Landscape with Invisible Hand

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Jun 2018

Member Reviews

I can appreciate a book, even when I don't 100% enjoy a book. Take the humor and alien invasion of Smekday, plus combine it with a bit of reality TV satire a la Beauty Queens, and then throw in a bit too much diarrhea for my personal tastes, and you get this odd, short, ya sf novel.
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An interesting commentary on poverty and where our society is going. The haves and the have nots. After having read the groundbreaking book Feed many years ago, this is another fine work by MT Anderson. His language is captivating  and playful at times ("chic sheath" stands out.). I'm not sure yet what audience I will talk this up to, but I will!
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I really loved the idea of the not conquering or malevolent alien overlords, but also not quite benevolent either. There's a lot of fear when it comes to first contact stories, a lot of mobilizing the world to defend our planet etc., and benevolent aliens are sometimes viewed with suspicion because of the what's-in-it-for-them idea. This is a great look at a species that comes to help Earth advance technologically through things like job automation and superior medicine but unfortunately our economic system still exists and it just widens the gap between the haves and the have-nots. It struck me as a warning message to our increasingly technological society that we need to focus on compassion and fairness going forward or risk losing it altogether.
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 Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

M.T. Anderson is the king of the intellectual young adult novel. His work is arguably not written for young adults, but rather simply marketed toward them, because his characters are teens and tweens whose behavior is not circumscribed by the "usual" teen boundaries which get books challenged and called out by concerned parents. A lot of times, teens might not truly even quite understand M.T. Anderson's novels... but there's definitely still something about them that makes them fascinating, worth rereading, arguing with friends about, and dissecting in English class.

This is another classically Anderson book - a short, stabby little satire, with a dark futures, existentialist narrative that might upset some - but which will amuse and provoke others to further consideration and insight.

Synopsis: Adam Costello's carefully ordered world began to unravel when the vuvv landed on Earth. Not that the vuvv are killers or anything, no. They've just brought progress - all at once, igniting a new kind of class war. Now, there's no need to work, because the vuvv do all the jobs; no need to research and strive, becaue the vuvv have brought the cure of all illnesses. At the expense of human jobs, Earth's ecology, and myriad nations' sovereignties, the Earth has been made a client planet. Now there's no competition, because the vuvv have the least expensive everything. Farmers are undersold, goods are commercially produced elsewhere, and all the new tech and medicine is behind a steadily rising paywall. For those who made relationships with the vuvv early on, there are riches untold. For the "have nots," there's nothing, literally and truly nothing. People are bored, bitter, and starving. All that seems left is for humans to try and be and do what the vuvv see and enjoy - the 1950's in terms of art, music, and film. Entertaining the uber-rich and the vuvv, humanity scrambles to be funny, romantic, sexy, and pleasing. It is both lowering and amusing that adult humans, with advanced degrees, can think of nothing else to do to survive but to pander.

Adam doesn't fit into the new world order really well. This is not because he has not tried, and tried hard, with an entertainment vlog scheme hatched up by he and his lust neighbor, Chloe. For a while, they made decent money off their scheme. But lust doesn't last for long. Adam's crush wants to Be Somebody, and Adam, whose father has stolen their means of travel and disappeared into the night, is kind of a nobody. His mother is unemployed, his baby sister is grimly selling her stuffed animals, and Adam is desperately ill, from a gastrointestinal disease which he got from the unfiltered water that his family is forced to drink. With municipal utilities no longer under the control of anyone with a human digestive system, Adam is hardly anyone to inspire lust - especially not without health insurance or medication. Between bouts of horrible fevers, diarrhea, and flatulence, Adam tries to determine what is of value to the human world anymore, now that the vuvv determine value. What Adam really cares about is his art, and while he once made computer landscapes of fantastical beauty as the places to which he'd like to escape, now he processes all he sees and feels through the medium of paint. He paints what he sees - not a brave new world, or castles in the air, but the detritus of a dying civilization, and the oddly tacked on ephemera of the vuvv society. What the vuvv want to see in art are still life and kitsch, bright colors and castles in the sky. While most people will do anything to survive in this brave new world, the artist in Adam realizes that he can't give them what they want, and that, in a larger parallel, that maybe none of humanity can give the vuvv what they want.

Maybe it would be better if everyone stopped trying.

Observations: This novella-length satire is, in some part, about art and humanity. It is also about, in part, the way the United States relates to the rest of the world, and its colonialist attitudes. This is a novel about how everything is monetized, and only those who are workers or somehow "valuable" to what Important People need and want - entertainers, worker bees, soldier drones - are worth anything in Western society. This is also a book about family, and individuals, and what we do to survive. It is both sparsely written and terse, and voluminously artistically rendered. It is both bleak and grim, and sneakily, snarkily funny.

