After slamming a brick-weighted, $2,000 Gucci handbag into the skull of her boyfriend, a young woman, Emily, observes: “Technically, the law says you’re supposed to wait until they try to eat your brains before you take a whack at them, but what’s the point? Once the magic is gone, get them before they get you—that’s what I say.”
Emily’s world—in which a sexually transmitted virus is turning men into zombies—is just one of darkly comic dystopias that Dale Bridges brings to life in his new story collection, Justice, Inc. Some of the others: a post-apocalyptic megastore that both protects and imprisons its employees; a world in which death has been all but “cured,” making suicide a means of population control; and, in the title story, a corporation that aims to satisfy the desire for justice by staging public executions of cloned top criminals, like Osama bin Laden.
In all of his stories, Bridges’ humor not only entertains but also gets at some uncomfortable truths, ones that may encourage self-reflection. Take this observation from “The Time Warp Café”:
Given enough time, everyone gets bored. When people get bored, they fall in love. And when they get really bored, they have kids. Kids are little people who grow up and become big people who get bored. It’s a terrifying cycle.
The scenarios that Bridges envisions may seem far-fetched, but they open up some very relevant and thought-provoking questions, especially concerning technologies like artificial/robotic intelligence and human cloning. We may labor under the impression that such technologies will give us what we want on our terms. But, as Bridges’ stories suggest, they might also yield unforeseen outcomes beyond our control, outcomes that create ethical quandaries. What is to be done, for instance, when a bin Laden clone behaves like Gandhi instead of a terrorist?
One of my favorite stories in the collection was “The GirlfriendTM,” in which a lonely, socially challenged man, Derrick, orders a kit for making a robotic girlfriend who, he hopes, will fulfill his desires: “Derrick wanted a cheerful girlfriend with large breasts. He wanted a TV girlfriend.” More specifically, he wants a girlfriend who will follow his orders to cook and clean, and to have sex with him whenever he desires. He gets what he wants until he pushes things too far. And without giving away the ending, I will say that it was incredibly gratifying (and funny).
In an interview with Kelly Smith of Kelly Smith Reviews, Bridges explained what has drawn him to tell dystopic tales:
In Justice, Inc, Bridges humorously, and deeply, explores his deepest fears, making them real for readers.
Would My Pick be Your Pick?If you're interested in ________, the answer may be "Yes":
• Stories by George Saunders
• Anything by Kurt Vonnegut
• Dystopian or speculative fiction, especially stories/novels with a humorous bent