Last Thursday, kim d. hunter stood, tiptoe, on a table at Literati coffee, dreadlocks swaying across his back as he added his piece to the author wall in loopy caps: “Trust yourself just enough, but never too much.”
“The Official Report on Human Activity,” hunter’s first bout of short fiction after two collections of poetry, points its wily fingers at institutions and individuals who have lost their healthy dose of self-skepticism, imagining what the world will look like if such detrimental boldness continues unchecked. hunter conjures a dark alternate reality reminiscent of “Sorry to Bother You” in which attitudes towards race, class and gender are hegemonically encoded in absurdly extravagant systems of work and technology. Thirsty biotech companies merge humans with insects for no apparent reason, 3D printers generate anything from artisan guitars to grotesquely deformed ventriloquy puppets and an insidiously “ingenious new computer program” hidden in a white briefcase offers executives “help and direction without all the fussy human inconsistencies, moods, meal breaks or pay scales.”
kim d. hunter is a chuckling prophet of hypocrisy, emphasizing the extraneous ambition of tech culture with creativity and wit: In one scene, “a scientist in a lab funded by a very large and relatively new church” discovers a chemical that softens metal, permitting congregants to “chemically treat, fry, and eat their wedding rings as a way to internalize their commitment to one another.” Sixty years ago, William S. Burroughs warned us that “Western man is externalizing himself in the form of gadgets” — kim d. hunter has noticed that we have yet to take heed, and is trying to get the message across by reigning it down from the abstract, increasing its proximity to our precious lifestyle. Furthermore, hunter reminds us of what really is dangerous about such thoughtless, rabid development: Its ability to silently reinforce and institutionalize patterns of oppression, to isolate and ensnare at the same, lethal moment. Burroughs may have identified the vampire, but hunter demands dissection of its inner machinery, unearthing how “it is blinded by the only appetite it has ever known.”
Beyond its speculation on the current moment, “The Official Report on Human Activity” boasts an intriguing meta-awareness of how it came to be. Questions about authorship pulse throughout the collection, bringing all the doubt and instability of the text-making process to the text itself. hunter masterfully expresses the latent privilege of the discipline through the internal turmoil of Ipso, a Black Detroit factory worker who lacks the time and money to develop (let alone exercise) his writing talent. The gulf between Ipso’s inaccessible passion and his predetermined circumstances results in a maelstrom of disadvantage: “Words would rush to the front of his brain in the factory and the work seemed two or three times more difficult than it should have been, or than it was, or than it was for the other people he worked with, or all three, which seemed a fourth possibility.”
hunter exposes this industry’s long-ignored barrier to entry; specifically, how insurmountable it is from certain socioeconomic angles. In what reads like the same breath, however, hunter craftily directs towards alternative, affordable paths to artmaking. The most stable motif in the collection, perhaps, is the library. hunter breathes life into the dwindling practice of democratized information by acknowledging the institution with near-religious reverence: In the titular story, a fiercely insightful young girl declares “I am sure, when we stop to think about it, we will all agree that the library is the place where people go when they want a better way to see the world.”
For those that want to produce as well as consume, hunter scatters breadcrumbs towards the world of independent publishing, even URL-dropping www.indiebound.org in a manner that, somehow, maintains complete relevance to the story at hand. There’s no hypocrisy here — kim d. hunter is emphasizing the extraneous ambition of tech culture with creativity and wit is using his foothold to forge entry for others, an excitingly innovative and generous manipulation of the industry.
In terms of the prose itself, hunter’s stories can be tough to the unaccustomed reader. They dive into disturbing imagery, tend to lack distinction between characters and move along an ambiguous timeline. Engaging with hunter’s world necessitates an understanding that the answers won’t be clean, if you can find them at all. In a moment of fourth-wall breaking self-awareness, one of hunter’s (many) unnamed characters sums it up: “The problem with the truth is that there are all kinds of truth. There’s the truth you can see, you know, dropped-rocks-fall sort of truth. There’s the truth little children tell before grown folks get to ‘em and them ‘em how to lie to get along. Then there’s the unwelcomed, unclean, uglier-than-a-mule’s butt truth, and that’s what’s waiting on us right now.”