I noticed that there really was only one America in this novel, and that Adam didn't seem to know anything about how the vuvv interacted with anywhere which wasn't America. The were issues where people complained that immigrants were stealing jobs, and knocking apart bodegas, but the vuvv seem to see humanity as just... humanity, a group of cattle worth corralling. Ironic, that humans still blamed humans for what was going on, and yet... isn't that what we do? Isn't that what we always will do? Or, do we have it in us to try something else?

Conclusion: Adam and his frequent, explosive gastrointestinal disorder is going to gross out and confuse a lot of readers, young and old, but this is one of those short pieces of literature which we'll see later as a classic of economic thought and worth sticking with and returning to again. While it would be a challenge to teach, it would be a worthwhile challenge, and I look forward to hearing how it is received.


I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher. After September 12th, you can find LANDSCAPE WITH INVISIBLE HAND by M.T. Anderson at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

*THIS REVIEW WILL RUN AUGUST 22, 2017 https://writingya.blogspot.com/2017/08/turning-pages-reads-landscape-with.html
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An alien race has landed on earth.  With their astute bargaining skills and advanced technologies, they have created a huge divide between the rich and poor.  Adam and his family are dirt poor, struggling to earn enough money to feed themselves.  When Adam and his girlfriend Chloe decide to record their experiences, the Vuvv watch fascinated, enamored with true love.  Adam and Chloe begin to despise one another and when their relationship falls apart, the Vuvv demand their money back - after all, they were selling true love and true love lasts forever.  Desperate,  Adam enters an art contest, hoping to win enough to save his family.

This was a very bizarre book, but in a really good way.  I think it will be a big hit with middle schoolers and perhaps even teenagers.  Overall, a hit!
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Interesting premise told in a very concise way. Doesn't have broad appeal, but I could see giving it to a very specific reader. Maybe one who enjoys titles like "1984" or other out-of-the-box books. I liked that it was a unique read, but I'm still working out whether I enjoyed it or not.
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Terrifying in how timely this is. Aliens invaded Earth, sure, but it's really more colonization than invasion. They've brought technologies, and automation! They will help the economy! Except that automation means fewer jobs, which means higher unemployment, and everything goes downhill accordingly. (This is why the "realistic" tag, despite the aliens.)

Adam is an artist. He's struggling to support his family and be true to his own ideals. Whether he's trying to hold a failing relationship together (for the ratings) or struggling with an embarrassing disease (because his family can't afford the medical treatment), Adam has a unique perspective and voice. 

It's a bleak portrait of the future, but not a distant one--a near future, one where automation has put millions out of work, where healthcare is only afforded to the super-rich, where teaching is replaced by one-size-fits-all videos and the arts are utterly unsupported. 

Publishing schedules being what they are, this had to have been written before the Trump administration took hold, and yet. ... this is a harsh, unflinching look at Trump's America. Monetize everything; you're only worthwhile if you're wealthy; fuck the poor and sick. 

I want this book everywhere.
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When I saw the cover of this book, I knew I wanted to read it. There's just something about aliens and the (most terrifying) thought of an invasion that makes me get all "grabby hands" about a book.

I'll start by saying this is a strange book. There's not a whole lot of world building and it's mostly character driven. We don't see the invasion, just what has become of Earth and it's inhabitants after several years of the vuvv hovering in the atmosphere. Nothing much has changed for the wealthy, but the middle class were thrust into sudden poverty and everything is controlled by the vuvv.

Adam and Chloe's relationship doesn't play as big of a part in the story as I thought it would. They fall apart fairly quickly after turning their relationship into a money-making scheme and while that does have an impact on Adam's families survival, the story is mostly about Adam trying to win an art contest while dealing with a curable illness.

That's the part of the story that struck me hard. Adam had a disease caused by unclean drinking water and it's something that was very easily cured at any clinic... if you had the money for treatment. But for a family barely affording oatmeal, that cure was far out of reach. It's stated several times that for the vuvv and the wealthy families, the price of that cure would be pocket change and at his sickest, Adam asks one of the vuvv for help. They snub him saying "I hate when they beg" even though Adam is clearly on the verge of death.

The book isn't happy but it does have a happyish ending. This is definitely a good commentary on wealth, poverty, and privilege. A short but enjoyable read, I would recommend this to fans of alien books.
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M.T. Anderson (whose full name is Matthew Tobin Anderson) is best known for being a National Book Award-winning author of children’s and young adult fiction. His latest novel, Landscape with Invisible Hand, is a return to a Future Earth impacted by an alien invasion, his first novel in this setting since Feed in 2002. This is a short novel, readable in about two hours, that details how an alien species known as a vuvv has taken over Earth by means of peace: they’ve given Earth their alien technology and medical science in return for a co-existence on the planet. Unfortunately, the increased quality of technology puts the Earthlings out of their jobs as bank tellers and salesmen (and such). Nobody has a need for Earth-created things since the vuvv do it so much better.

