UFO in her eyes
Review by Rick Kleffel,
Science fiction likes to ask, "What does the future look like?" but all too often is not so happy with the answer. Oh, we love our dystopias, probably because they never come to pass. But they don't prove to be particularly insightful so far as the future is concerned. As for the utopias and everything in-between, these worlds seem to be turned up to eleven. Our lives are not likely to be quite so action-packed. But when we passed '1984' and '2001,' we were handed a concrete clue as to what the future looked like, one most of us happily ignored. The future, it seems, looks a lot like the worst parts of the 1940's and the 1970's popped into the Bass-o-Matic and set to puree.
China confronts the future five years at a time. 'UFO in Her Eyes,' by Xiaolu Guo, covers only three, but offers much more than just the future, or aliens, or super-science. Guo's novel paints an hilarious and harrowing portrait of China today, in a world where the future has arrived and is not yet distributed evenly, then steps back and shows us what happens when our present arrives in China's future. Guo tells her story in an ingeniously written series of interviews, spurred by the sighting of a UFO. With Silver Hill in the crosshairs of the Chinese government, the residents of Roswell can finally grab a rest.
'UFO in Her Eyes' is a series of official documents, presented to the reader complete with paperclips, moonscapes and other typographic inventions that create an atmosphere of self-satisfied officiousness. The novel consists of four "Files," each a series of short interviews with one of the "List of Main Witnesses (Appendix 2)." The event that kicks off the investigation is brief but significant; Kwok Yun, making her way home through a rice field, hears a loud noise then sees a silver disk overhead. Afterwards, she finds a wounded Westerner, whom she helps, and who, in return, sends money to the village of Silver Hill.
In "File 1: The 09-11-2012 UFO Case," Beijing Agent 1919 (BJ b1919) and Hunan Agent 1989 (HN1989) question the inhabitants of Silver Hill about both their lives and the incident immediately after it takes place. The interview transcripts reveal a village not long out of the stone-age, peopled with crabby, angry, illiterate peasants. Guo's prose is to-die-for direct, and as a result, quite funny. Most of the villagers profess to know nothing of the incident and use the opportunity to complain about their lives. In "File 2," Hunan Finance Officer 8 surveys Silver Hill a year later, as a new five-year plan begins with the intent to turn Silver Hill into a modern town and tourist destination. "File 3" brings back HN 1989 joined by "HN 1978" to investigate the death of a villager. "File 4" follows up three years after the original sighting three years later as the future arrives in Silver Hill village, with swimming pools, cell phone factories and "modernisation."
Guo's storytelling style is sparse but rich. Each interview offers a perfectly pixilated view from the ground, and just one step up, via the questions of the interrogators. Guo knows how to create a character with a few deft stokes, with language that is quite funny to read, but simultaneously poignant in its implications. The interrogators tell us nearly as much as those they question in a delightfully understated manner, while the irate villagers often curse like sailors. Readers put the pieces of China's future together as the novel unfolds, and it's not a pretty picture. Still, Guo's warm sense of humor and the comparatively light touch of her complex narrative allow readers to enjoy her raw portrait as a post-modern folk tale. It's a breezy joy to read, but Guo layers her work for a cumulative effect. 'UFO in Her Eyes' is a powerful vision of China's future as our past.
|© 2004 - 2009 Xiaolu Guo|