Fiction I’ve been reading, mostly
Metatropolis edited by John Scalzi (Tor, 2009)
Five authors, Jay Lake, Tobias S. Bucknell, Elizabeth Bear, Karle Schroeder, and John Scalzi created a shared world, and then constructed mutually consistent stories. Altogether, much better than a collection of unrelated stories, and an all star team, to boot.
The Metatropolis is sort of what “occupy wall street” should have been (notably, this was written before the occupy demonstrations), with themes of sustainable/decentralized/open technology; operating outside and overlaying the formal power structures; mainly “reputation-based” economies.
These stories are far from utopian, there is plenty of conflict, for both base and noble reasons. Few people are happy, some are miserable.
We get lot’s of arresting images of technologies, societies, and events. An episode where genetically enhanced crops are “liberated” via a fleet of drones was memorable.
One of the stories also has an interesting Alternate Reality Game (ARG), which overlays real land and metacities with a virtual city. This was even more interesting, because there is an ARG nested within (accessible only through) the ARG, and, indeed, an ARG nested in the nested ARG.
This is a fascinating idea, clearly analogous to the layers of virtuality inside most software, extended all the way to the human interfaces (i.e., “the future of work” is “frictionless marketing your skills”, without barbaric relics such as “jobs” or “contracts”)
The ARGs can touch on the “real world” in various hidden ways (as seen in other tales such as Halting State by Stross and This is Not A Game by Walter Jon Williams). An arresting image in this story is one ARG that is completely self sufficient, controlling its own energy, food, and fabrication economy.
This concept makes sense both ways: it lays a culture over the economy to enforce the needed discipline (i.e., use only the in-game resources), and, as the story suggests, it also let’s “more than one world” exist in the same place and time. Interesting.
This is a fascinating idea, though who knows if it is worth the trouble? Recursion is hard work, so I don’t think it is humanly possible to create and deal with more than necessary levels of overlay.
On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee (Riverhead Books, 2014)
An interesting story about a future world that is far too easily recognized in today’s emerging oligarchy: gated communities for the rich, most people left adrift in climate ravaged wildlands.
The story of the young woman Fan is fairly simple, as she seeks her missing lover. But the writing is complex and beautiful, but maddening. Fan is faced in one of many tense situations, but we are led on a long, poetic consideration of other topics before we can read what happens next.
At times, I was tempted to skip ahead. But the writing is so very good, and the situation so deep and complex, I was glad to work through it.
Naturally, we grow to really care about Fan, and the people she influences. She has a remarkable calm and patience, and an astonishing fundamental goodness, amid her terrifying and horrible circumstances. We can’t know her whole future, but we ache for her to be safe and happy.
One of he best stories I’ve read in 2014.
The Bend of the World by Jacob Bacharach (W. W. Norton & Company, 2014)
Strange doings in Pittsburgh, PA.
A story with positively a 1970’s feel, with all our old favorites of the New Age, up to date via the Internet. Drugs have got a lot more complex, though casual overuse thereof is pretty much unchanged by the decades.
(But why are we still interested in Nazis, UFOs, even Orgone Accumulators, and the other childish nonsense from the twentieth century? C’mon, man. We have Google/Apple/etc. literally taking over our entire lives, why do we care about low tech Illuminati nonsense?
The narrator Peter Morrison deals with weirdness on many fronts; a pointless but sinister job, weird family history, and old and new friends, in a mystically enhanced Pittsburgh that certainly resembles the city one can visit. What’s going on is not at all clear.
Stuff happens, but it’s hard to say what exactly is going on or why. Perhaps that’s the point, I dunno.
Bacharach uses a brisk style, laced with lots of snide commentary which kept me reading. One memorable aside:
“I flirted with [designing my own major] in college, a tantalizing prospect that involved movies and books and trips abroad, which amused my dad and infuriated my mother, who’d suggested that I might also design my own funding mechanism for tuition, which in turn sent me scuttling back to econ. In retrospect, in made no difference: economics was a far more elaborate fake than anything an undergraduate could come up with on his own; it inhabited a world of Tolkienian depth and ingenuity, a mythic creation with its own gods and greater and lesser spirits and heroes and conflicts and magic: a monument of imaginative world creation.” (p. 131)
Can you tell he studied English and business?
Fun stuff, but I was left wanting more. Perhaps this is a promise of future stories.