If you can read this do not hit F5. Listen to me. The next decade is going to be an exciting and hopeful time. You’ll witness the birth of the eighth billion human on Earth and live through the revelation of Kurt Schwaller’s theory of everything. It’s important that you enjoy it, because in 2025 everything will change. I know. I lived through it. My friend Bakshi likes to say that we’re locked into a single future. Iris used to say that no one can take away the past. I wish I knew what you looked like. I wish I knew then what I know now. But if Bakshi’s right, at least you’ll be prepared. You still have time. Between now and March 27, 2025, they’ll try to tell you that a hundred different things are the most important. They’ll be wrong. Live, love and imagine. And, if you happen to meet Iris, go ahead ask her about the theory. She’ll blow your mind, too.
Hit F5. —From Amazon
For me, reading Norman Crane’s Iris is like reeling in a powerful fish only to discover a shipwreck on the end of my line. I didn’t get what I expected, but I got something intriguing, full of mystery. I suspect this was Crane’s goal from the outset.
Iris is a near-future science fiction story about the extinction of the human species. The narrator, Norman, lives in a recognizable modern world of Netflix, Twitter, Reddit and Skype. A few differences distinguish it from the real world of 2017. According to Norman:
The British declared themselves post-Christian in 2014 and post-Royal in 2019, the European Court of Justice ruled all other European royals invalid in 2020, and the Muslim monarchs pompously degraded themselves one-by-one into their own exiles and executions.
Some time well before 2025, when the bulk of the story takes place, a Swiss physicist, Kurt Schwaller, discovered the “theory of everything,” which Norman summarizes thusly: “…given enough data and computing power we could now predict the outcome of anything.”
With so arrogant a discovery, what follows—something utterly unpredictable—seems like poetic justice for the human race. Norman, a writer like author Norman Crane, is a devoted husband. He and his wife want a baby, and to their great joy, they discover she is pregnant on March 27, 2025. Their excitement lasts only two days, which is how long it takes for scientists to make the unsettling discovery that all the world’s female mammals are pregnant. (If you’re wondering, yes, Crane is quite clear that all females are pregnant, no matter their circumstances.) The uncertainty raised by this turn of events is so out of place in a world in which the outcome of every sporting event can be predicted that most people can’t deal with the news. Norman and his wife shut out the world and focus on the present, nesting like your average soon-to-be parents and ignoring the future. It’s a dream come true for Norman. Throughout the story, he refers to his wish to be loved, and his fear that he never will be. For a brief time, it seems his wish has been granted. Only three months into the pregnancy, a mysterious force kills all the female mammals in an instant, his wife and baby included. As you’d expect, this event effectively ensures humanity’s extinction. The second half of the story addresses the post-female society and how Norman adapts.
Before the “event,” Norman’s world as described by Crane is largely female. He encounters and interacts primarily with women in the story. After the event, one might expect society would no longer function, that the subtraction of all women would have a catastrophic impact. But that’s not what happens. The forms and functions of global society go on without much disruption. Hetero sex and interaction appear to be the only thing missing in Norman’s woman-less world. I can’t decide if this was Crane’s intention or not. Speaking as a woman, it’s certainly a dismal view of our place in society. Yes, Norman seemed happy with his wife, but he doesn’t name her or describe her in even a cursory manner. After she dies, he keeps her clothes in a garbage bag for months, which is fitting because she is never more than a form, never more than the computer-generated actresses developed for movies and pornography after the world’s women disappear.
There is one woman of flesh and blood in the story, but she is not Norman’s wife. In fact, she is not a part of the story’s events. She is the frame, the story’s book-end and namesake, Iris. Norman thinks back to a late night in 2015 on a building’s roof with a party thumping a few floors below, in which, drunk and high, Iris relates a doped-up religious theory speculating that God is a cyclops going blind. There’s more to it than that, none of it particularly enlightening, but Norman remembers it years, decades later, as if it reveals something about the present. Is that what Norman thinks is happening? I couldn’t figure out how the theory explains the pincers, the Twitter message, the “event?” (These are odd details I won’t spoil for you here). Are we supposed to piece all this together or just feel comforted by Iris’s theory even if its wacky and wrong?
I may be mistaken, but after two reads, I’ve come to think Crane is contrasting Iris’s wildly unpredictable theory with Kurt Schwaller’s theory of everything, the very mechanism of prediction. The specifics don’t matter so much. We’re all tomatoes “growing and existing for the enjoyment of someone else.”
Iris is a complicated knot of a story. Every loose end entangles it further, and I haven’t even touched on the cult, the mass suicide, or the symbolism behind Iris’s name. The story is overflowing with interesting details that make its world feel tangible, real. This was not the work of a day, or a week. Crane gave this story a great deal of thought. His style is tight and efficient. He has written Norman with the right amount of retrospective analysis and reflection. It has a great pace, and just enough emotion to help readers empathize with Norman. The story is at its best when the plot is advancing. I think the conversations with Iris drag it down. They certainly deliver the kind of tedious, grating back-and-forth you’d expect between two baked partiers. For me, the story works much better without them, but they are obviously important to Crane. He names the story for Iris and opens and closes with those conversations. I can only think the whole point is disruption. Like a pregnant woman who expects a baby at the end of nine months, we think we know where the story is going. Silly, arrogant humans. Prepare for the plucking.
- Writing: 4
- Plot: 4
- Technical: 4