“Book Review: The Science of Lost Futures”
Reviewed by Joshua Ryan Bligh
Packed with wit and weirdness, The Science of Lost Futures weaves through the absurd to tell stories of human conditions and connection.
A foot the size of a water tower washes ashore; your deceased Nana paddles her coffin over to your front porch during a flood; you bring your pet Nazi to class for show and tell. Nothing out of the ordinary, right?
Right. Or, at least, such is the feat that Ryan Habermeyer pulls off with his short story collection The Science of Lost Futures. In under twenty stories, Habermeyer pulls from a boundless imagination to deliver tales that proudly stride upon the line between dream and reality without ever losing their relevance to the reader.
Each story has a central element of absurdity. But through a masterful use of prose, pacing, and narrative, the absurd elements–while they’re always around–take a backseat to the story’s characters and their emotional and psychological struggles. Where authors could use the surreal as a crutch, Habermeyer does something unbelievable with the unbelievable: it becomes mundane.
“My father said we’re all really good at trying to be the thing we are not, but we’re miserable at being what we are.”
His works are in the magical realist vein of Marquez, Murakami, or Castillo in their ability to take something otherwise magical and place it into the confines of daily life. But Habermeyer goes a step further, creating works that make the surreal real: surrealist realism, if you would. The surreal never hogs the stage, as Habermeyer’s strong prose and well-constructed characters create a sense of tightness in an otherwise expansive subject matter, keeping the reader’s attention and grounding the narrative in relatable themes.
The stories might follow a woman living in a zoo exhibit, a literally wandering womb, or a person turning into a black hole—but these moments all have their purpose. Even at their most ostensibly irrational, Habermeyer’s characters act on thoroughly human emotion, needs, and drives. The stimulus-reaction link might seem unfamiliar and the characters’ behaviors may for a moment seem unbelievable, but the human core is always there in each action, grounding each story and allowing its message to shine through the glitter of the author’s delicious absurdities.
The Science of Lost Futures is a rare gem that should appeal to both fans and non-fans of the fantastical. It certainly tantalizes the imagination with its scenarios, but never sacrifices narrative and technical quality at the expense of the fantastical. You might come out the other side of these tales a little weirder, but, oddly enough, more grounded as well.
Category: Magical Realism | Short Story Collection
Publisher: BOA Editions
Paperback: 216 pages
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