I got into this book in the most backward way possible. I was looking for more Phillip Glass music, when I found his score for the show; so then I watched the show; then I bought the book. But it speaks to the quality of it that, as I flipped through the pages and looked at the vignettes and the memory-style stories, I put Glass’s music on and it matched perfectly.
You may remember a few years back when a series of paintings of retro-style machinery depicting a town living with soviet style machinery got popular. This is the book that contextualizes those images. Stalenhag casts himself in a fictional alternate reality, where a small northern European island is the site of a vast technological advancement called The Loop. As a child near the end of The Loop’s scientific advancements, he sees the decay of the former scientific glory days, and details strange events he and his friends experience over the years of their childhoods and adolescence.
It’s not really about the how of it; it’s about the what. What does living with these strange advances do to these people? They’re all routinely well adapted to life in the Loop, and rarely bother to question the strange metaphysical events of their lives.
The Amazon produced show also wrestles with these stories, and serves more as a companion piece to the book. It’s clearly inspired by the book and paintings, but as it’s set in America, it wrestles with the question of how the technology affects the residents of the American Loop in a few different ways. Like the book, it never asks “how is this possible?” merely “what does this do if it is possible?” making it a deeply human and lived in series.
In the book, Stalenhag paints the events as well as he tells them, with small 100-300 word stories alongside most paintings. Some speak for themselves, while others have a story you might not expect. He even gets a little “I got bored just painting machinery” and introduces Dinosaurs as a part of the landscape. Every story is interesting in it’s own right, and its tinged with a certain unreliable narrator vibe as Stalenhag admits he’s remembering these events and places from the perspective of a boy.
The paintings themselves have a certain retro style too, with the fashion and blocky style cars and machines clearly leaning towards a nostalgic approach to the way we used to look forward. By framing the advancements of the future as a relic of the past, he imbeds these ideas as a plausible cultural memory- reminding us of a time even further back when we really did believe these types of advancements might take place. Stalenhag subtly asks us: what does the memory of the future look like through our own adult lives? How does that affect us?