Review: Metatropolis by Lake, Buckell, Bear, Scalzi and Schroeder
The Tor edition of Metatropolis was released last week, and it’s a book very much worthy of entering its third incarnation. The edition pictured above was released by Subterranean Press last summer and this collection started as a production for Audible in 2008. I bought both of those previous versions.
The stories in this collection share a world. It’s a world where ubiquitous computing, augmented reality and other technologies have enabled the implementation of experimental social structures. These are NOT, as is stated in more than one story, utopias, but practical systems that might eventually offer a better way of life for their participants.
In the Forests of the Night by Jay Lake
This works fairly well as a straightforward spy story. It also does a great job of introducing many of the ideas and technology shared by all the stories. More so than the other stories it makes clear that there are powers in this world other than the city states that dominate this collection. Traditional governments and large corporations still exist, but they’re on no more than an even footing with the “civilization 2.0” that’s popping up like mushrooms in this future. This story draws many parallels between political structures of the last century and the social networks of now. I find it quite interesting how at there seems to be a scale (network size or population) where the ideas really mesh.
Stochasti-City by Tobias S. Buckell
This takes the idea of the Mechanical Turk and has a field day with it. I’d not thought about how terrorism and urban warfare could be viewed through this lens. The story touches on these ideas, but it gets REALLY good when a combination of flash mobs and social engineering bring a city to its knees. Three cheers for jump starting a sustainable future, using loop holes in international law. The character arc of the protagonist was more of a hockey stick than an arc, but overall the story was strong enough to stand on its own.
The Red in the Sky is Our Blood by Elizabeth Bear
This story REALLY got me thinking about how many sustainable ideas are difficult to achieve without the existence of a capitalist/industrial structure to build off of. This is the stuff that GREAT science fiction is made of. The story itself involves the protagonist’s introduction into a meritocratic society. The events of the story bring into question the viability of the particular social experiment that nonetheless triumphs in the short-term. This story is the pragmatically optimistic heart of the collection.
Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis by John Scalzi
This was a simple story, told with the humor I’ve come to expect from Scalzi. Here we have a city where you are either gainfully employed or deported and the privileged slacker that has to learn the consequences of his actions. I like the speculative elements – genetically engineered livestock used for significantly more than food and the very real question of how to introduce any type of technology into a society with out the resources to make use of it. I found the story itself startlingly predictable, yet oddly satisfying.
To Hie from Far Cilenia by Karl Schroeder
This was unquestionably my favorite of the lot. The main plot follows an Eastern European investigator attempting to track down some stolen nuclear material. The investigation leads into a series of nested alternate reality games that make extensive use of the augmented reality glasses we’ve seen in other stories. To an extent this story is an allegory which describes the theme of the entire collection. This story appeals to the MMO gamer in me, the part of me that loves a good mystery and the part of me that gets frustrated by the very concept of geo-political borders. This is what you’d get if the China Miévile that wrote The City & The City tried his had at cyberpunk.
I’d have loved to see Bacigalupi or Doctorow’s take on this world as they seem to have written more about these ideas than the authors in the collection. I guess that’s another way of saying read them if you like this and vice versus. The audio production was top notch across the board. I highly recommend this collection, particularly to fans of near future science fiction.