Saturday, August 22, 2015

METAtropolis, edited by John Scalzi

METAtropolis is a collection of five speculative fiction novellas, each written by a different author (Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, Karl Schroeder, and the editor John Scalzi) but taking a common vision of the evolution of cities as their focus. The first story ("In the Forests of the Night," by Jay Lake) is the weakest and almost prevented me from listening to the rest of the book. It features a charismatic man, Tyger Tyger, who enters Cascadiopolis (the cities of the Pacific Northwest) with the intention of taking over the city; at the same time, several other characters have plots of their own. Yet none of it really comes together.

The next two stories--"Stochasti-City" by Tobias Bickelle and "The Red in the Sky Is Our Blood" by Elizabeth Bear--are both set in Detroit and feature loner characters, a man in the former, a woman in the latter. Both characters are interesting and their eventual joining of groups that are working outside the established system to set up alternative societies allow the reader to consider ideas about how human interactions might occur in this dystopic world.

Editor Scalzi's story, "Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis" takes a different approach--looking at the options for a slacker living within the established system of New St. Louis. Benjy ends up working in a high rise pig farm--not the kind of job anyone grows up dreaming of. A friend who is living in the lawless suburbs tries to draw Benjy into a rebellion, and the results are entertaining.

The final story, "To Hie from Far Cilenia" by Karl Schroeder, imagines worlds within worlds--virtual realities where many people choose to live (or cannot figure out how to escape). A policeman is haunting the worlds searching for people who have stolen plutonium, accompanied by a woman who is looking for her son. The idea is interesting but perhaps a bit farther out than my limited imagination can go.

I would never have picked up METAtropolis if I hadn't had a $10 coupon on Audible (sometimes you have to go outside your comfort zone to find something for less than $10), but I thought the concept was intriguing and found several of the stories engaging and thought-provoking. They deal with a variety of issues, most notably environmental protection (in "Stochasti-City" a group is trying to turn Detroit into a car-free city), but also technology transfer, conflict between haves and have-nots, domestic violence, collective child-rearing, and alternative economic systems. Perusing the reviews on Amazon, I note that some reviewers find the liberal slant irritating; as a liberal, I found it wise!

Favorite passage:

Hope was not dead, but it lived in strange isolated colonies on the warm corpse of the United States.

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