I'm always envious of writers who can shift from mode to mode between books. One such writer is Terry Bisson
, who's covered everything from alternate history, to Hollywood on Mars, to space opera, to dying Earth fantasy. Now, he's trying his hand at Sturgeon-esque allegory in the shape of The Pickup Artist
. Don't get it confused with Disch's similarly titled series of horror novels - this is a lot lighter, but just as deep...
In the world of tomorrow, an artist's work will not last for ever. At the whim of a machine the entire canon of his works will be deleted, and The Pickup Artist
has the job of collecting the remaining pieces and copies. It's all to make space for the new artists - there's too much information and it's good to clear things out. But Hank has a problem, his dog is dying, and he's picked up a Hank Williams record he wants to listen to - just once. After all, they have the same name. His obsession leads him into a shady world of bootlegers, cloned indians, and strange drugs. And he meets a girl with the bluebird sweater.
This isn't a tale of a utopia. It's not even a dystopia. It's just a world where things are different. The Alexandrians (from the fire, not the library) have made the world in their image, but it's still a place where an ordinary joe has to deal with mountains of rubbish, pet HMOs, and voicemail. It's aplace where satire and pathos are a sentence apart, and talking dogs are the key to everything that is good.
Somewhere between Dick, Sturgeon and Bradbury, this is one of Bisson's best novels so far. It's short, but engrossing. It's funny and it's sad. It'll make you think about the clutter in your life, and what art really means to you. After all, what is an Immortal?
All in all, it's a damn fine read.