ANGRY YOUNG SPACEMAN
By Jim Munroe
Why is Jim Munroe angry? According to his bio he is only 27 years old, a former managing editor at the high-profile parody magazine Adbusters, and already has one successful novel under his belt (Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gas Mask). Things would seem to be going pretty well.
And yet Jim Munroe is a rebel. He has published Angry Young Spaceman under his own imprint, and urges others to do the same on a highly recommended Web-page (NoMediaKings.org) that he has turned into a platform for his crusade against media monopolies. His new novel is an extension of his political creed, being a critique of modern globalization and materialism in the form of a science-fiction comic romance.
The angry young hero is Sam Breen, an Earthling who goes to the liquid planet of Octavia to teach the indigenous squid population English. Octavia is a Third World kind of world, where the locals ape all of the latest Earth fashions right down to the hottest new boy band (Intergalactic Cool Youth). Needless to say, it isn’t long before Sam is fulminating against this one-galaxy monoculture and preparing to “go native” in a big way. “Earth has bullied everyone into being like it,” he complains. Teaching English is like spreading a disease, destroying native ways of life and replacing them with boring and meaningless alien traditions.
As an allegory of Western cultural imperialism all of this works quite well, and the writing itself is very good. The book’s real failure is its hero. Sam Breen, the intergalactic ambassador of sensitivity, white guilt and political correctness, was more than I could take.
What Sam is angry about is never clear. He wears an “aggrometer” on his wrist to warn him when he is going over into the red zone of rage, but the only time he really gets upset is when people are impolite.
Tolerance, acceptance and sensitivity are an obsession with Sam. He is, of course, an environmentalist and radical vegetarian, and even leads a campaign against eating the tiny shrimp-like creatures that live on Octavia. Relationships? Tolerant of difference of course (his mother is a lesbian and his girlfriend is one of the local squid), but also committed to building a responsible, long-term monogamous relationship. Violence? Certainly not the real kind. Even disciplining unruly students is a no-no (“institutionalized violence, always directed against the powerless for ‘their own good'” – sniff!).
Why then is Sam angry? Precisely because he has nothing to be angry about. Sam is a thirtieth-century rebel without a personally felt motive for his cause. Coming from a privileged background (his mother is some kind of corporate planet developer), and only associating with an elite minority while living on Octavia, his political posturing only makes him seem like an ideologically hip prig. He’s the guy who’s got it all, but doesn’t want it.
It is an attitude that’s hard to wear for a full-length novel. The best drama in any fiction comes from the conflict between characters and ideas. A novel without that conflict runs the risk of becoming sentimental or preachy, which is exactly what happens to Angry Young Spaceman. Near the end Sam makes one of his speeches about how bad a thing cultural hegemony is. As he concludes, the person he is talking to (or rather, as usual, talking at) only raises his eyebrows “in a kind of maybe you’re right way.” This leaves Sam feeling unsatisfied. “I’d have preferred he argued,” he decides.
So would we all.
Review first published June 10, 2000. Munro’s next novel, Everyone In Silico, was much better.