“Prisoners of Perfection” is here – Nearly two years after the Epic Fail saga began with Entropic Quest, my son and I finally got around to inventing and writing Book Two. It’s not exactly what we originally thought it would be. It’s way, way better.
As with most of the stories I have a hand in, this one is always free, fairly short, minimalist even, surreal, somewhat absurd, rather strange, with more unexplained phenomena than you could shake a stick at, assuming you are the kind of person who goes around shaking sticks at unexplained phenomena. Reviews of my earlier stories suggest there are more such people than you would guess!
I am not and never will be (god willing) a “literary darling”, and in fact it’s a rarity that a reader ascribes any literariness to my stories at all, yet they abound in subtext and unwritten themata. Take, for example, the title “Prisoners of Perfection”. Johnny and I came up with this title months before we had any idea what the story would be about, and somehow it stuck, all the way through, and even works in the context of the tale. To me, the title has several meanings, beginning with the idea that we have all become entangled with the idea of perfection, of perfecting, of improving, of having not just what we want, but wanting the best of what we want, and not only things, but other people and ourselves, to be better, to become better, to be the best, we sharpen our skills, “hone our craft” (hand-signal here, a la pounding certain pontiffs), practice making perfect. “Enough is never enough for the man to whom enough is not enough” Chuang Tzu is said to have said. Nothing is ever good enough. We can have no mistakes, no errors, no commas or hairs out of place, no below-par cover images, no extra white space, no adverbs like “the thief he kindly spoke”.
On another level, there is the perfection of dystopia, which has become more and more refined, especially in the past decade. Where dystopias used to be a sort of “social science fiction”, where politics and social structures were explored and re-arranged for the sake of understanding and improving our own imperfect systems, nowadays they are more apt to be optimized for maximum action and emoting. The dystopia is where the strong survive and display their strength, not merely by sheltering in place for forty eight hours or so, but by overcoming all sorts of impossible odds and explosions. Our books and movies in this genre are engaged in a post-nuclear arms race to jump the shark ever higher with ever younger heroes with ever more unlikely super-powers and skills.
Then there is the perfection of utopia, which is no longer a dream of a better society, but a dream of a better human. It could be only a matter of time when “genetically modified organism” refers not to the crops we sow or the insects we invalidate, but to ourselves, our future generations. It only makes sense. Instead of making the world perfect, why not make ourselves so? We could live forever, and forever be young, and, of course, forever sexually potent. There would be no illness, no decay, no struggle, no further adaptation required. We will work the system from within, and will all be youthful, thin and blonde and spend our entire eternal lives basking in the sun at some impossibly luxurious resort. Why explore the outer space when we’ve barely scratched the inner surface of the potential of our own perfection? This is what I call “blisstopia”.
Finally, we come to the happy ending, and the need to have it all work out just so. There are many kinds of happy endings, and in the Epic Fail series, the happy ending can only come about through utter and total failure. We are happy to have achieved this elusive goal once again. Now that we’re done, we’re scratching out heads about Book Three. This time we don’t even have a title yet! But I can say that this collaboration with my child has been – one more time – a thrilling and delightful adventure. I can’t even begin to say how proud of him I am.