A Good Old-Fashioned Future

The Bruce Sterling series concludes. I’ve read other Sterling works but made no notes on them.

Raw Feed (2000): A Good Old-Fashioned Future, Bruce Sterling, 1999.Good Old Fashioned Future

Maneki Neko” — A bizarre, comedic look at a future Japanese “gift economy” organized efficiently and incorruptibly by vast databases and artificial intelligences. Hero Tsuyoshi Shimizu, who makes a living converting obsolete formatted video recordings to new formats, occasionally sends an interesting bit of recording to special databases, interested companies, and newsgroups via the Internet. In exchange, those coordinating AI’s and databases take care of him by sending him odd, cryptic instructions on his pokkecon (with its cartoon characters it’s an oh-so-Japanese combination phone and personal digital assistant) which lead to all kinds of economic and social goodies or facilitate giving those to someone else. Things become comical when Tsuyoshi does a favor for his wife, a collector of the cat charm – the Maneki Neko – of the title. He crosses paths with Louise Hashimoto, a federal prosecutor from the U.S., who rather hysterically declares the gift economy is a vast criminal conspiracy. She broke part of a gift network, accessed its coordinating server, and now is the subject of a barrage of ingenious, varied forms of harassment. Tsuyoshi’s “digital panarchies … polycephalous, integrated influence networks” threaten all those countries who want to tax his income and benefits. Hashimoto says he lives on kickbacks and bribes. She says his economy is undermining the “lawful, government-approved, regulated economy”. He responds that maybe his economy is better. And maybe it is. It rescues Hashimoto from a mob (which it creates) and may lead to the marriage of Tsuyoshi’s brother and Hashimoto. However, the last line of the story carries an ironic sting: “Then he sat down again and waited patiently for someone to come and give him freedom.” The gift economy comes at a loss of privacy and servitude to the impersonal, computer coordinating apparatus.

Big Jelly”, Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker — Crossbreed a social commentary on high-tech startup companies with a Texas tall tale, filter the mix through Sterling’s acute sense of observation on mores, politics, and the street’s use of manners, add some Rucker strangeness and comedy, and you get this odd, pleasing tale of Urschleim (perhaps the first form of life which has become all others) from Texas oil wells. There are also artificial jellyfishes and their homosexual creator – a mathematician desperate for a stake in a successful, high-tech company and an older man to take care of him, and a young Texas oil scion desperate to start a new family fortune. The characterization, social observation (lots of attention to dress and consumer products), and comedy were all good. I liked the technical details of jellyfishes, natural and artificial. Rucker and Sterling almost make the notion of artificial jellyfishes desirable. Certainly jellyfish fan Tug Mesoglea has better ideas than the inventive, quick-witted, but somewhat wacky, futurist Edna Sydney who suggests fake jellyfish as beach toys and fashion accessories (which Tug likes). The story takes an apocalyptic turn at the end. Revel’s Urshleim turns out to be the by product of a gene-engineered bacteria eating up the Texas oil reservoir. However, our heroes are in on the ground floor of a new “paradigm”. The slime gives off helium and uses cold fusion. Continue reading

The Hollow Earth

Obviously, the Hollow Earth series is continuing.

Raw Feed (2005): The Hollow Earth: The Narrative of Mason Algiers Reynolds of Virginia, Rudy Rucker, 1990.hollow-earth 

I didn’t care for this novel very much.

First off, I’ve never been keen on the lost race/primitive alien culture story which is what you get when the narrator and Edgar Allan Poe reach the Hollow Earth.

Second, I was bored by all the details of that Hollow Earth. I didn’t even bother to follow all the details of the central Anomaly and Mirror Earths. Rucker’s afterword says it is a description of an Einstein-Rosen bridge which is also mentioned in Rucker’s non-fiction The Fourth Dimension.

The only thing I really liked about the book was its description of the alternate Poe as a con-artist and counterfeiter and how bits of Poe and his language (particularly “Berenice” and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym) are worked in to Rucker’s story.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

Reviews of Poe-related material is indexed at the Poe page.

What Might Have Been, Vol. 2

The Raw Feed series on this classic alternate history anthology series continues.

Raw Feed (1991): What Might Have Been, Volume 2: Alternate Heroes, eds. Gregory Benford and Martin H. Greenberg, 1990.Alternate Heroes

A Sleep and a Forgetting”, Robert Silverberg — Anothery story by the very prolific Silverberg using his historical knowledge. Here Genghis Khan was captured as a young man by Byzantine traders and Christianized. Our staid linguist protagonist Joe decides to have some fun and launches on an historical power trip. Using relay satellites within Mercury’s orbit which send messages back in time, he inspires Khan to become a Christian conqueror against the approaching Moslems. The consequences are left to the reader’s imagination making this a peculiarly underdeveloped alternate history. Still, it was interesting.

The Old Man and C”, Shelia Finch — An alternate history which presupposes Albert Einstein took up the violin instead of physics. (The title is a nice pun on the musical note (and the variable c in E=mc2.) Despite his success, he has the nagging impression (reinforced by the constant references to light in the story and Einstein’s fascination with it) that his life took a wrong turn, that he was destined for bigger things. At his life’s end, as atom bombs enter his world, as his physicist son tells him of the new theory of relativity, his mind wanders and he clearly grasps, intuitively, the new physics. A grim, depressing, poignant story that reminds us of the “dark waters of the soul” where sharks swim to steal our dreams and destiny.

The Last Article”, Harry Turtledove — An elegant, simple story that makes a profound political point. Nazis invade India; Gandhi tries his passive resistance routine on them; he and his followers are shot. As Field Marshal Walther Model tells Gandhi, before the latter is executed, passive resistance only works in a regime ruled by conscience, capable of shame. A certain type of morality must be present, a certain concern for the oppressed must exist before passive resistance can work. In short, only societies that are already somewhat good can be reformed this way. The truly bad aren’t impressed. Continue reading

Questionable Practices

a2fb17d09dfdf7d596b6e6d6951434d414f4141I decided my science fiction genre education was lacking without reading some of the acclaimed Eileen Gunn.

Review: Questionable Practices by Eileen Gunn, 2014.

Titling a collection “Questionable Practices” is just asking for it.

 I, however, am a kind reviewer not given to snarky comments. I will not sacrifice accuracy for cheap sarcasm.

It is a clever title, though. Would that all the stories were clever or funny. Continue reading