A debut SF novel imagines a dystopian, authoritarian California where a survivor of childhood abuse is a celebrity on a reality TV show who flamboyantly assists suicides before studio audiences.
In Kerns’ imagining of a near-future/alternative history United States, the country collapses due to poor economic planning. California, which has sealed its borders off (especially from Mexico), becomes self-sufficient, albeit a dangerous, riot-torn autocracy, with most public sites converted into homeless camps. Golf still persists, as do an official state TV station and its proletarian programming. Capping S’ersis a cruel but popular reality show in which would-be suicides (s’ersas per newspeak) gain payouts for their families by being killed (capped) on-camera for cheering crowds via the unique talents of Ricky Fordham. She grew up in a dual-abuser household, under a cheating, churchgoing mother and a brute father who would rather Ricky had been a boy. Toying with an inexplicable family relic, a lightweight, star-shaped disc with sharp points, Ricky found her only bliss perfecting trick throws. Quite unintentionally, she revealed her airborne star could slice human throats with deadly accuracy. Thus (to pay for her twin sister’s medical treatments), Ricky becomes the main enabler of volunteers on Capping S’ers, though she secretly tries to give each victim a chance to relent and literally step back from death. The disaffected Ricky narrates this engrossing series opener, which offers a mildly Borges-ian SF social satire in savagely bleak hues, as each suicide candidate recites a litany of misery and willful self-destruction. Some characters may have reasons for their malaise; others are just Golden State airheads right out of Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One. Although Ricky finally rebels against televised evil (not necessarily as grandly as did Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games series), the bulk of the intriguing narrative—much like TV reruns—is a heavily ritualized affair. The dark tale proceeds episode by episode, using repetitious dialogue and a commercial-break structure, with some verbal zingers delivered by show emcee Phil Ebenezer (catchphrase: “I have a PhD in clinical psychology”) with sincere heartlessness.
An engaging, pitch-black comedy of pathological horrors set in an alternative-future California.