The novel is about a seventeen-year-old named Adam, who lives in poverty with his family. His father has run off to find work where he can be successful, and his mother endlessly applies for jobs beneath her just to hopefully land something that will help the family make ends meet. The home’s tap water is dirty and unsafe to drink. Adam, though, becomes the breadwinner when he and his girlfriend make romantic ‘50s-style reality TV for the aliens. It turns out that the vuvv are suckers of kitsch art, from doo-wop music to still-lifes to chainsaw art. However, when Adam and Chloe, his girl, break up, the pair is faced with a lawsuit for defrauding the aliens. Being an artist, though, Adam is entered into an intergalactic art content. Can he win and help his family leave debt behind?

This is a charming, funny and ultimately somewhat depressing look at today’s society. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere about “aliens” taking over the economy. However, the aliens aren’t really villains, per se. They just seem to be unaware of the damage they’ve done to the earth’s economy and eco-systems. The aliens live in cities high above the clouds, and offer free medical services to those in need at certain times. This is crucial for Adam, as he suffers from a gastrointestinal disease.

What the novel really is about, though, is the difference between high and low art, and how you can be in love with both. This is a good lesson for young adults to learn. While this is not ultimately the point of the book, it plays a part in sketching out its plot. For one thing, Adam is torn between entering painted artworks he’s done of fantastical cityscapes, which appeals to the vuvv, and realistic depictions of gloomy life on earth, which may be more “artful” but might not win the competition based on the vuvv’s tastes. The book is about making art that is true to you, and whether or not making commercial art is a form of “selling out”.

The prose, it turns out, weaves the line between fine art and popular entertainment. The language is wonderful, and the novel plays out like a sculpture, weaving in and out of these characters lives. The novel feels rich in description. At the same time, Landscape with Invisible Hand isn’t afraid to throw in the odd poop joke, and the characters sometimes wallow in their own debasement and filth. Older readers may be asking, well, what is this book? Is it meant to be taken seriously, or is it mean t to be played for laughs? The answer is a bit of both.

The moral of the tale, of course, is a simple one: to be true to yourself in all that you do. Again, it’s a great lesson for teenagers coming of age, unsure of who they are becoming. There’s a lot of neat stuff tucked away in this novel, no matter how much it straddles the line between high and low art. The novel is compulsively enjoyable, and becomes, the deeper you get into it, a bit of a page-turner. You really want to see how things will end for Adam and his family. Will they get the desired resolution or not? Truth is, there’s a bit of a curve ball at the end that is as shocking as it is delightful.

The only main deficiency in the book is the love affair between Adam and Chloe. We don’t really know what tears them apart. Perhaps this is deliberate. After all, teenagers break up all the time for seemingly no reason at all. (I can recall this from personal experience of my high school days.) However, a little more character motivation would go a long way. Despite that, though, this novel is an enjoyable breeze of a read. There’s so much going on as Adam navigates between being true to his art and doing what bandwagon everyone else is jumping on. You will really delight in the narrative. In a turn of events early on, we learn that Adam is inspired by his high school art teacher, but his job is voluntary — he makes money by being a porter in a vuvv compound. This is probably a sad statement on the state of teaching in America today.

All in all, there’s much to be dazzled by with Landscape with Invisible Hand. It, at the very least, makes you think about its stylistic tics. The author himself is working in a genre that usually isn’t devoted to serious scurrility at a mainstream level — at least, in how science fiction works are treated by the critics — so it’s seemly to see someone making a comment about the rich possibilities that are rife even in the lowest of low culture. This is a novel to richly savour and reflect on when it’s done. Landscape with Invisible Hand may have been a long time coming for Future Earth fans, who may now be too old for this sort of thing, but here’s hoping that it isn’t the last visit to this outpost from the pen of M. T. Anderson.
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Thank you to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for sending me an Advanced Reader Copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review. I requested this book because I recently read Feed by MT Anderson and I enjoyed it so I thought I should give this book a chance, too. While I didn’t like Landscape with Invisible Hand as much as I did Feed, this book does have its moments.

This book started strong but got a little muddled along the way, as if it didn’t know what kind of book it wanted to be. It was sci-fi that toyed with a romance story that didn’t quite fit comfortably into the overarching storyline. A few things didn’t make sense. This book was also satirical touching on topics such as immigration, socio-economic divide, and it also made fun of the political logic that if poor people are so hungry, they should go get jobs instead of begging for food they didn’t work for.

I know what it’s like to be Adam for a lot of this book; the hardships of being poor and trying your hardest to bring money into your home to feed your family. A father who walks out on you and your family. Hoping for something that will come along and save you financially. I want to talk about the end a bit more since it was so charming for me, but I don’t want to include spoilers so I guess I’ll just stop here.

Overall, a decent book that I mostly enjoyed. I still might try reading more MT Anderson in the future.
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