Book Review: New Taboos

by John Shirley
ISBN: 978-1-60486-761-9
PP: 128
Publisher: PM Press

John Shirley is one of the original “Dread Lords” of Cyberpunk who brought a new noir sensibility to science fiction and Fantasy in the ’90s.

The opening piece, “A State of Imprisonment,” sticks with you. It’s brutal without unnecessary graphic details, kind of like a strong female lead in a politicised, short version of “Prison Break.”

The powerful narrative covers the potential problems of privatised prisons. The storyline: female investigative reporter encounters a private corporate prison that comprises 80% of the State of Arizona. It’s engaging. Exquisitely written.

The title piece is a non-fiction essay written several years ago where Shirley suggests a new sets of taboos against social transgressions. Given Trump’s election, Shirley’s tone seems somewhat moderate. I would love to know what Shirley would write today. It’s short, powerful and worth reading.

“Why We Need Forty Years of Hell” continues Shirley’s critique on the rich and powerful. Has Shirley written a class war novel yet? He takes on the singularity, importance of shelter, pharmaceuticals in the ocean, and Greece’s economic collapse. With “New Taboos,” it’s like a more literary-referencing short form Jon Stewart taking it to the bureaucrats and oligarchs. Shirley slashes and burns without sounding like out of tune, three chord juvenile rage. While I love juvenile rage, we need more authors exploring—smartly—the grounds between punk rock and Gore Vidal. We need more writing like this.

Terry Bisson’s closing interview with Shirley is, as ever, interesting. It covers music, movies, and writing professionally.

The most thought provoking piece that sticks with you, and could easily be made into a movie or an Amazon series, is “A State of Imprisonment.” Think the aesthetics of Mr Robot with the conspiracies of Lost.

by Luther Blisset