The eternal beauty of science fiction is this: It takes readers to sometime or someplace else to show them the harsh truths of their own world. In Landscape with Invisible Hand, the vuvv—aliens who’ve come to Earth as benevolent colonizers—make way for humanity to destroy itself by the hand of its own greed.
High school junior Adam Costello enjoys painting landscapes of his deteriorating small town when he’s not on the clock earning his family’s sole income. For cash, he records his saccharine, 1950s-inspired dates with a girlfriend he can barely tolerate just to entertain aliens fascinated with “classic” earth culture. Because the vuvv have descended upon Earth, offering free advanced technology and medicine to the earthlings, the human economy has collapsed as a result. Now the rich hoard wealth behind massive pay walls, leaving regular people to suffer. However, when Adam’s teacher enters his paintings into an intergalactic art competition, he sees a way out. As Adam and his family flounder, he must decide what’s more important: painting pleasantries for profit or making art that captures the truth of humanity’s darkest hour.
In this novella, National Book Award winner M.T. Anderson writes a multilayered and scathing satire of callous economics, wealth disparity and the invisible hand of the market, as well as a metacritical discussion on the worth and value of art. It’s a bleak but necessary lesson in trying to find the beauty in the disastrous, all while learning to recognize when it’s time to dream a new dream.
Justin Barisich is a freelancer, satirist, poet and performer living in Atlanta. More of his writing can be found at littlewritingman.com.