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Quick Pick: Landscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson

Who’s Pulling Your Strings? 

M.T. Anderson’s Landscape with Invisible Hand Explores Human Culture and Economics after Alien Colonization

By Gillian King-Cargile, STEM Read Director

It’s no secret that we’re big M.T. Anderson fans. With November’s Feed: The STEM Read Experience rapidly approaching and our upcoming STEM Read Podcast interview with Anderson, we’re all firmly on Team Tobin. So it’s no surprise that we thoroughly geeked out over his latest release, Landscape with Invisible Hand (Candlewick Press).

Logline: In a not-so-far-off future, aliens -called the Vuvv- have come to Earth. Rather than invade and conqueror, these extra-terrestrials offer their miraculous technologies to Earthlings and welcome them into their universe-wide economy. What no one considers while happily accepting these cutting-edge advances, is what this tech will do to the economy. Adam, his sister, and his mother, are just one of many families who are fighting off depression, unemployment, and starvation.

It’s no spoiler when I say that accepting Vuvv tech does not go well. White-collar workers now fight over food-truck jobs and the middle class has vanished. As payment for their technologies, the Vuvv take over Earth politics and utilities, pricing the general population out of essentials like clean water and medical care. Enter Adam, a modest high-schooler attempting to use his art to help his family pay for food. Tragicomedy and post-colonization angst ensue.

This book has STEAM written all over it. Adam is a landscape artist who decides to use some fancy alien technology to live-stream dates with his girlfriend for the Vuvv. Students will be able to draw connections between Adam’s “show” and the rise of social media celebrities in our own culture. How much of what we’re seeing on Facebook and Instagram is real and how much is constructed? How many people are really #blessed?

The book is also a great way to talk about economics and financial literacy. Adam and his family have to make hard choices when humans find themselves as the “have nots” in a galactic market. Technological leaps forward always have winners and losers. Students can dig into this by researching how automation changed America’s coal and auto industries. They can also speculate on how AI will impact industries and careers of the future.

As always, M.T. Anderson’s social commentary is razor-sharp and his characters are real and relatable even in the weirdest situations. Landscape with Invisible Hand is a short and sweet 170 pages, but like all of the best books, the characters Anderson creates and the questions he raises will buzz around in your brain long after you put the book down. Sometimes the best way to look at who we really are is to see ourselves through the sensory organs of an alien.