Published by Perfect Edge Books on May 30, 2014
Genres: Speculative Fiction
When Nick Guan is 11 years old, everyone in the world loses their hair overnight. What comes to be called the Great Baldification marks the beginning of a massive wave of change in every aspect of life, from personal relationships to culture, the economy, war, and even the weather.
Over the following decades, the cultures of the US and Asia change in ways that are both frightening and eerily plausible. In a nod to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, this novel presents a world centered around consumerism and pleasure seeking. Plastic surgeons become skilled enough to make anyone look exactly like anyone else, leading to spades of Marilyn Monroe lookalikes. The most popular TV show is called Jesus the General, staring a Jesus wearing military fatigues and wielding a laser gun. Taxis are filled with 3D panoramas of advertisements, and personalized ads even infiltrate people’s dreams. Los Angeles reverts to its Wild West origins:
“Rather than impose gun control, Americans had gone the way of equipping everyone with arms. You had to wear vests and a helmet in case of stray bullets that might break bones.”
Many years after the Great Baldification, Nick is a heartbroken divorcee and a veteran of an African war, during which he sanitized bloody footage for public consumption. He makes eccentric films with his friend Larry Chao, whose father’s wig factories made him extremely wealthy. One night, the perpetually womanizing Larry invites Nick out to meet a pair of girls at a Korean BBQ. Nick reluctantly joins them, but when the girls turn out to be North Korean spies, a chain of events is set in motion that leads Nick on a bizarre and dangerous adventure throughout China and America.
I really enjoyed Liu’s short story collection Watering Heaven when it came out in 2012, so I was thrilled when Peter approached me about reviewing his new novel. Bald New World sounded delightfully bizarre. I don’t read much sci-fi/speculative fiction, but I love Liu’s surreal twist on the theme of the American Dream.
Bald New World is just as weird and wonderful as I hoped it would be. It is dark and gritty and, at times, gruesome. I actually had to put the book down for a prolonged period of time when Nick has most of his teeth broken. (A weird thing about me: The idea of broken teeth makes me more squeamish than just about anything else. Possibly related: I have had two dreams about my teeth falling out in the last week. I’m blaming you, Peter.)
As in Watering Heaven, Liu writes with a disillusioned view of the American Dream, and he imagines where our obsession with appearance, demand for newer and better products, and love of guns will take us. It’s a grim neon-lit future where the FDA has gotten bought out by a fast food chain, making regulatory rules a joke (“The drivel that passed as hamburgers was deemed organic because they came from ‘living cows.'”); atom bombs have changed the weather; and one can’t go outside in LA without body armor. And yet, in this scary, glittering world, a group of nude men and women run through the city, flouting the danger in their quest for freedom.
In a time when dystopia is the biggest trend in young adult fiction, Peter Tieryas Liu’s novel stands apart, being more in the vein of Aldous Huxley’s social commentary than Suzanne Collins’ love triangle-infused revolution. Electric Literature‘s review of Bald New World also compares it to Murakami’s work, which I think is an apt comparison; Liu shares his knack for building surreal but believable worlds. This is a darkly funny, highly original novel, and I would definitely recommend it to other readers who want to add some sci-fi to their literary diets.
Lastly, I can’t post this review without mentioning the cover. It’s so striking and gorgeous, and it’s a perfect fit for this book. I’m kind of in love with it. Feel free to ignore the rest of the review; if you’re intrigued by the cover, you’re going to love this book.
I received a copy of this book for review consideration.