Originally published in science-fiction magazines in the 1960s and '70s and now assembled here, these stories contain the world of Moderan, where machine-men wage perpetual war with one another and their own "flesh-strips" and humans as we now know them fade into history.
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...