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Cover image for CivilWarLand in bad decline : stories and a novella
CivilWarLand in bad decline : stories and a novella
Other title(s):
Civil War land in bad decline

1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, ©1996.
Physical Description:
179 pages ; 22 cm
CivilWarLand in bad decline -- Isabelle -- The wavemaker falters -- The 400-pound CEO -- Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz -- Downtrodden Mary's failed campaign of terror -- Bounty.
A novella and short stories on a future America, a land of corporate hypocrisy, violence and pollution. Trendy attractions include pickled babies and cows with plexiglass sides, so you can see the milk made, people buy other people's more interesting memories for downloading into their heads.


Call Number
SCI-FI Saunders, G.

On Order



In six stories and the novella, Bounty, Saunders introduces readers to people struggling to survive in an increasingly haywire world. (Saunders) has created a surreal, weirdly persuasive picture of the devolved future now taking shape in our own worst and most potent tendencies.--Tobias Wolff.

Author Notes

George Saunders is the author of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia.

(Publisher Provided) George Saunders was born in Amarillo, Texas on December 2, 1958. He received a bachelor's degree in geophysical engineering and a master's degree in creative writing from Syracuse University. He is a professor at Syracuse University and a writer of short stories, essays, novellas, and children's books. He won the National Magazine Award for fiction in 1994, 1996, 2000, and 2004 His books include CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, Pastoralia, The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, In Persuasion Nation, and Tenth of December: Stories, which won the inaugural Folio Prize in 2014. His debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, received the Man Booker Prize in 2017.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this debut collection of seven dystopian fantasies, some of which have appeared in the New Yorker and Harper's, America in the near future is a toxic wasteland overrun by vicious thugs and venal opportunists who prey on the weak and misshapen. Saunders's feverish imagination conjures up images as horrific as any from a Hieronymus Bosch painting: a field full of braying mules toppled over from bone marrow disease; a tourist attraction featuring pickled stillborn babies; and cows with Plexiglas windows in their sides. The black humor and vision of American enterprise and evangelism gone haywire are reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut's early works. In the novella ``Bounty,'' for example, the clawed-foot narrator, who flees slavery under the ``Normals'' to find his sister, sees a McDonald's that is the headquarters of the Church of Appropriate Humility, aka ``the Guilters.'' ``In Guilter epistemology,'' he observes, ``the arches represent the twin human frailties of arrogance and mediocrity.'' Despite the richness of the vision and the occasionally heart-melting prose, however, there is little difference in voice to distinguish one story from another. Read in one sitting, they blur into a bleak and unsettling vision of the world to come. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

A debut collection so friendly and casual in style (pieces first appeared in Harper's and The New Yorker) that it takes a while before you realize what a frightening world Saunders has created. His is a dystopian vision of a ``degraded cosmos,'' a future in which leisure and history combine in theme parks for the rich while the rest of humanity fights over scarce resources. Saunders's weird naturalism pulls you in with its chattiness and modest posture--no science-fictional bombast weighs down these skilled narratives. The title piece introduces the author's screwed-up future; the narrator is the cowardly flunkey of a theme- park owner who's trying to interest investors in his dying enterprise. The rides and exhibits are in disrepair, attendance is low, and violent gangs assault the perimeter. A similarly frightened worker in ``The Wavemaker Falters'' is haunted by images from the past--he's visited by the ghost of the boy he chopped up by accident in the wave-making machine at the water park where he works. Saunders's future world engenders strange, disgruntled workers, made more vicious by their need to survive a stark and ruthless marketplace. The overweight loser in ``The 400-Pound CEO'' works for the insane owner of a raccoon removal company that promises a humanitarian treatment but kills the animals brutally. ``Isabelle'' marks one of the few redemptive moments in this bleak collection: In a nightmarish city of blunt racial hatred and easy violence, the narrator discovers family with ``Boneless,'' a crippled neighbor he eventually takes in. ``Bounty,'' a novella, is Saunders's fullest portrait of the future; it begins in a postmodern freak show where ``Flawed'' people work in historical re-creation shows for the rich ``Normals.'' Eventually, the claw- footed narrator escapes, journeying cross-country to join the revolution. The politics of scarcity are brilliantly fictionalized in these smart and understated stories that are more Mad Max than 1984.

Booklist Review

Saunders presents his unique vision of America in the near future in this debut collection of short stories. In a landscape littered by gutted Wal-Marts and condemned Arbys, Saunders' astoundingly naive characters encounter high-tech absurdity and savage cruelty. Throughout this collection, the author parades one stunning image after the next: see-through cows, a virtual-reality entrepreneur who off-loads and sells his own memories for $3,000 per decade, a cheesy theme park with a SafeOrgy Room and shrink-wrapped clients. These stories are all of a piece, all stamped with Saunders' hallucinatory, feverish images, so that there is no clear line of demarcation between his pieces. That seems a small quibble, though, in view of his uncanny ability to take readily recognizable elements from the present and warp them just enough to scare and dazzle his readers. These stories are inventive, hilarious, and terrifying. --Joanne Wilkinson

Choice Review

In this collection of six singularly well crafted short stories and a novella, Saunders demonstrates sheer genius in his presentation of compelling characters who are as well rounded as any found in the novels of Charles Dickens or Mark Twain. Saunders's heroes are all streaked with villainy; all of his villains have broad overlays of heroism. The author's particular gift is his ability to depict his characters in few words, as he does in his presentation of Mr. Alsuga in the title story: "He started out with just a settler's shack and one Union costume and now has considerable influence in Rotary." The stories in this volume are peopled with grotesques--a misshapen girl nicknamed Boneless, a 400-pound businessman, a black boy with skin so fragile that it tears, an ex-convict con man who practices bondage and discipline. Some of these characters do despotic things, but Saunders presents all of them in their full humanity, never sentimentalizing, ever withholding judgment. This example of consummate mastery and literary control belongs in public libraries and in college and university collections. R. B. Shuman University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Library Journal Review

This group of stories focuses on characters who work in a theme park called CivilWarLand in the future United States. Environmental pollution and genetic mutation have taken their toll, dividing the population into Normals and Flaweds. America's farmland lies fallow. All scramble to feed themselves and their families. Cars are hauled by horses, barges are hauled by humans, and technology continues its amazing feats, such as "off-loading" human memories, which are then sold as virtual-reality experiences. People continue to struggle for recognition, for wealth, and for the American Dream in the face of grinding poverty and limited opportunities. Saunders's surreal depiction of a bleak future for the country is both startling and believable. Here's hoping he is not a prophet. The author is a teacher and consultant for Raytheon. This is his first work of fiction. Recommended for public libraries.-Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Continuing Education Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.