I recently finished reading the Ultimate, Ultimate, Ultimate Mallworld by S. P. Somtow, and I’m very happy I picked up this book. I may sum it up by saying it’s like Idiocracy mashed up with a parody of 1980s consumerism then launched into space, but I actually found out it was more than that. Somtow creates here a consistent (if zany) universe that has a lot to say about how we treat history today.
To back up a bit, I love short stories, and this book is a collection of short stories in the same universe, which is a format that really works for me. I like that each story is concise about its story, and builds just enough setting to tell it in. However, if you read multiple stories in the setting, you recognize tiny references (to, say, a restaurant) which are more fleshed out in a story where said restaurant is the centerpiece. This gives the universe a lot of depth without the need for unnecessary exposition. In this Somtow really shows his mastery of the medium – more than a few stories have reference to the Galaxy Palace, the restaurant with a view of the stars, but one story in particular goes into all the details about why that restaurant is so extraordinary. Other things are only hinted at, but never explained, which gives the universe of every story the feeling of depth, as you never really know what little bit might be a story of its own.
The setting and stories of Mallworld themselves though really kept me interested. Each story takes a look at a way the future can be all-too-familiar, while mashing it up with a past that is barely recognizable. In one breath a character can be talking about a rough day at work and swearing to Saint Betty Crocker. This made me think a bit about what the distant past looks like to me (someone who is not a scholar of the past, but remixes it for fictional purposes) and what our munged time will look like to the average person in the distant future.
Finally, there’s just the fact that Somtow created this entire world, bursting at the seams with stories, in a mall. The world is explicitly walled off, even has a sense of claustrophobia at times, and yet he’s managed to fit so much into such a small box. For me, it’s the epitome of doing a lot with a little, and he pulls it off so expertly, it feels effortless.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book – it’s a bit lighter than my normal faire, and generally a fun read.