cover image Burnt


Lance Olsen. Wordcraft of Oregon, $11.95 (171pp) ISBN 978-1-877655-20-3

The author of the Philip K. Dick Award finalist Tonguing the Zeitgeist, Olsen blends elements of chaos theory, deconstruction and more into a humorous novel that is part environmental dystopia, part academic farce. Murphy Porter is a tenured professor in the English department of Central Kentucky University. Increasingly cynical about academe, he is starting to find out that there's more truth in the tabloids that he and his wife, Tanya, read compulsively than in his own work on, say, ""Bakhtinian Polyphonic Narratology in Gay Bikers from Hell."" The government really is planning to send up space stations to house the lucky few in the event of nuclear winter; there may be ETs (someone's talking to Porter's inner consciousness); people are suffering from EI, environmental illness; and animals are mutating--particularly local squirrels, which have become violently aggressive and immune to everything except a blast from a .22. His faith in his institution is further dimmed by the heavy-handed pressure exerted to pass the football team's barely sentient star quarterback. In good po-mo fashion, there's plenty of musing about reality and appearances sandwiched between grocery lists of brand names; of T-shirt and bumper-sticker slogans; of statistics proving what fools we are for destroying the Earth. Olsen treads a fine line, occasionally threatening to become unbearably cool, but he doesn't. Tempered by the tender love between Murphy and Tanya, by a subtly frightening vision of ecological degradation and most of all by true wit, he's instead offered a funny cautionary tale. (Aug.)