It would seem by the description of Bald New World that author Peter Tieryas Liu means to paint a picture of an over-the-top, futuristic society in which people have lost all of their bodily hair, but, upon reading the novel, one is forced to look into a mirror and see the multitude of issues plaguing today’s society. This is by no means a light read. While there are comical characters and moments, the overall topic and journey are very dark, much darker than I was expecting; however, it is a rich darkness that slowly envelopes you like a strange mixture of dark chocolate and honey. Somehow, hours have gone by and you are entrapped in this Bald New World, entranced and intoxicated by its exotic world that you can’t seem to leave. You can’t look away, because there is something hauntingly familiar in this book, something that reminds you of home.
Tieryas Liu’s writing style is complex and jumps across time without warning, expecting the reading to stay actively engaged. He does not question the reader’s intelligence at all. If anything, there are moments when I felt he could have stood to use a little more exposition and jump around in location and time less. The world he paints is gritty and harsh, unloving and cruel. It is a world filled with superficial, untrustworthy people and Nick, a self proclaimed “born coward.” The good thing is, if you are born a coward, you have less farther to fall and nowhere else to go but up. His descriptions are flawless.
Any sci-fi fanatic will love the in-depth detail which Peter describes the world from the clothing to the food and the architecture and entertainment, and how it differs between cultures. Nothing is too small to be included. What fascinates me most are the descriptions of Americans; they are the caricatures we have become to many people outside the United States: gun lovers, fast food-eating, overweight shopaholics, addicted to fame and reality TV. This is how we are stereotyped, how we are seen in today’s world and yet also in Peter Tierya Liu’s futuristic society, just embellished and without hair. It is eerie how effortlessly he is able to mock us and sad at the same time. He holds up that mirror, and I feel powerless because it is all the flaws I know our society possesses, that I talk about all the time with my friends and yet we do nothing, powerless to make a change and, in doing nothing, no change is made and generations continue to grow up in intolerance and apathy.
It is rare for a book to be capable of eliciting such emotions. Often in books I escape to other worlds and live another life far more interesting than my own. But, it is the rare and noble book that strikes a nerve raw, gets me thinking and lights a fire in my heart and mind. In one section, Nick is held captive, hung up naked, and withheld food or water until he confesses his sins, for which he is clueless to what they are. Days go by as he hallucinates, defecates, urinates, has food smeared in his feces and shoved in his face. All the while he travels in his mind through his life, his marriage and friendships, his family – everything is disjointed, but you feel his internal struggle to hold on, to push through. Later, he is forced to walk with a stone in his mouth, hands tied together.
“I walked because I should have been dead, but I wasn’t, so now I had to walk, walk until I died. Accept that there was no future. Accept that I had nothing to look forward to. This was a matter of dignity. Self-respect. To die a worthy death, not scared like prey hunted down by wolves. Death made cowards out of the most courageous of men. I was never a courageous man. Not even close. I was a born coward.”
Most authors chose to have us root for a hero or an underdog . . . to root for the idea of heroism. I guess one could argue that Nick is an underdog, but what I found intriguing was the push to focus on rooting for self-respect over courage and seeing those as two distinct qualities and causes.
Bald New World is not the zany, lighthearted, quirky comedy I had expected, but it turned out to be an unexpected delight. This tale of the “Baldification,” where everyone loses their hair, wig companies, corruption, spies, murder, espionage, film, The Inquisition, and much more . . . is rich with heart and a vision for a Bald New World. A world where people run freely through the streets, happy and hairless, naked as a jailbird, free from the restraints of society’s rules of what they should be.