Book Review: FKA USA by Reed King
By Ryland Johnson
We live in foreboding times. There’s real danger threatening the human race: pandemic disease, climate change, nuclear proliferation, war, guns, consumerism, corporations, pollution, zealotry and madness, and, as art mirrors life, there’s no shortage of books these days imagining the awful end of it all. This is why maybe-android Reed King’s FKA USA was so much fun: it imagines a future where every possible apocalypse happened all at once.
In FKA USA’s irradiated 2085, everything is epically, hilariously terrible. The USA has devolved into a fractured toxic wasteland: a cruel, warring states of corporate feudalism ravaged by murderous gangs à la Road Warrior. What remains of culture is a total nightmare; the internet trolls have won. Everything sucks. This is where we find our crass, teenage protagonist, Trukee Wallace, just some unlucky kid sent on a suicide mission to save the world by his psychotic corporate overlord.
I am a fan of the postmodern picaresque, which, as a genre, is admittedly more challenging than your average beach romance, and may not be for everyone. FKA USA has all the tropes of this genre: madcap world-building via footnotes and extra-narrative text, style like a demolition derby, multi-layered social and political satire, and even an unreliable author (Reed King is a pseudonym for an unidentified, albeit best-selling, author – I like to imagine this book was written by AI). To me, the terrible mélange of everywhere-at-once apocalypse is symbolic of our contemporary American moment. We feel off-balance all the time, bulldozed by the endless parade of horrible things.
At least, sometimes, we still get to have a little fun. FKA USA is a fun book. There are also brief moments of humanity in the chaos, where the compassionate core of personhood surfaces for an instant before being subsumed again. The book is imperfect, but also poignant. It doesn’t compromise or soften its rough edges. In the future, when our books are written by cyborgs, I hope they are as compelling as this one. Recommended for adult readers and fans of science fiction.