emphasis on a (preferably exciting) series of events. This story drags.
On a positive note, the tone is wonderful. She manages to combine a Dickensian street language of Ye Olde England with this video game world of science fiction. I wish she did more with the actual narrative. But there’s no denying the mix of old and new in the language and setting makes for a very interesting foundation at least. And that’s quite a trick on Smith’s part.
“Them clouds, dark as bulls. Racing, racing. They always win.” To illustrate, she tried turning Aggie’s eyes to the sky, lifting the child’s chin with a finger, but the girl would only gawk stubbornly at the woman’s elbow. “They’ll dump on us before we even get there. If you didn’t have to, I wouldn’t go, Aggie, no chance, not in this. It’s for you I do it. I’ve been wet and wet and wet. All my life. And I bet he’s looking at blazing suns and people in their what-have-yous and all-togethers! Int yer? Course you are! And who’d blame you?” She laughed so loud the boy heard her. And then the child—who did not laugh, whose pale face, with its triangle chin and enormous, fair-lashed eyes, seemed capable only of astonishment—pulled at his actual leg, forcing him to mute for a moment and listen to her question.
“Well, I’m Bill Peek,” he replied, and felt very silly, like somebody in an old movie.
“Bill Peek!” the old woman cried. “Oh, but we’ve had Peeks in Anglia a long time. You’ll find a Peek or two or three down in Sutton Hoo. Bill Peek! You from round here, Bill Peek?”
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