Walter Mosley is the one I go to for great reading, time after time, and genre after genre, because he is a writer who never tires of exploring, in all different ways, how and why we humans keep on going. I just finished his latest work, the first in a series of novellas he is writing under the general title of Crosstown to Oblivion. These novellas are what he calls “speculative tales” about every day people being exposed to “life-altering truth.”
Part science fiction, part philosophical fiction, and part call for rebellion, the two novellas, The Gift of Fire and On the Head of a Pin, are exciting and riveting, with characters that hearken back to some of Mosley’s other heroes and villains, plots that had my head spinning in the best of ways, and completely unexpected but deeply satisfying endings.
Whether you believe in God or the gods or no god at all; in socialism or capitalism; in lasting love or the ephemeral nature of desire; in the capability of mankind to act together or the futility of movements such as Occupy Wall Street, these novellas of Walter Mosley will get you thinking, debating, hoping and praying (in whatever mode you choose).
In The Gift of Fire, Prometheus manages to escape from the manacles binding him to eternal punishment. The gods punished him for having brought the gift of fire and the path of knowledge to the people of earth. Now that he has escaped, Prometheus wants to bring down the fire and the knowledge once again, hoping to finally set humanity free from the burdens of oppression, anger, hate, violence, and greed. He lands in L.A., slightly out of tune with the language and customs of modern day USA and his clothing tattered and spattered with blood.
No surprise, then, that he ends up in the custody of the L.A. police, where he meets up with decent Nosome Blane and gangbanger Luther Unty. It is through these men that Prometheus begins to fulfill his promise of enlightening mankind and sparking a revolution in thought, action, and ambition — for “when you know a thing is fitting, you must not hold back.” A bedridden boy will become a hero, leading a growing army (a gentle army, for the most part) of the disheartened and beaten down towards changes that just might save the world.
In On the Head of a Pin, another unlikely hero, unsuccessful playwright Joshua Winterland, becomes part of a team working on next-generation filmmaking, in which computer generated images become as indistinguishable as the real thing, using a screen made up of fiber optic strands.
Once created, the screen takes on a life of its own, becoming a portal to the many dimensions of existence: “everything that ever happened, everyone and everything that ever lived has left an impression…. souls are carried, enveloped in a co-existing dimension…. vestiges of memory and self-memory live on, kept in place by yet other aspects of an unseen world.” But the portal also exposes the true nature of the souls it envelops, whether evil or good (no place to hide), while presenting past and future events in all its horrible sequences (doesn’t look so bright for us humans).
Joshua must realign his own ambitions to understand what the portal might offer the world and decide just how far he will go to protect the screen against those who see it as a tool for war and destruction and those who see it as a promise of the next Messiah, promising resurrection and eternal life.
Five centuries ago, San Juan de la Cruz wrote that “A la tarde de la vida, te examinaran en el amor.” At the end of life, what will matter is how you loved. As much as Mosley’s novellas are about good and evil, empowerment and security, inequality and prejudice, and oppression and ignorance, the common core of all of his examinations is love. Mosley, in all his writings (not only these novellas but also his novels, his political essays, and his mysteries), dissects and explores and exposes love as the defining element not only of who we are, but also of what kind of world we are creating. Whether we love, how we love, and what we love determine who we are, and what kind of existence — past, present, and future – we live in, on earth and beyond.
And so Walter Mosley is the man. He is the man for understanding love and all its manifestations, and writing about it, in volume after volume and genre after genre. Great reading, and great understanding, through the works of Walter Mosley.