Arms Race by Nic Low
The stories in Nic Low’s Arms Race all take place in worlds that are, in one way or another, at a tipping point. The New Zealand-born writer, now living in Australia, spans geography, time and genre in this collection of tight, finely crafted stories that offer compelling alternate histories and glimpses into the future.
In ‘Rush’, a group of Indigenous protesters arrive at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, armed with a minerals exploration licence. Their cunning manipulation of corporate and government bureaucracy is a blistering satire of Australia’s land rights hypocrisy. ‘Data Furnace’ sees scientists stranded in a climate-ravaged Britain turn to internet memes to stay alive. ‘Photocopy Planet’ plays with ideas of plagiarism and the ‘authority’ of information, through the eyes of an enterprising Lonely Planet plagiarist. ‘The Lotus Eaters’ is a magnificent, dreamy piece about lost travellers in Laos and time folding back on itself. Stories such as ‘Octopus’, ‘Slick’ and ‘How Much Courage’ turn the boy-who-cried-wolf trope upside down, playing with the power of illusion and willing things into (and out of) existence by declaring them so.
Low’s narrative voice is contemporary and worldly, his characters authentic, whether they are Maori road workers, British scientists or Indian publishing moguls. Arms Race demonstrates an understanding of the role of technology in shaping our lives better than a lot of tech writing. Low is part of an exciting new breed of contemporary writers who see technology and the internet as not an impediment but a tool of storytelling.
Low’s writing straddles sci-fi, spec-fic and satire without leaning too far into any category. There’s a mischievous mood and dark humour throughout the stories in Arms Race, but the real strength of Low’s worlds is how plausible they are, even at their most absurd. I would not be surprised to rediscover these stories thirty, twenty, even ten years from now, and remark at their prescience.
Alan Vaarwerk is the editorial assistant for Readings Monthly.