The People’s Republic of Everything is the most recent short story collection from auteur author Nick Mamatas. Containing fourteen short stories and one novella, People’s Republic strays away from clear-cut genre definitions (unlike Mamatas’ prior collection, The Nickronomicon, which focused on Lovecraftian and cosmic horror) and instead veers into general speculative fiction. While the stories within People’s Republic may not be uniform in tone, setting, or style, they are all unified in conveying Mamatas’ left-aligned politics. While overtly political, People’s Republic is never preachy; its politics are seamlessly integrated into the stories, which range from the comedic to the tragic, from steampunk to folkish.
People’s Republic opens with “Walking with a Ghost” which continues Mamatas’ critical critique of the gatekeepers and edge lords that are found within the Lovecraft and weird fiction literary circles. In “Walking with a Ghost,” an AI version of Lovecraft is brought into the modern-day world and is more or less stolen by a member of a Lovecraft cabal. The short story is multifaceted, ranging from how a xenophobic Lovecraft would operate in the present day to how women are treated within some of the literary communities.
Some of the themes of “Walking with a Ghost” are further explored in “Tom Silex, Spirit Smasher.” In this short story, a pulp collector named Edgar (operating very much like the Lovecraft cabal in “Walking with a Ghost”) discovers the rights holder of an old pulp hero, Tom Silex, and attempts to buy them on the cheap from Rosa’s senile grandmother. The exchange unearths that Rosa’s grandmother had ghostwritten these stories, which brings back memories, giving her brief lucid periods. Rosa is at first apathetic to the stories, but instead of selling the rights, decides she wants to carry on the legacy of writing the character, much to the chagrin of Edgar.
“North Shore Friday” is a period piece that deals with government mind reading in NYC during the 1960s. This story is an example of Mamatas experimenting with form, with the various thoughts being mindread placed inside boxes, floating in different locations with the text. It makes a jarring, yet engaging, read.
“The Glottal Stop” is a tragic story about Beatrix Almonte who is constantly under scrutiny and harassed by men. If she ignores them, they harass her. If she retaliates, they harass her more. Every word she composes online and every action she takes in public invites the unwanted attention. Though portrayed in an extreme fashion, it’s still a horrific look at what many women have to endure day to day. Like “North Shore Friday,” this story experiments with form with Mamatas creating a new symbol that sums up with what Almonte has to endure and depicting it within the text.
“The Dreamer of the Day” is an interesting take on the noir genre, with Lil hiring a rather eccentric hitman to kill her husband. The hitman, an old man living in a cluttered, squalid apartment, seems like the least likely of hitmen, yet once one of his bills has been paid, he sets into unstoppable butterfly-effect series of events that will kill Lil’s husband.
The crème de la crème of People’s Republic is easily the novella that dominates over one-third of the page count, “Under My Roof.” Reading like a cross between Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, “Under My Roof” is an absurd tale about a nuclear family in Long Island that literally becomes a nuclear family: The father becomes eccentric after 9/11, constructs a nuclear bomb (and hides it within a garden gnome, the same that appears on the cover of the anthology), and secedes from America by becoming a new country called Weinbergia. The story is told form the perspective of the son, Herb, who is telepathic and can read anyone’s mind on the entire planet. Through the course of the story, Herb’s mom leaves the family, their home becomes surrounded by the military, other folks (mostly hippies) immigrate to Weinbergia, Herb is kidnapped and sent to his mom, and his dad leads an expedition to a convenience store for candy and starts an international incident. Inspired by Weinbergia, various other micro-countries spring up during the course of the story (to varying degrees of success), and the stench of anarcho-capitalism as portrayed in Snow Crash is heavy in the air with the military and the US government are portrayed as buffoons. Though at any moment, “Under My Roof” is at risk of becoming The Day After, the story is rarely violent (and only violent in the cartoonish sense). Instead, the risk of a nuclear bomb going off gives the novella a Dr. Strangelove-ian atmosphere of black comedy. The novella is the perfect ending Mamatas’ anthology, but also a perfect text to read and take into consideration when looking at the current state of American politics dominated by Trumpism.
Though not being genre-focused like other authors’ short story collections, Mamatas’ The People’s Republic of Everything is a literary tour de force, juggling a multitude of genres, styles, themes, and experimentation with form. There’s political discourse within the pages, but made palpable with Mamatas’ distinctive, engaging style.
Creative Team: Nick Mamatas (writer)
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