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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

METAtropolis (audiobook) edited by John Scalzi

Up and down - the ups are solid, the downs are low, so low I nearly quit listening

METAtropolis is a collection of short stories about a fictional future world in which the United States government is much weaker and local governments have had to shoulder most of the responsibility for governing. We get to see 4 future settings in this anthology - Cascadia in the American Northwest, Detroit, New St. Louis and Scandinavia. While the U.S. government is much weaker, the role of technology has grown much stronger. There are virtual on-line worlds and cellphones are everywhere and even more plugged in than they are now. The five authors sat down and mapped out the ground rules of this future world and than separated to write their stories. John Scalzi edited the collection and was the last one to write a story. He specifically tailored his story to fill in the blanks left by the other four.

So far, so good but what about the individual stories?

What's good is pretty good, what's bad is real, real bad.

The first story is "In the Forests of the Night," by Jay Lake. It is bad. The worst of the bunch. The story concerns a messiah-like figure called Tyger Tyger who arrives at Cascadia, a city of anti-technology greens in the Cascades in the Washington/Oregon area. The messiah-figure concept was done poorly. The anti-capitalist, anti-technology, anti-religion angle was silly (for example, in one scene creationists storm the geology department of a university and kill all of the geologists). I doubt that Lake actually understands the meaning of the political term "Libertarian" and he certainly overuses the phrase "reputation economics" - in fact the concept is bantered around in the book so often that you'd think this was a new idea. Nah - just overuse of a cool-sounding phrase. The government of Cascadia is so loose and yet so complicated that it reminded me of the peasant collective government in Monty Python and the Holy Grail described by Dennis the Peasant ("Come and see the violence inherent in the system. Help! Help! I'm being repressed!"). Lake's premise that you can hide an entire city under the basalt and loam (two more overused words in this story - buy a thesaurus, man!) and keep all of the heat created by people just living hidden from heat-detecting satellites is so silly that I have to wonder why this wasn't sent back for a re-write. 1 star for this story.

The second story is set in Detroit. It is "Stochasti-City," by Tobias Bickell. I enjoyed this one. It explored the conditions of America in this world the authors created and the story was in and of itself interesting as well. 4 stars

"The Red in the Sky is Our Blood" by Elizabeth Bear is the third story. It is forgettable except that I noted that it was the victim of long soliloquies about the evils of globalization. 1 star.

"Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis" by John Scalzi is the fourth story, and in my opinion, the best of the bunch by far. It had the most important thing that any story has to have - good characters. As a bonus, the slacker is kinda likable and we do get to learn even more about the world these authors created because, as I already noted, he specifically tailored his story to fill in the blanks left by the other four. 5 stars.

"To Hide from Far Celenia" is the last story. Written by Karl Schroeder, it builds on the notion that people can and will retreat into a video game world. This is not news - people do that now with online games. There are already online economies. They'll do it even more with the addition of 3D video glasses that overlay the online world over the real one. The story just didn't really go anywhere and the authors comments on economics are a joke. Too many long monologues - at points it was like listening to a half-baked graduate dissertation on economics and computer technology. I only finished it because I had already invested so much time listening to the other stories. I have to give it 1 star.

So - 5 stories with scores of 1 + 4 + 1 + 5 + 1. That equals 12. 12/5 = 2.4

Total score: 2 out of 5 stars.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: METAtropolis.

Reviewed on January 27, 2010.

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