Friday, October 30

Issac Asimov's Utopias - Gardner Doizois + Sheila Williams (eds)

The collection of not-quite-Utopian-for-everyone FSF shorts covers a variety of potential perfect worlds and asks what happens if the fit isn't perfect for you. In "Mountain Ways" Ursula Le Guin explores a mountain-dwelling society where group marriage is not only the norm but a requirement - two men, two women, one marriage - and where one woman finds men wholly repellent. In addition to the interesting premise (which was also the basis of Neanderthal culture in sawyer's parallax trilogy), I'm happy to have been introduced to the concept of moiety,

In "Out of Touch" Brian Stableford looks at an unexplored aspect of immortality - what happens to the last mortals, too old for treatment to prevent aging? Jake's son and daughter-in-law don't understand him and have little patience, his beloved wife and most of the few friends he had are dead, and nothing much gives him any pleasure until he hitches a ride with another old man. I hope any longer works by this author have at least a little lightness because, though eminently readable and quite interesting, "Out of Touch" was not exactly uplifting.

In "Getting to Know You" by David Marusek, Zoranna is testing a new interactive AI belt while visiting her sister Nancy in Indiana. Though instructed to return the belt because of unexpected glitches int he programming, Zoe decides to hold on to it for a while, and discovers having someone (or something) in your life that knows you better than yourself is a profoundly disquieting experience. This plot is interwoven with a really interesting, rather depressing view of the future, a dysfunctional family relationship, and a frightening glimpse into what might happen to us when current careers become obsolete.

Like "Out of Touch," Mike Resnick's "One Perfect Morning, With Jackals" is about a father/son relationship where communication and acceptance are not a two-way process. A creature of Ngai, a Kikuyu, Koriba has taken the African name his son has discarded (for his more Western middle name, Edward) and is leaving Earth for a colony that will return to traditional customs and beliefs, leaving behind a white-dominated world that acknowledges artificial national boundaries and identities instead of tribal mores. he will also be leaving behind a son of whom he's proud, but who he does not understand. This is apparently a prequel to a string of stories about Kirinyaga, an attempt at Utopian recreation of a Kenyan-based space colony. I enjoyed this one but not enough to seek out the stories it precedes.

In "Canary Land" Tom Purdom's protagonist George has left Earth for the moon, but he has only limited resources and has to rely on a download music program for a living. When heavies pressure him into infiltrating an isolation zone, where new animals, plants and insects are quarantined for years to ensure they pose no harm to the moon's delicate biosphere, he does so knowing he may end up quarantined himself.

Steven Dedman's "Transit" is an adolescent, cross-cultural love story. Aisha, an Islamic girl, is travelling with her father from al-Goharan to Earth to make hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca every Muslim ought to make during their lifetime. Alex lives on da Vinci and e has never thought about worlds different than er own - the novelty of a monosexed person is interesting, but even before e discovered that, e was attracted to Aisha. I think I enjoyed this short story, and the complex world building that underlies it, the most of the collection, and hope there's a longer tale set in this universe.

"Smart Alec" by Kage Baker is the story of a small boy, neglected by his wealthy parents but cosseted by his carers, who at the age of four is taken from the yacht that is the only home he's ever known and plunked into London. An exceptional child, he adapts to the new rules and ends up turning a monitoring AI toy into something quite different. "Smart Alec" is perhaps the most intriguing story in this collection, combining both the frightening end point of a nanny state with a really devastating portrait of what happens when self-absorbed adults decide to reproduce. It ends on a point that could be a very interesting new plot, and the whole thing would be a great starting point for a novel-length work.

I'm not sure why I lost interest by the time I got to "Nevermore" by Ian R MacLeod and "Bicycle Repairman" by "Bruce Sterling." I suspect it's in part because I bolted the whole anthology, a genre better dipped in and out of, but also because so many dystopian vision among apparently Utopian worlds was a little exhausting. While I could see how some of the worlds would be Utopian, at least for some, others seemed fairly unpleasant for the majority. - Alex

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