Bald New World
by Peter Tieryas Liu
Perfect Edge, May 2014
229 pages / $16.95 Pre-order from Amazon
Having been thrilled by the imagination in his short story collection, Watering Heaven, I was excited to see Peter Tieryas Liu was taking on a larger work: his new novel Bald New World. The play in the title on the canonical dystopian work by Huxley only further stimulated my appetite.
How would it be handled? Would it be playful? Would it be strange? Would it be dystopian? Yes, yes to all those things (other than the one that isn’t a yes/no question):
As the title suggests, everyone has mysteriously gone bald. One would hope that people would learn to live with baldness, since no one has any hair. However, we should all know human nature better than that by now. Superficial, vain, and capable of endless denial. There are riots, chaos. This goes hand in hand with the actual problems in the world: overpopulation, diminishing food supplies, wars over resources, and so on. Wig companies dominate the global economy.
As one would demand in a dystopian novel, life becomes even more hellish than it already is. Body modification, visits to the United States (though most of the book takes place in China) fraught with the almost certainty of being shot, North Korea kidnapping people from other countries to be slaves in forced labor camps, and more. The term ‘dystopian’ certainly fits.
Within all of this, we have Nick. Nick has spent his life trying to cut himself free from a horribly abusive family…trying to be free. Modernly, he’s a filmmaker:
His friend and employer, Larry, is the heir to the world’s most powerful wig corporation. He’s also somewhat of a fuckup.
However, something particularly strange is going on. Larry may be in over his head, caught up in a conspiracy with far-reaching and possibly deadly consequences. At the heart may be the very secret behind why everyone went bald. Of course, he pulls Nick in. Things wouldn’t be very interesting if he didn’t:
He laughed. “Maybe I’m being a touch melodramatic. Beautiful women always do that to me. Let’s give it one more shot. This new film I was mentioning. It’ll be the biggest ever.”
“Can you give more details?”
“At first, I thought maybe I’d do a documentary about my family. Or maybe I’d make it into a film about a rich family with an idiot son who squandered everything. Would that be too cliché? I don’t want to be that idiot,” he said. “I’m starting to settle on one idea.”
“What is it?”
“I’ve always wanted to do an epic about the Baldification. Maybe call it Bald New World. Do a film about the people in it. It’ll be massive. I guarantee you. This’ll be the film that everyone notices.”
“No one’s figured out what exactly happened yet.”
“That’s what the businesses would like people to think,” Larry said. “What if I told you people like my father knew exactly what happened?
“What do you mean?”
Behind us, one of the factories exploded, blowing the plates off the table and knocking us both back. A second factory blew up, the fire blasting against our faces. My ears were ringing and the smoke made everything hazy. I heard a third boom but couldn’t tell where it was from. Sirens were ringing.
Bald New World is gripping and frightening. It filled with wonderfully speculative and exotic elements:
At the same time, the setting is just familiar enough that we can almost see the current world twistedly reflected within it. Dystopia doesn’t have the necessary frightening, compelling edge if it’s just some horrible place we can’t imagine ever being. It has to be more horrible than our world, but we must be shadowed constantly by the fleeting yet undeniable possibility that this may one day be where we have to try to live.
The fanciful aspects of Bald New World alone makes the book worth reading, but it’s the suspense and revelation that really kept me glued to the page. Something was going on and I wanted to know what that was. Want? Heck, I needed to know.
Dystopia has been done a lot, but no one has done it quite like Peter Tieryas Liu. I’d like to enthusiastically welcome Bald New World to the must-read dystopian canon. Old Aldous would be proud.
David S. Atkinson is the author of Bones Buried in the Dirt and the forthcoming The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes (EAB Publishing, spring 2014). His writing appears in “Bartleby Snopes,” “Grey Sparrow Journal,” “Interrobang?! Magazine,” “Atticus Review,” and others. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/ and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.