Dead Neon

University of Nevada Press

Broken dreams

Isn’t it weird how every once in a while something will just appear out of the cosmos and become part of your life? My friend was walking down the street the other day, and she came across a pink and black Mustang Ranch mouse pad. She washed it, and now it occupies a prominent place in her living room—brightening her hoarder soul every time she passes it.

That’s kind of how I came across Dead Neon, which is a collection of short stories about a degenerating Las Vegas. It’s marketed as science fiction short stories, and I guess by a very broad definition, they are—although many of the pieces seem more literary fiction than science fiction. I don’t really know how the book came to be in my office. I must have seen it when it arrived, probably last year, as it was published in 2010, but I guess a mountain of papers must have avalanched because suddenly it was there and interesting, like a coin on a sidewalk.

As I said, from a structural standpoint, it’s supposed to be short futuristic stories about Sin City. I say that fully cognizant that it’s not a very accurate depiction. In some of the stories, Las Vegas seems as vibrant, if degenerate, as it ever was, and sometimes the stories don’t seem futuristic at all. It’s an extremely uneven read, but that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy every single story in the book—it’s just the nature of the beast when 14 divergent authors get put into a single collection that only sort of is what it says it is.

I get the feeling I’m not explaining this well, and maybe if I knew the back story of the collection’s creation, I could make more sense, but it feels as though somebody sent out a request for “stories about Las Vegas” and then once the stories were read, attempted to describe an overarching theme, a sort of unified theory of present-future Las Vegas that would allow the stories to be assembled into a cohesive marketing and publishing strategy with a theme like “As Las Vegas goes, so goes America” or “Vegas is a town based on constant surveillance and that’s the nation’s future” or, as the preface states, “technology trumps humanity.” But that’s pure speculation on my part, mostly predicated on the broken promises of the preface.

So, if the collection is only loosely what it says it is, then what is it? It’s a series of well-crafted stories. The authors are mostly Las Vegans—reporters and editors, professors and teachers, writers and poets—but again, I can’t figure out why some were included. Did their name have star power in circles I don’t run in, or did they go to college with an editor, or what?

These are not questions that a reader should have to ask him or herself. As I mentioned before, I enjoyed every single story in the collection. Some of the stories are post-apocalypse Las Vegas, but some could take place anywhere. For example, the book’s first story, by New York City writer Chris Niles, “Sin’s Last Stand,” is an imaginative view of a dystopian theocracy. It’s a good story, but it says nothing about Las Vegas or technology or the future of technology in Las Vegas.

Other pieces, like Lori Kozlowski’s “Nuclear Wasted Love Song” absolutely envisions a fetid American Dream based in Las Vegas where the action is fueled by the very fantasies that drive the tourists to Las Vegas today. Andrew Kiraly’s lyrically written vignettes within a story within a collection, “Your Recent Acquisitions in the Neonesqe (Microfables)” also lives up to the book’s promise.

Most readers who enjoy well-written and edited short stories will enjoy this collection. If Dead Neon suddenly appears in your life, you won’t be wasting your time by picking it up and imagining a Lost Vegas.