Title: Landscape with Invisible Hand
Author: M.T. Anderson
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Number of Pages: 149
This book ended up really surprising me. I tried reading Feed by the same author a few years back and hated it. I thought it was unreadable drivel and I couldn’t believe it had gotten so much acclaim, so seeking out other books by the same author wasn’t exactly high on my itinerary. The description of Landscape with Invisible Hand got me curious though, and I found it to be a thoroughly compelling novel with a surprising amount of depth and engaging social commentary.
This novel’s protagonist is a teenage boy named Adam, who is passionate about art and creating intricate backdrops with his virtual reality program. His life is pretty normal until the vuvv show up, and then nothing is ever the same again. The vuvv are advanced extraterrestrial beings who offer mind-blowing advancements in technology to hapless world leaders. Pretty soon everybody is being replaced by efficient A.I. on the job, and the economy collapses with the vuvv calling all the shots and making people practically obsolete.
Adam’s cowardly father runs away and his mom has to share their house with another family to pay the bills. When Adam and his roommate Chloe find out that that the vuvv love human romance and eat it up like must-watch television, they fake a romantic relationship and record their experiences (the cheesier the better) to an audience of delighted vuuv. Adam has a chance to submit a piece of his art to a contest and have his family set for life, but a serious untreated disease threatens to derail his dreams of a better life.
I wasn’t expecting to become particularly emotionally invested in this book but with Adam trying so hard to save his mom and sister and the odds so incredibly stacked against him I couldn’t help but get sucked right into the drama. I thought there were a lot of parallels between the vuvv and the white colonists who historically pillaged indigenous cultures. They exhibit a viewpoint on people that similar to the ‘noble savage’ stereotype, show condescending fascination toward human art and culture, and treat everyone as disposable playthings who are expected to assimilate or die.
The vuvv were fantastical creatures who resembled sentient tables, but they weren’t totally unfamiliar. They represented the worst of mankind and the human tendency to dehumanize and conquer those who can’t fight back. I found it particularly interesting how little of a struggle it was for them to take over, as if our world leaders were almost relieved to hand over the reins to a persuasive species and peacefully bartered away the freedom of choice. I liked how M.T. Anderson came up with a different take on the ‘alien invasion’ subgenre and even though he didn’t provide that much description of certain things (like the aliens themselves) he still made readers identify with the protagonist and make them feel like they were part of that world, fighting against that sense of helplessness.
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