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Mundanity coverIt is the nature of some science fiction to hold a mirror to our society—to reflect troubled times in a manner which may be a bit too on-the-nose if the story was told in a more “realistic” setting. Jonathan Carreau’s Mundanity, self-published via Bookbaby, seeks to place the modern world’s woes on the planet of Dert. And with a knowingly mundane title such as Carreau’s, I was hoping for something ironic or eye-opening or wildly imaginative.

Vince is an ordinary young guy living an ordinary life, about to finish his education at a technical academy. Everything is so ordinary about Vince that even hearing a new rap song is a major event in his life. In the opening pages of the novel he is offered a job with a company to mine quadlithium, in which occupation great benefits and a job for life are guaranteed, should he be in the post for longer than a year. It would mean moving to the city of Mundanity in Mundane County. According to the promotional video that comes with Vince’s job offer, Mundanity offers pleasant weather, fresh food, and an elevating mood. Nice—very “all-American.”

The first hint that things aren’t really American (the fictional quadlithium aside) is when descriptions of characters start to drop: of “a middle-aged, blue-skinned man,” for example. Later, we find other inhabitants have green skin (which can get sunburned) while some are purple (and deeply religious). People of mixed heritage (blue and green) end up being teal. In fact, there are also orange and grey peoples, although they don’t feature as prominently. Still, the world Carreau has created is pretty much the same as ours, people’s skin colour notwithstanding. Everything is the same, only in some cases slightly different. People use “wisephones”; the currency is Bux; fruitcakes (being the homophobic slur) is one of the worst curses there is (the inhabitants of Dert have a peculiar relationship with cursing which is explained to the reader on a number of occasions); eggball is a popular sport; and people have pet aardvarks (I can’t imagine any reason for which an early hominid would have domesticated an aardvark, although I’m no expert on them) and eat roast iguana at barbeques: not quite how our lives might have turned out on a slightly different path, but almost. On the other hand, the people of Mundanity have vaping, school buses, vlogging, and mayoral elections. It would appear that Carreau’s world is only significantly different from our own when there is no obvious alternative concept readily available to him. Despite some elements of a quasi-utopian socialist society such as free public transport, Mundane County has the same problems we have: from casual and explicit sexism (guys harassing female bar staff), to crimes against LGBTQ individuals, to poverty and corporate greed.

A different world, though, would have different histories—and this is where Carreau’s work is best. He hasn’t just created our world but with blue-skinned people instead of black. Dert has a history. The deity which people pray to before dinner is known as Raxia. The green-skinned people are Callistans and the underclass migrants are Sinopians; both peoples are likely to be persecuted. Indeed, one point-of-view character—the blogger Lily—fights for justice for green-skinned women; she’s known as a womanist (an odd choice of term for Carreau to make given its provenance in our own world, especially as on Dert there’s no alternative term for racism).

There have been wars and alliances with the various peoples of Dert, some of whom have ended up in Mundanity. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the plot itself is driven by politics. Along with Vince, we also have the stories of Ife and Clancy. They are both campaigning to be the mayor of Mundanity, as the incumbent, Bob Robertson, is now retiring. Ife, a purple-skinned immigrant who has settled and raised a family with a mixed race husband—she’s a good citizen—has campaigned against Bob once before and lost. Clancy is an ageing, failed comedian—a bit of a shock-jock type who now gets by making controversial right-wing videos on U-View. Finally, we follow the path of another character, Jermaine, into far-right extremism, spurred on by his loneliness and looking for comfort online. He is akin to an incel and can’t see what is wrong in groping women in bars—will it one day become illegal for a man to make the first move, he wonders. This path eventually leads him to a terrorist organisation, led by men called Ken and Tom, that in turn provides the driver for the novel’s climax. Amid all this, Vince becomes mostly a cypher for the reader, as we see his opinions being shaped by the people he surrounds himself with—and the events that are happening to others.

