Christopher Brown’s Tropic of Kansas is very much the slap upside the head we need right now—a stark vision of a dystopian America that feels closer each day ... Brown’s dystopian view is rendered slightly more palatable by the action- and intrigue-packed middle section of the novel, as the rebellion races to stay one step ahead of the government. If the book wasn’t so provocative in its themes, we’d be talking about what an effective thriller it is. When it wants to be ... Brown’s vision of a deeply, deeply divided America under…let’s say controversial leadership has the ring of truth. Its stark vision won’t appeal to everyone (to put it mildly), but it’s a novel with a lot to say. This is science fiction doing the job science fiction does best: looking down a particular path, and suggesting we might want to think twice before heading that way.
Tropic Of Kansas is like a modern dystopian buffet. It plays out in a world where all of our terrors have become manifest — climate change, wealth disparity, terrorism, an authoritarian government in power suppressing its own citizens, corporate control of everything from food to media. It is, in this particular moment in history, frighteningly prescient. It is the nightly news with the volume turned up to 11 ... From about the hundredth page forward, you know how it is all going to go down. But Brown, to his credit, uses the pages given to him to paint a frighteningly believable portrait of an American future that is closer than you want it to be. He sketches small-town fury and ultra-super-uber-right-wing nationalism in detail.
Beyond the successful assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981, it’s perhaps telling that Brown doesn’t go into detail as to how his fictional United States has fallen into such a derelict state, or how its citizens could possibly allow for a fascist president to take office (not once or twice, but three times) and fill the domestic skies with killer drones. In a way, we already know the answers … Brown is at his best describing the inner workings of the resistance: the way revolutionaries carve out an independent media network, making use of charmingly outdated technology to communicate and organize offline … Brown’s economical prose style ultimately fits this narrative, and the story essentially unfolds as a road novel...If Brown’s sentences seem restrained, even ugly at times, perhaps this is because there’s not much beauty to describe in this world.
That vision will resonate with a lot of voters in the big square states, who might agree that politics offers only a choice between 'regular and decaf oligarchs,' in Mr. Brown’s phrase. As for the idea that the Constitution keeps executive power in check, that’s fine except that the law now serves power like 'the devil’s butler' ... Tropic of Kansas is good at projecting pain and bitterness. Finding a cure isn’t so easy, even for sci-fi. But the first step is recognizing that something’s wrong.
Brown brings a mordant sensibility to his depiction of a 'flyover country' that is no longer willing to have its patriotism exploited and its land degraded for other people’s profits. His characters do not easily triumph, because he respects them too much to cheapen the costs that they must bear to succeed.