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Landscape with Invisible Hand

December 19, 2017

We were big fans of M. T. Anderson’s YA novel Feed when it came out, so when I found out that he’d written a new YA novel entitled Landscape with Invisible Hand and read some reviews calling it satiric, I had to read it posthaste. And I was glad I did, as in a holiday season full of disturbing news, it provided almost as much comfort and joy as the post entitled “Yes, I know I’m angry. I wish you were.”

In Landscape with Invisible Hand, aliens called the vuvv have invaded Earth. They offer humans “their tech and invited us to be part of their Interspecies Co-Prosperity Alliance. They announced that they could end all work forever and cure all disease, so of course, the leaders of the world all rushed to sign up.” What the humans didn’t realize, our narrator Adam says, is that “all that tech would be owned by someone and would be behind a paywall” and that “no human currency could stand up against the vuvv’s ch’ch” so that “the human economy collapsed” and “only the wealthiest of humans could compete, once they had a contract for vuvv tech, once they could invest in vuvv firms.”

Adam and his parents spend their days looking for work while, as he says, “our leaders were making speeches about how American’s middle class had to stop dreaming and start learning how to really work.” Even subsistence farming doesn’t work because “the vuvv could grow food cheaper,” so finally “the only way to make money was to work with the vuvv personally.”

In desperation, Adam finds a job courting the teenage girl whose homeless family has had to move into his house. They make “hundreds of dollars a month” wearing recording equipment so the vuvv can observe their dates. The viewers and the money disappear, however, when Adam and the girl start to grow apart and after an unfortunate episode that reveals the unpleasantness of the disease that Adam has caught from drinking tap water, because “as part of the vuvv’s austerity measures, municipal water is no longer purified.” It’s hard not to see a current political parallel when Adam reveals the fact that he’s “tried to get some kind of medicine to help with it—the vuvv can apparently solve this kind of thing in five minutes—but we have minimum insurance coverage. All the medicine in the world won’t help if you don’t own it. I was saving up for a single visit with a vuvv doc. I hoped I’d have enough cash by the time my small intestine shriveled like an earthworm on hot pavement.”

It’s even harder not to see parallels as the story goes on, with Adam’s formerly indomitable mother cowed by the impossibility of ever finding work and Adam’s job gone.
“So we watch the news, and there has been a race riot in Central Fals. Security cameras show a bunch of white guys rampaging through a bodega, lifting up the Coke fridge and tipping it through the window, attacking the owner and his family with a baseball bat, screaming shit like go back to Mexico and leave us our jobs. They’re stomping on the chips in the snack food aisle and showing their teeth like an animal pack. Some white woman standing outside on the street in a terry-cloth hoodie tells a reporter that if it weren’t for those goddamn people, the censored censored illegals, everybody wouldn’t be eating the grass in our yards on all fours.
On another channel, the pundits talk about how lazy humans are, and how if they’d just go out there and get jobs, they’d be much happier. Somewhere in the Midwest, there has been a terrorist strike against a vuvv agricultural transport—human farmers, ruined, desperate, getting revenge by detonating a fertilizer bomb in the back of a ship unloading romaine lettuces from space. ‘Only goddamn thing left for me to do with my fertilizer,’ says an industrial ag farmhand as he is led away.
And the pundits talk about how if we spent less time complaining about the vuvv and more time following their example, investing smartly in vuvv tech—if we’d just get up off our duffs, stand up from our Barcaloungers, and go out and actually work—then maybe we wouldn’t all be starving and demanding food we haven’t actually worked for.”

The plot involves Adam, with encouragement from his art teacher, entering a vuvv art competition with his landscapes of Earth, a long-shot entry because the vuvv believe all Earth art should consist of still lifes. His teacher, Adam says, “has devoted his life to listening to us and giving us a space to make our statements. That, I guess, is why he is one of the few actual adults I know, as opposed to people who are just old.” And that, for me, confirms the quality of the satire in this novel. In the past year I have seen many people in rural Ohio who are not acting like adults, but who are just old and wishing for things to go back to the way they were at some point in the past.

An alien invasion story is an excellent way to hold up a mirror to Americans and show them what it looks like when the future is now and there’s no escape from the new reality in dreams of the good old days. I like Anderson’s faith in his Young Adult audience and his attempt, in this satiric novel, to show them the effects of getting so stuck in a ruined world that you can’t find a new way to see, an avenue of escape.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2017 4:46 pm

    Sounds timely. Maybe a little TOO timely.

    • December 22, 2017 8:24 am

      How can something be too timely? I do like his approach to addressing young people, so many of whom, up to this point, haven’t thought their voices in politics mattered much.

      • December 22, 2017 11:23 pm

        I don’t understand that part. If you don’t get the kids while they are growing up, they don’t become good citizens. I read somewhere that the best predictor of future voting is whether kids vote the first time they’re eligible.

        I made sure ours did. Their voices matter.

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