The always-interesting M. T. Anderson serves up another intriguing science-fiction concept that touches on economics, art, and religion.
Landscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson. Candlewick, 2017, 149 pages
Reading Level: YA, ages 12-15
Recommended for: ages 16-up
Note: This novel falls under our definition of “discussion starters.” Click here for our rationale for reviewing such books.
It finally happened: aliens have arrived on earth. But they don’t seem hostile, or at least not at first. Instead they offer a trade: free technology and health care in exchange for taking over Earth’s economy. Granted, they may not really have a choice, but only after accepting the offer do earthlings see the catch: everybody is out of a job. Some humans find opportunities in the service industry or creative ventures. But Adam Costello’s father, formerly a successful auto salesman, feels his self-worth slipping as idleness grows, and eventually he deserts the family. Things go from bad to worse for the Costellos (and their society) until Adam, a young artist of promise, hits upon a creative venture.
Chloe Marsh, whose family moved in with the Costellos to save on expenses, is beautiful, fresh, and just his age. They conveniently fall in love and cobble up a plan to film their wholesome, 1950s-style dates for the aliens (known as Vuvvs) to watch. Since the Vuvvs are fascinated by “classic Earth culture,” Adam and Chloe can rake in $100 per month. It’s welcome supplemental income, until they begin to hate each other. Adam’s Merrick’s Disease (an intestinal disorder caused by contaminated water) doesn’t help the relationship either.
The Invisible Hand refers to 18th-century economist Adam Smith’s theory about the “invisible hand” of market forces. The free enterprise advocated by Smith is a far cry from the Vuvv’s welfare state, and the novel could be interpreted as an indictment of socialism. As in the old Soviet empire, Adam’s only hope is negation: to forfeit identity and escape with his family to a place where one can survive out of notice. Worshipping materialism leads to this, but perhaps they can break through to better objects of worship, in a place where
the hand of god will wipe all tears from our eyes; there will be no crying, neither will there be any more death, because the former things will pass away. . . . Outside space and time, time and space, there will be no distance between ourselves and what we wish for . . .
In spite of significant language cautions, which will understandably rule it out for many readers, Landscape serves up food for thought about economics, society, the value of work, and the value of art.
Cautions: Loads of language, both profanity and vulgarity
Overall rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 3 (points off for language; otherwise open to moral interpretations)
- Artistic value: 4.5