[GUEST REVIEW] Narelle Ho Sang Reviews BALD NEW WORLD by Tieryas Liu
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The story follows Nick Guan as he moves between a Dystopian future set in L.A. and parts of Asia with a twisted plot revealing shocking truths about hair loss on a global scale beneath a seedy underworld filled with spies and murder.
PROS: Descriptive, engaging narrative that is smart in its observations of popular culture; deep, personal narrative set against intense, raw scenes.
CONS: Fast paced ending gave illusion of being a tad rushed.
BOTTOM LINE: A wonderful, clever narrative that builds an intriguing look at a plausible yet fantastic future while remaining a personal story of man’s struggles with societal norms and family.
What would happen if everyone in the world lost their hair? Surely the simple answer would be that we would all be bald. The follow-up question would be to ask, what is the big deal in that? What Peter Tieryas Liu’s Bald New World does is begin with that strange premise, and proceeds to frame an entirely complex narrative that gives rise to a Dystopian future and provides no simple answer. It’s a world built on questioning our narcissism. A world where religion finds popularity in television through an actor’s portrayal of a bloodthirsty Jesus. A world where advertisements become pests that constantly assault the senses, cricket fighting through neurological interfacing is competitive sport, and where Nick Guan — Bald New World’s protagonist — finds himself as he becomes embroiled in a conspiracy plot and the truth surrounding a hairless future.
Guan’s journey takes him between a smog-filled L.A., and the beautiful and deadly parts of Asia. Food is colorful and appetizing, written and described by Tieryas Liu as love songs to important aspects of Asian culture. It’s sometimes a stark contrast to his imagining of a technological and gritty future, but one crafted to be thoughtful and intelligent. A mysterious plot is aided by a plausible, believable glimpse into this future.
The strength of the narrative comes not just from the world building, but Guan’s personal journey as well. His character is unsure, struggling to come to terms with insecurities stemming from a traumatic and less than nurturing family. It leads Nick to having a troubled and unstable former marriage born of his inability to trust. Bald New World is as much a Dystopian future as it is one man’s struggle with social conventions, survival, and interpersonal relationships. It’s a story entrenched in the complications from lacking a foundation in a family, and how that can have a emotional impact, affecting various facets of life. It’s about the search for human connection and the search for self and self assurance.
Personal struggles foster a deep narrative in Bald New World, but there’s also an intriguing story of espionage that takes place in seedy locations. The story gives rise to tongue and cheek observations on our own obsessive infatuation with popular culture and reality stardom; religion, faith and fanatics; acceptance of video game culture;and a sharp look at how our current socially accepted norms are reversed, giving way to extreme ideas and the raw, unchecked violent yearnings of human nature. Bald New World is a cultural, social, and character study of humanity with lots of insightful and cutting commentary.
Bald New World has it all: a sci-fi setting that is both probable and mesmerizing, an intriguing plot, an engaging character surrounded by others with complicated motivations, and a powerful voice unafraid to discuss the shallow obsessions that feed our fears, our reliance on self-serving manipulations to foster dangerous social structures, while peeling layers away to reveal our dependency on human interaction.
So the question remains: what would happen if everyone in the world lost their hair? What begins as a very simple question leads to an imaginative realm of possibilities.
Narelle Ho Sang has been published on Kotaku.com (with a guest editorial piece on Tropical Island Stereotypes in Video Games), is a regular contributor to Kotaku’s reader-run community Talk Amongst Yourselves where she has published nearly 100 articles under the username Zarnyx, and has contributed to GameDynamo.com.
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