Portable Curiosities is an interesting collection of stories. The observations of society and human nature are told with, if I could see Julie Koh’s face, would to me, be with a deadpan face, but a tongue firmly in her cheek. They can be ridiculous, absurd, but at the same time frighteningly real and always thought-provoking.
“The Three-Dimensional Yellow Man” looks at the assumptions made of certain races. ‘My God he can speak English well … And without any sort of accent’. The ‘panicking at the unprecedented influx of yellow people’. The attempt to dilute or remove culture where ‘her successful integration would always please her initially, then make her feel sick’. There is a humorous reference to the ‘tight-lipped, flame haired woman’ from the fish and chip shop. And the stereotyping in films of the ‘token yellow’ as evil. Racism is shown for what it is.
In “Two”, Ralph has a checklist he knows ‘would lead him to certain triumph in this world’. He advertises for a wife and marries the sole applicant, Lola. They have twins and name them One and Two.’for easy reference’. While One does all that Ralph expects, Two comes a sorry second in his eyes. One can swim, but Two wants a kickboard.
Ralph focusses on his checklist and success. ‘Booze is for amateurs … Getting blind drunk on money – now that’s the path to happiness’. At Ralph’s workplace Two wonders ‘how any field of endeavour could involve so many boring-looking people in such boring-looking clothes’. It follows Ralph’s life until he ends up in a nursing home where he ‘assumed the psychiatrist was his PA’. This was an insightful look at one man’s expectations of his children and himself.
“The Sister Company” sees a lonely depressed Orla seek help in 2030, where the new-year’-eve fireworks are now ‘pre-programmes graphics superimposed on micro-drone footage of Sydney’s landmarks’ with the ‘smell of gunpowder wafted through the vision’s olfactor’. The staff at The Sister Company are androids, the therapist modelling herself on her clients, and Orla ends up getting more than she bargained for.
“Civility Place” looks at large corporations and how they are taking over the world and the people that work for them, with recognisable characters and situations.
And “Cream Reaper”, my favourite, takes on the food industry where there are not ‘newspapers with food lift-outs’ but ‘foodpapers with news lift-outs. Who wanted to read about the Middle East anymore? Food was where it was at’. There are ‘intercultural artistic collectives’ and human art installations, that titan icecreamer Bartholomew G sees as ‘giving back to the community – completing the loop’. His need to push his business, beyond the most popular flavour of sage, roast duck and single origin cardboard, takes it to a new level, needing an app, an ‘expert in unpublicity’ and corpse disposal. He gets away with it as he puts ‘a little grease in the wheels of government … and they turned for me’. The power of social media and the need to follow the latest trend are central themes.
This collection is satire at its best, in a quirky new way. Great for dipping into or reading from cover to cover.