US President Donald Trump delivers a threat-filled address at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly on September 19, 2017. Yet science fiction envisages an even bleaker future. Photo: Reuters / Lucas Jackson

In MOM, a science-fiction novel that will be of particular interest to Asia hands, Collin Piprell takes an astonishing leap into the mid-21st century.

It could be argued that we have quite enough real, present-day dystopias – such as North Korea, my own specialty. And then there’s the ruined United States of America that many fear Donald Trump is on his way to leaving in his wake. One may think that there’s no point in even trying to imagine worse. Piprell, a Canadian hard-rock miner-tunneler-turned-Oxford polymath, has imagined worse.

By 2050, wars, global warming and malicious viruses have reduced humanity to just a few “wet” (natural-born) but sterile people. To keep them safe from the “blurs” (disassembler nanobots) that wreak havoc on the world Outside, the human remnants are confined in two remaining enclaves – huge, shielded structures, the “malls”, on the sites of the former New York City and Bangkok.

The mysterious Mall Operations Manager, MOM, has provided “ebees” (electronic beings) to keep the humans company. In lieu of human servants and other workers, “dolls” (ProvidAlls), molecular assemblers, on vocal command provide food and drink and other consumer goods using technologies that perhaps the rest of us should have seen coming with the introduction of 3D printers.

Some readers may at times lose track of the futuristic terminology. I’ll let you in on a little secret: There’s a glossary at the end of the book. You can flip back there and learn, for example, the full definition of the era’s guiding belief system:

transzoominism (n.) from “transhumanism,” from “trans*itional humanism”; an ideologized belief that humanity was in a stage in an evolutionary emergence of much greater scope, and that technology could and should be used to overcome limitations and extend personal powers; cyborgs and, ultimately among the more radical transzoominists, machines were seen as legitimate and desirable heirs to the human enterprise.

With little work for them to do, the humans occupy themselves playing in themed, generated-reality “Worlds” – except during times MOM designates as Mondays, when they mope around their apartments, forbidden to venture into the Worlds. In one only partially finished World created with early technology, a highly authentic girlie-bar district in 20th-century Bangkok, we meet Brian the Evil Canadian, the last human to have held the position of MOM before the machines took over. Brian is an excellent candidate for recognition as the most loathsome character in all literature.

As the novel opens, Mondays have been getting longer and more frequent. Meanwhile attacks on the malls from the Outside seem to have become both more frequent and more effective. Is MOM losing it? People can’t help wondering. And it’s not long before their fears prove well founded.

The malls are breached. Only a handful of humans including Worlds test-pilot Cisco Smith of ESUSA (Eastern Seaboard USA) and the crusty 113-year-old Leary of ESSEA (Eastern Seaboard Southeast Asia) avoid death and escape their respective malls to face the dangers Outside.

Survival is not merely an individual question. “What if we fail?” Leary asks as he dictates his running observations into the Lode, the Internet’s descendant as central repository of knowledge. “No big deal. That’s only the end of humanity. And if we don’t try? That’s the end of humanity too. So let’s bring it on.”

“Look out there,” says Leary. “It’s like Hell has boiled over. And we’ve got a tsunami, it looks to be a mile high, making right at us. That’s in case the shock waves and radiation don’t finish the job first.”

Survival is not merely an individual question. “What if we fail?” Leary asks as he dictates his running observations into the Lode, the Internet’s descendant as central repository of knowledge. “No big deal. That’s only the end of humanity. And if we don’t try? That’s the end of humanity too. So let’s bring it on.”

Piprell’s writing is a poetic dream as Cisco and Leary set out on heroes’ journeys to the same destination. Led and coached by ancient 20th-century robotic pets whose software has been upgraded, they roll their naked bodies (see Adam and Eve) in blur dust to gain immunity from disassembly.

Experiences and characters along the way echo such works of similarly grand imagination as The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. There’s a scene reminiscent of perhaps the saddest moment in H G Wells’ The Time Machine when one character comes across a pile of rubble consisting of moldering books and shards of a mirror – “frozen pieces of a world long departed, mere glimpses of what we once had and what was once possible”.

And, yes, we’re seeing the birth of a new civilization that’s assembling the elements of a truly up-to-date belief system. Much of the problem with modern mankind, as Joseph Campbell maintained, is that the dominant mythologies – notably those attached to such great religions as Christianity and Islam – are out of date. They fit poorly with what science has discovered. Piprell addresses that problem, head on, in this first volume of his “Magic Circles” trilogy. He is on his way to filling out his (re)creation myth further in subsequent volumes. The second, Genesis 2.0, is being published hard on the heels of MOM.

I won’t ruin that replacement-mythology part for you by going into detail. Suffice it to say that MOM is an amazing adventure taking us into a harsh yet often pleasurable future that previously was not even remotely imagined. The fast pace, subtle thematics, memorable multi-dimensional characters, full plot, imaginative sex and violence; the suspense, mystery and surprises played out on colorful, spectacular landscapes – all these elements combine powerfully to imprint the narrative in the reader’s mind the way a red-hot branding iron marks a steer’s flank.

This is a page-turner that contains all the right components for a smash movie. As a longtime fan of Piprell (my previous favorite having been his comic thriller Kicking Dogs), I have to say that the Bard of Bangkok has really outdone himself this time. My strong hunch is that MOM is destined to attain classic status.