The story rattles along, fortunately, with Vince meeting a girl in a bar and learning about the viewpoints of “modernists.” Vince’s chapters start to grow shorter and less interesting, however, while the mayoral candidates’ chapters grow longer and more purposeful. To be fair, less is happening in Vince’s life, although he does get injured at work and has to find other ways to earn a living while he heals. He also finds problems in his accommodation block which are used to explain racism, homophobia, and other ills. He spends time with Lily and her sister, visiting a rap gig where he is a “straight green guy” digging the politics of a “purple rapper.”

Vince’s chapters are interspersed with the lives of these other people living and working in Mundanity. Carreau labels these chapters in an increasingly enigmatic fashion. The first is “chapter one point five”; others include “chapter six and a fifth,” “chapter twelve dot one,” and so on. At some point during my reading, I started to look for a code within these chapter titles but came to the conclusion there was none. Or if there was, then a) I couldn’t see it and b) it was irrelevant to the story. There is an impression of randomness: chapter twenty should be a Vince chapter, for example, but is all about Lily. It’s all very odd and I’m not sure of the intent behind it.

Meanwhile, the mayoral candidates continue campaigning as they move towards election day. There’s a family issue for Ife here, an argument with the corporate board backing Clancy there. Towards the end of the novel, an odd bit of technology appears from nowhere—Ife and her family require protection and the agents have gravity boots allowing them to stand on the side of the building. At the story’s actual conclusion, however, as our characters gather for the election result and the inevitable violence that ensues, this handy piece of tech seems to have been forgotten about. The final vote of over 92,000 is won by a margin of 3 by Ife. This is enough for Jermaine to see red and start the inevitable violence the story had been leading to.

Carreau’s writing in Mundanity is a tricky thing to decipher. It feels bland and, despite this being a political science fiction novel, it lacks serious depth of imagination: wise TVs, references to Lindy Sue characters, and Sawwit websites are all a little too obvious—perhaps Carreau might have been bolder with his alternatives and their origins on Dert. But this novel is about mundane and ordinary lives coming to terms with a changing world. Is the writing deliberately dull to reflect the characters’ existence? To some extent, it doesn’t matter. Despite one or two just-about-interesting characters (Ife, fighting for what she believes in, and Jermaine, lonely and frustrated at best), the writing is, unfortunately, boring and uninspired: at a party, we read, “the adults conversed loudly about everything from health problems to soap operas.” This, I would think, inspires no one.

Sadly, Mundanity is way too literal with its message. It’s handled with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Traditionalist verses modernist battles are spelled out. The young who want a better world are termed “warriors of justice.” There are blatantly sexist and racist characters, angry posters abound on Sawwit. The mainstream media is always wrong. Clancy talks about being cancelled and denying the existence of what is referred to in the novel as “transgenderism.” At one point Vince rolls his eyes at a complaint of reverse racism, followed by my own eye-roll as Carreau doubles down on its explanation. Later, Carreau even states that “telling someone racism is bad is one thing, showing … the destructive nature of racism … is far more effective.” And, of course, the story climaxes in a mere show at the election result. Some subplots are introduced and not followed through with satisfactorily. There is an environmentalist thread, for example, relating to the mining of quadlithium and an associated illness, but it never really gets the attention it deserves. Although the company does suddenly become a clean energy company at the end. This is common throughout the book: everything is flattened and unearned.

Carreau’s intentions are good: his convictions are worthy, in the sense that he’s clearly on the side of diversity and inclusion as an author. Indeed, the virtue of these values is something that Vince learns about throughout the novel. But tighter editing and more subtlety could have made Mundanity rather more interesting. If I expected irony from this novel’s title, I should perhaps have taken it instead at face value.

Editors: Reviews Department.

Copy Editors: Copy Editing Department.

Ian J. Simpson is an academic library manager who has contributed science fiction and fantasy book and film reviews to, amongst others, The Third Alternative and Geek Syndicate. When not reading, he’s out with his camera, or in his allotment. Follow him on Twitter at @ianjsimpson.
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