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ATL: STORIES FROM THE RETROFUTURE

Hilarious and Wonderful

By ElliottThomasStaude, author of Mourners, Abednego, Persistence

Jun 8, 2019: The thing which shall be called ATL from here on in (and sadly the meaning of that acronym presently cannot be brought to mind) is a wonderful alternate history story set in Atlanta. It bounces all over the place, from the ambiguously-sexed protagonist Morgan’s residence during a shakedown straight from a Coen brothers movie to an old church which is the lair of a robot hiding out like a celebrity in rehab. It’s apt in its adoption of the descriptive setting of the “retrofuture” – some advances which are surprising, some regressions (or perhaps “failures to innovate” is more accurate”) that depict a strange world. For one, that world’s modern de-facto cultural Zion is Atlanta. However, these stories are very much worth your investigation, and have a lighthanded touch that’s also suggestive of the Coen brothers. It’s a tad difficult to adequately pigeonhole the genre of the franchise, but an enterprising mind might place it as action-intrigue – something that’s not entirely without flaws, and which has many elements that the reader may recognize from other works, but that buoys the audience along with its direction and care of crafting. It’s funny, it’s grounded, it knows exactly what it wants, and it’s got the knife skills to handle a fugu fish of a plot without poisoning its customer. The subject matter could have been a terrible slog, and the presentation of its actors and what it is makes it a joy instead.

Thus far, following the adventures of the Social Media Killer, ATL’s is a kind of bleak society, where the planet’s axial spin seems to have slowed down to a slumped everyday continuity and change is remarkable for its rarity. It’s the sort of place where, if not for the characters, it’d probably be a real downer to try and get through any of the described tales. However, Morgan and Morgan’s friend Karina are absolutely wonderful tugboats leading the beholder from meal to deed to ideology to crime scene. Morgan is wonderful, being a person who really tries to keep a hoodie or a suitable substitute between head and rest of the world and who genuinely just wants to be done with it . . . the it in this case being just about anything to do with Atlanta or secretarial work for a less-than-formidable financial entity. Like all good adventures, the chiefest puppets get dragged in by their strings with a minimum of consent or desire. Morgan say “no” and universe say “OH YES.” Karina, a girl whose agenda for a single day is more populated than that of a normal person’s week, forms a perfect counterpoint to Morgan’s not-quite-apathetic disdain for navigating the behemoth of ATL’s deliciously gray scenery. The rest of the cast is just as colorful, weird, perhaps a few teacups short of a full china set, and the sort of people who’ll probably get plushies sold of their likenesses if this is ever adapted to cinema. A few too many people of high school age, perhaps, but high school is of course the source of more drama per capita than virtually anything else in the world.

When you embark on the journey of ATL, you’re jumping into something of quality with a faint whiff of self-parody about it. At the risk of being repetitive and even more pretentious than usual, the cast and artistry of the story’s telling truly make the experience something a cut above the expected, and there’s something about even the grimness of a corporate-run universe in this case that brings a smile to the face which not even profusions of teenage angst can ruin. You don’t need to enjoy sci-fi to get a kick out of this.

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