Tade Thompson’s latest story, “The Apologists“, headlines issue 266 of Britian’s longest running genre magazine, INTERZONE. And it’s a strong opener.
What Tade Thompson does first that is both risky and interesting in that when I am introduced to the main character I am not sure I am going to like this guy. He spends his time in a bar in a ruined future London, being grumpy and dissatisfied with those around him. They don’t react they way he wants them to, nor do they seem to fill in whatever wide gap he has within him. His clear dismissal of the people around him, at first, made me feel unnerved. Who is this guy? I wondered. A killer? Some punk who needs his nose busted back into joint? Hints are dropped that this is not his real world. At first I thought it was a simulation, one in which he or anyone could fulfil their nasty little desires. A VR world for sadists.
That made me want to hate him all the more.
Yep, I am sure. I don’t like the guy.
So far, a very risky start…
But then I realised how wrong I was, and how brilliant the opening is. It’s a great trick to play on the reader, and Tade Thompson is a master of timing; he leads you in a direction just so far, and when you reach a point where you might be tempted to break and run, he turns the table.
You see, the main character can bump into someone, and get a smile instead of a threatening look; he can solicit sex and have the woman in question agree rather than offer him a solid put-down. Everyone is amiable, happy, smiley, so much so that it becomes even more unnerving than the guy’s attitude. Although it is a simulation, it is not the type I initially thought, nor was it for the purpose I imagined.
Without giving too much of the story away, it seems that one of the central ideas–if not the central idea–of the story is the glory of our human imperfections, how they make us who we are, how they make life interesting, exciting, worth living. Perfection, as demonstrated by the reactions of the “humans” around him, is tantamount to boredom, a slow death. What the main character wants is not a world where he can live out some dark fantasy, but a world where people actually live, faults and all. A world that is real, not constructed and made to seem perfect. What he is offered by the apologists of the story–although offered with good intentions–is unbearable, and nothing short of a nightmare. If we do not have our faults, we become static, uninteresting, and consequently have nothing to strive for.
“The Apologists” is a story that asks us to look at ourselves, to embrace our imperfections. And that is very different from accepting our imperfections. If we accept our imperfections we risk never changing. If we embrace them, then we have a starting point from which to move forward, because change is the one constant we need in our lives, and one worth living for.