canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

Angry Young Spaceman
by Jim Munro
No Media Kings, 2000

Reviewed by Aidan Baker

Teaching English in other countries is not an especially foreign experience for many of today's 20- and 30-somethings. It seems a generally acceptable thing for recent grads to do before entering the job force proper and settling into a career and all that. It's unlikely, however, that too many people consider the moral ramifications of spreading the English language across the globe; that they are participating in the homogenization of global culture.

Skip ahead 1000 years: Sam, the main character of Angry Young Spaceman, is participating in the homogenization of universal culture, setting off to the far reaches of the galaxy to teach English on the planet Octavia. Octavia is populated by an octopus-like species eager to learn English and assume their place in the universal community. Angry Young Spaceman begins with Sam's orientation, as he meets his fellow teachers -- another Earthling, a Lunarian (from Earth's moon), and a Robo-man (a cyborg) -- and follows the course of his arrival on Octavia and his attempts to acclimatize himself to this alien culture. And his position as a teacher.

Teaching is Sam's attempt both for a certain respectability, a desire to get on with his life, do something meaningful, and to escape Earth's ultra-consumerist and artificial culture. However, the only way he can get away from Earth is to participate in its drive to make English the official universal language and the general assimilation of the galaxy. So Sam is torn between his own principals of freedom and the requirements of his job. And as he embraces the alien Octavian culture, he is further torn between his craving to experience new, real things and his earthly pre- and misconceptions.

Much has been made in the press about Jim Munro breaking his contract with HarperCollins, who published his first novel Flyboy Action Figures Comes with Gasmask, in order to self-publish Angry Young Spaceman (for details on how you too can buck the corporate system, visit Munro's website -- though he makes it seem a little easier than it actually is, I think). It does strike me as a touch ironic that Angry Young Spaceman is exactly the kind of jadedly-hip, pop-culture savvy book that so-called edgy publishing houses would snap up in a minute.

Independantly, though, Munro will reap much more of the benefits to be had from this book than he would if it were published by a mainstream house, so more power to him. The fact that Angry Young Spaceman is self-published may not seem to have anything to do with the actual content of the book. However much of Sam's dislike for Earth is based on their need to control and license intellectual property. "What kind of planet made rules about the songs you can sing?"

Sam wonders and there are several discussions of copyright fees and lisencing policies at various points in the book; "Copyright fees outside the Earth colonies are deliberately prohibitive," an Octavian tells Sam. This makes Angry Young Spaceman something of a soapbox for Munro to preach his freedom of speech/anti-corporate ideals, however I don't think this detracts too much from the story, as it is a gripping and fun read (if somewhat anti-climatic in the end).

And certainly the reader is prompted to question our current values and conceptions of art, literature, and music and how they are controlled, disseminated and presented to the consumer.

Aidan Baker is a Toronto-based writer and musician who has published internationally in such magazines as Intangible, Stanzas and The Columbia Review. His poetry was earlier featured in The Danforth Review.







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