That these tales come off as a seamless meld of the eccentric poetics of E.E. Cummings, the genius-level invention of Philip K. Dick, and the body horror of Clive Barker perhaps explains both why they remain vital today and why they were characterized as 'fringe' during Bunch’s career. They are wild, visceral, and sui generis, without the signifiers of a particular era that might provide anchors for mystified readers ... Bunch...foregrounded lyricism over plot and chose to write from the potentially unsympathetic viewpoint of a hyper-aggressive warmonger ... Nothing quite like the Moderan stories had been written before and nothing like them has been written since. In their intensity and structure, at times they resemble prose poems. They convey an astonishing amount of information and characterization beneath a hyperkinetic exterior that houses a powerful intention ... It’s impossible while reading parts of Moderan not to think of the setting as the wet dream of a certain kind of realtor or land developer or as the apotheosis of those clips shared on social media showing modern inventions that, for example, can destroy a tree in seconds flat ... The stories are at heart about how we no longer recognize dystopia because it’s been sold to us as utopia, about how we may not understand the irreplaceable value of aspects of the human and nonhuman world until they are irreplaceably gone from our lives ... Yet the humor, insight, energy, empathy, and rare moments of beauty in these stories also suggest that there may be light in even the worst kinds of darkness.
Through his Moderan stories, the author creates a world wherein the ugliness of our desire for strength, glory, and certainty stands in stark contrast to the occasional reminders that it didn’t need to go this way ... The world of Moderan is one of machismo and militaristic fetishism taken to its conclusion. The geography has been reduced to an endless stretch of white plastic, an antiseptic successor to the messiness of nature, eradicating the need for all that difficult business of preserving our ecosystem ... It would all seem a bit straightforward (and charmingly retro in its dystopic vision), were it not for Bunch’s remarkable facility with language. His narrators all speak in a highly idiosyncratic and original vocabulary of future terms and invented slang ... To join Bunch’s wavelength and explore Moderan through his narrators’ synthetic eyes is to marvel at the depth and intensity the writer brings to what is fundamentally a lampoon of society, an overwrought commentary on violence that seems initially facile but continually reveals new layers and arenas of satirical insight. The book is as much excoriation of philosophical urgings to Übermensch status as it is a parody of war, a scathing attack of the worst of Nietzsche that simultaneously adopts stylistic devices not unlike Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Moderan finds unusual grace in its over-the-top harangues—a hidden reservoir of humanity that, ironically, requires Bunch’s antihumanist narrators to discover it.
On the basis of Moderan, Bunch has acquired the reputation of being a writer’s writer, highly respected by his peers but more or less unknown to the larger genre readership ... he is a master of baroque paradox, effortlessly mixing the rhapsodic with the grotesque, the ferocious with the whimsical, in the same story, often in the same sentence ... he deploys poetic tricks—high-flown apostrophe, rampant alliteration—to evoke the strangeness of future worlds ... it...is a near-forgotten 'minor' work of the New Wave era that richly deserves rediscovery ... the narrative proceeds by lyrical leaps and picaresque digressions. Future Moderan is not really a spatiotemporal setting, not a feat of world-building at all, so much as it is a conceptual environment impressionistically evoked, an inner-spatial metaphor for modernity along the lines of J. G. Ballard’s Vermilion Sands (1971) ... For Bunch, the trappings of genre are not ends in themselves but rather serviceable means to spin out his idiosyncratic worldview. Indeed, his fictive building blocks, rather than providing the solid contours of a rigorously extrapolated world, are themselves fluid, figurative elements in a complex allegory of gender, violence, and power ... Though in some ways quaintly dated, Bunch’s novel still speaks powerfully to contemporary readers ... Plus ça change...
Although certainly a reflection of their time, David R. Bunch’s collection of short stories continues to reverberate, especially with a new introduction by Jeff VanderMeer. In the satirically hyperbolic Moderan...one can see how hilarious and disturbing Bunch found modernity when they were first published in the ’60s and ’70s ... The tales of Moderan are undeniably strange and often dense. While following a general arc, they meander from place to place, and the effect can be difficult for a casual reader to follow. The prose, both unique and poetic, captures the unhinged mind of his metal protagonist ... once you find a foothold, the story is riveting ... Moderan is a powerfully immersive book which, despite the frequent changes in scene and the ontological difficulty of dialect, is impossible to put down.
[The stories] give a strange image of post-humanity, as imagined before the e-revolution took off: cyberpunk on floppy disks ... The progenitor of cyberpunk? Bunch certainly pioneered the irreverence. What he didn’t have was any feel for 'life on the street,' since in his vision, there were no streets, let alone street-people. As a prophet, he scores low—but, thinking of sheets of plastic covering the oceans, not quite zero. Just the same, he created a classic of sci-fi history, sharp, quirky, contrarian, screaming for attention.
This new world is one of constant war and environmental devastation ... All of this makes Moderan an intense read: between the violent alienation of the setting and the hyper-stylized prose on display, it can be a lot to take in in one dose. Narrator Stronghold 10 has a distinct syntax, and Bunch immerses the reader in this new world, and in his narrator’s way of perceiving it ... Bunch’s background in poetry comes to the forefront: even as he describes the most horrific of events, there’s still an undeniable rhythm present, an adept wordplay balancing out the ugliness of the images ... perhaps the most harrowing aspect of Moderan is its immersiveness: there is no detached observer to state a rational case for de-escalation, and no higher society to calm things down. There are only the basest of desires and the most sophisticated of weapons. Regardless of the era in which we live, that’s a story that’s all too familiar.
The only problem with this collection is the unevenness a reader will feel when consuming it straight through. There is a feeling of disconnectedness in some sequences in which the tales are unrelated and some repetition among the stories. That lack of fluidity notwithstanding, this collection gives Bunch’s cybernetic vision of the future new life for a new generation of science-fiction readers. Almost a half-century after these stories were originally released, the thematic power of Bunch’s vision still resonates, the narrative equivalent of a new-metal alloy punch to the gut. A disturbing, stark, and deeply thought-provoking collection of stories chronicling humankind’s demise into heartless automatons.
Pain forms the common denominator of the late Bunch’s 58 wrenching short stories ... Bunch provides searing echoes of the Vietnam War and satiric jabs at 'take-over' wives whom the narrator banishes to the 'White Witch Valley,' all conveyed in overheated prose that suggests hippiedom’s worst excesses ... Jeff VanderMeer’s perceptive introduction, couched in Bunchian idiom, offers valuable insights. This is a steely view of a robot-dominated future.