Collin Piprell’s fever dream continues without cure, a reimagining of the past and a remembrance of things future
In “Genesis 2.0”, his latest god-like display of sleight-of-hand, Thailand-based Canadian writer Collin Piprell has upended the biblical old and new testaments, with the son killing off the father.
Guiltless patricide, 80 pages in (unintended but necessary) is only the first of many shocks in a continuing epic that resists categorisation. But let’s call it science fiction, because we just haven’t got to the point where any of this feels quite factual – not yet, though it could be imminent.
This is the follow-up to “MOM”, the engrossing book released just this past spring with which Piprell launched the “Magic Circles” series. “Genesis 2.0”, though just released last month, was already written by then. A third yarn is on the way. One can only wonder at what’s in store next.
We have a magical imagination at work here and at times the prose feels like magic realism, yet the series’ title, Magic Circles, refers ostensibly only to protective forcefields. What’s played out here isn’t magic but real life, as experienced today but projected into the future, an extrapolation, the probable fate awaiting all that we Earthlings hold near and dear.
Piprell has reverse-engineered the future to take us back to the dawn of mankind.
The story opens, sometime after the Second War for World Peace and Freedom in Our Time, during a pleasant family meal – Son, his dad Poppy, Poppy’s wife Auntie and God-fearing Gran-Gran.
Briefly, everything seems normal. Except that the meal is “monkey and mock-bean stew, spicy enough [you] can almost forget it’s monkey”. There’s a bit of quasi-incestuous footsie going on. And they’re living in an underground bunker.
Then it’s off on the hunt for Son and Poppy, into the Boogoo, the landscape creamed in a grey “blur dust” of self-replicating nanobots. We’re 800 kilometres north of where the ESSEA Mall in Bangkok fell apart in “MOM”, long ago.
Prowling this dangerous frontier are greedy pigswarms, monkeyswarms, ratswarms and roachswarms, near-invisible dragons, and GameBoys – basically street thugs minus the street – “a loose association of culture jammers, occupiers, teapartiers, HackenCrackers, Rightsrightists, Islamisrightists and the Radical Moderates who, toward the end, became the most terrifyingly violent of those unwilling to swap their freedoms for security”.
Son ends up his family’s sole survivor and braces for his apparent role as the last human standing, but his world is changing alarmingly fast.
Soon enough, in a place called Eden, he encounters the first walking plot-links to “MOM” and the episodes begin to mesh. Here are Cisco “the Kid” Smith and his formidable girlfriend Dee Zu, both veteran test pilots back when whole virtual worlds were generated for the enjoyment of a populace living in shielded malls.
At first it feels like Cisco and Dee Zu will serve as our Adam and Eve, but the casting is a long way from settled.
The virtual worlds came out of the hive mind of MOM, the almighty Mall Operations Manager. Then the whole of creation began coming apart. Now a MOM avatar called Sky is attempting to put it back together, though Sky’s plan is a risky one, entailing her own “deisuicide”, a leap of faith from which sentient life might never rebound.
To activate the plan, Sky needs the help of Cisco, Dee Zu, their new sidekick Son, and also Brian the Evil Canadian, the chief antagonist of the earlier novel.
All have been killed in one form or another, along with Leary, Ellie and a host of amusing robotic characters, and all have been resurrected. For us today, getting our first glimpses of digital replication and alternative facts, the mirror “backups”, multiple identities, multiple simultaneous points of view – and the widening doubt about what’s “real” and what isn’t – represent one of the series’ most compelling themes.
Piprell has filled an entire second volume with more of the insightful prognostication and strange terminology that went into the first (a lengthier lexicon is now also available).
We must learn to maintain a robust CQ (connectivity quotient) and stay linked to the IndraNet, severance from which is “what a lobotomy must feel like”. We must get used to swarms of “posits”, who will remind readers in Thailand of Chinese tourists. There are godbolts, knievels, gibubbles, goshdarnit-things and nownowbits.
Particularly for modern urbanites, and especially those currently living in consumption-crazy Bangkok, “MOM” caught at the throat with its vast malls acting as the last refuges in a morally, environmentally ruined landscape. In “Genesis 2.0”, Bangkok As We Know It is computer-regenerated almost in its entirety (and the traffic is even worse).
A marvel on its own and as part of a continuing saga, “Genesis 2.0” shimmers with a remarkable range of voices as situations require, from stout oratory to quip-laden banter. Pensive, poetic passages alternate with moments of gleeful wit in the repartee (Son and Cisco, rivals in both love and survival, bond over Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild”). Among many memorable lines: “The last thing to impinge on Brian’s consciousness is some tons of limestone.”
It ultimately occurs to the reader that, for all the saga’s bumps against the Judaeo-Christian Bible, what Piprell hath wrought here is closer to the Ramayana. Hindu mythology is the better medium for the extraordinarily painted characters (divinities and ordinary Joes alike), the ornately choreographed battles enacted in sweeping vistas, the full chorus of earthly emotions (birth and loss, joy and apprehension) and the relentless search for an idyllic existence in what can never be more than a process of decay and rebirth.
What transpires at the peaks of the novel owes much to the human pursuit of transcendence. In one jaw-dropping hallucinogenic scene, our actors are blocked in their quest by a vast wall, dancing gnomes, feathered and armed horsemen, a hapless flight of Black Hawk helicopters, and giant wildcats that menace and then dissolve away.
“All the world’s nanobot disassemblers have turned wizard assemblers. Minuscule humanoids ... one-hundred-metre figures that stride purposefully in and out of existence ... an ancient biplane lurches along on the verge of leaving the ground ... Siamese-twin apes on wheels slalom between the remaining molecules.”
“Genesis 2.0” is as revolutionary as the title suggests. It is by turns calm and riotous, reassuring and deeply disturbing, compelling and prohibiting. But there is muddle in the rubble.
At close to 700 pages, it is more than twice the length of “MOM”, and its kaleidoscopic, shape-shifting complexity requires twice as much explaining. Piprell has said the book is “as long as it needs to be” and resisted his and his editors’ attempts to condense it.
And yet there is considerable repetition in the bogstorm of explication, circuitous dialogue, aggravating gaps between plot objectives being met. The inventiveness withers in the loops and stretches. Even with the main characters strutting about proudly naked (often titillatingly so), the adventure at times stutters.
This aside, oh my MOM what a dazzlingly scary fantasy this is – assuming it does turn out to be a fantasy, and not an astonishing feat of accurate precognition on the part of an author who seems far better informed about the future than the rest of us.
The second Magic Circles novel ends (after a nice inside-out joke about plot-free writing) with a promise of more thrills to come, by way of a rather poignant use of the Thai term fai kaphrip, translated for divine purposes here as “fluorescent tube on the fritz”.