In his debut collection of short stories, “Children of the New World,” Alexander Weinstein creates a not-so-far-fetched future in which everyday people grapple with their emotional ties to the technology in their lives — a new world of social media software implants, virtual reality, manufactured memories and intuitive androids.
In “The Cartographers,” a young professional, who works for a company that creates and sells virtual memories (good ones about vacations, relationships), becomes so addicted to his creations that he loses his own reality. In the title story, a young couple’s virtual life — which includes virtual children — is shattered when a virus destroys that electronic world. They wind up in a support group with others who have lost their virtual children. “Don’t let anyone tell you they weren’t real,” the group leader reminds them.
The collection’s 13 stories arose from a growing concern over the effects the internet has on social, emotional and psychological interactions, and the impact further advancements in technology will have on our social relationships, says Weinstein, who teaches creative writing at Siena Heights University in Adrian and the University of Michigan.
“The majority of my students tell me they’d rather text than have face-to-face interactions,” says the author, who began writing the collection about a decade ago. “My students talk about how much their smartphones mean to them. I realized how deeply they were emotionally connected to technology.”
Those observations, along with a realization about his own attachment, inspired the first story in the collection, “Saying Goodbye to Yang.” “I was very emotional about my computer dying,” Weinstein recalls. In the story about Yang, a father grapples with his emotional relationship to his humanoid child who malfunctions one morning, slamming his human-like face into his cereal bowl.
Writing about Yang opened up “stories about people becoming emotionally connected to technology,” says Weinstein. “Technology has created all these emotions. Think about how we feel when our email in-box is empty — it taps into our emotion of loneliness.”
Weinstein, a New York native who lives in Ann Arbor with his son, Peter, 13, will launch “Children of the New World” with a reading at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor. From there, he’ll embark on a 10-city tour around the U.S.
“Children of the New World” has already received starred reviews from the Library Journal, Booklist and Publishers Weekly. Booklist called the collection “mind blowing,” noting that Weinstein writes “with stirring particularity, unfailing sensitivity and supercharged imagination.”
While Weinstein’s stories explore technology’s impact on human relationships, they embrace realism. The stories fall into a genre known as speculative fiction, with elements, characters and settings created out of imagination and speculation. It’s a genre that encompasses science fiction, fantasy and magic realism. Weinstein creates a sense of realism by focusing on the characters, their emotions and their struggles.
“Future technology is always in the background,” he says. “It’s the characters’ humanity that’s at stake in each story.”
Weinstein is thrilled by the reception to “Children of the New World.”
“I love the conversation it provokes about the environment, technology and social consciousness. It’s a great honor after working so long on the book to have it received so graciously and enthusiastically,” says Weinstein, who was influenced by Stephen King as a boy and later by the likes of George Saunders, Karen Russell, Tom Robbins, and Kurt Vonnegut.
“I always kept writing and thinking: It’s worth writing these stories because someone will read them. And even if they were never read, I knew it was still worthwhile.”
With “Children of the New World,” Weinstein says he hopes readers walk away with a sense of caution about the growing world of technology and where it’s taking us as a society.
“In general, we’re all embracing technology. We’re running toward it with open arms,” he says. “But it’s also causing a lot of anxiety: keeping up with Facebook posts, emails, dating apps to update, and now even Pokemon. We’re becoming addicted to technology, and we’re less self aware and contemplative.
“I hope the stories create a sense of caution.”
Greg Tasker is a Metro Detroit-based freelance writer.
Reads from “Children of the New World”
7 p.m. Wed.
124 E. Washington, Ann Arbor