“Mirrorverse” and “Guilt City” from Tomorrowland by Joseph Bates


[Edit: Originally posted September 16, 2016]

I really love this whole collection and just picking two to review was hard, but Mirrorverse and Guilt City are probably my two favorite stories for different reasons.

No Mirrorverse doesn’t have anything to do with Star Trek, in fact it’s DC comics that gets the nod with the idea of multiverses. Now the premise of this story is that there’s this machine, a “Belton Multiverse Spectrometer” that allows the viewer to see an infinite number of universes when they hook it up to their TV. The protagonist writes tech reviews for a newspaper and he’s been assigned to review this machine. Well, review/advertise, since the company that made the machine is paying for a good review. It makes an interesting point about reviewing that made me think about my own work in reviewing books. No one’s paying me to do this, for the most part I review what I read and that I enjoy, but that’s neither here nor there.

The protagonist takes this product home and sets it up. He already had plans for tonight, his ex-wife is coming over watch a movie and hang out, so he decides to combine checking out the Multiverse Spectrometer with that. Now, it’s important that you know that the ex-wife’s current husband doesn’t know that she has these dinner and movie dates with her ex-husband. There’s no cheating though the protagonist thinks about it, and it does prompt him to search for himself and his wife among the multiverses and that’s what he and his ex-wife end up watching when she comes over.

This is a particular kind of science fiction that I really enjoy. A casual interaction with some futuristic element by the average person. It reads like something that could happen today, with the exception of the Multiverse Spectrometer, and I really like stories that do things like that.

I had the privilege to hear Joseph Bates read Guilt City aloud when I attended a reading of his several years ago and it’s stuck with me ever since. It is an incredibly poignant work dealing with, as you might have guessed from the title, guilt.

A man diagnosed with a terminals illness seeks forgiveness from all the people he’s every wronged in his life. Everyone. No matter how small the slight. And invites them to live in city that he’s built in his backyard, rent-free. 

It’s a good idea, in theory, a seemly good way to garner forgiveness before he dies. But things start to get out of control quickly. The city is not as complete as the people living there were hoping. There’s a constant flood of requests for additions, changes, repairs, and with no rent and no taxes being paid. It’s a little difficult to keep up.

It keeps getting more and more difficult and then, the man ends up not dying when the doctor expected he would. He’d expected to die before he had to actually deal with how big the city had gotten and how many credit card bills he has to pay off.

And things keep happening. Guilt keeps building. He can’t start charging people rent, after they’ve been living rent-free. His mother doesn’t help when her Christmas gift to him is a box of unfulfilled requests from the people living in the city. 

At the end, the police come with an order to move the city out of the neighborhood. It’s the end of the man’s worries right? No, as it turns out, he’s the one who has to tow the city to whatever it’s new location will be. 

It’s beautifully written and it really gets you thinking about just how much guilt can weigh you down if you let it. 

I would highly recommend checking out the whole collection