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Metatropolis
edited by John Scalzi
Subterranean Press, 264 pages

Metatropolis
John Scalzi
John Scalzi was born in 1969. His first job out of college was as a film critic at the Fresno Bee newspaper in California. Since 1998, he has been a full-time freelance writer. As well, he is the Chief Entertainment Media Critic for Official US Playstation Magazine. He lives in the small rural town of Bradford, Ohio with his wife and daughter.

John Scalzi Website
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SF Site Review: Agent to the Stars
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A review by Steven H Silver

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Originally conceived as an audio anthology, the John Scalzi-edited Metatropolis is a shared world anthology set in a future in which cities have begun to be transformed from their traditional form. Scalzi and the four other authors, Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, and Karl Schroeder, have worked together the create new types of cities which co-exist in their world of the future. Having listened to the stories as well as read them I do feel that the book works better as a traditional book than as an audio book, although that may well be a matter of preference and familiarity. The volume begins with a story that introduces one of the less familiar types of cities in the book. Jay Lake has created a vast community that stretches from Vancouver to Portland, called Cascadia. "In the Forests of the Night" posits a city that is practically camouflaged in the wooded mountains of the Pacific Northwest while making use of lava tubes beneath the surface. Given the story's primary placement, Lake's tale must not only entertain (and perhaps preach), but must also lay the groundwork for introducing the stories that are to follow. While Buckell, Bear, or Scalzi's own stories might have served to ease the reader into this new world more gradually, Lake's take of the manner in which Cascadia must deal with a charismatic outsider who can potentially damage their attempts to build a society is more like jumping into the deep end of the pool. Even as the intruder, Tygre, draws the colony's attention, a more insidious threat lurks in Cascadia.

The Detroit depicted in Tobias Buckell's "Stochasti-city" is a decrepit city surrounded even more dilapidated suburbs. When Reginald's life falls apart, his savings stolen, his payment for a job forfeited, he seeks vengeance on the shadow organization that he blames for his arrest. What he learns is that the deserted towers of Detroit are the focal point of a massive conspiracy, helped out by an ingenious method of dispersed contracting. People, many of whom appear down and out, take temporary jobs on a completely anonymous level. They may not know for whom they are working, or even the full extent of the job, instead being paid for random actions, but actions, when added to all the other anonymous actions, can result in a revolution. However, the revolution is being led by anonymous individuals who also realize that sometimes there is a need for a figure head, someone who can provide a face or a rallying point for the revolution. Even more, when someone is found with the experience and abilities that are required, that person should be used and cultivated in a permanent position.

Detroit is much more vibrant in Elizabeth Bear's "The Red in the Sky is Our Blood." Katy is hiding from her abusive, eastern European gangster husband while trying to keep herself and her step-daughter hidden. Although she has placed her daughter in a high-security crèche, she lives by a code of not trusting anyone, since anyone could be an agent for her vengeful husband. Eventually, she finds that she must trust some people, whether she wants to or not, as a clandestine group, very different from the one that Buckell postulated in "Stochasti-city," although one which shares some of their aims, decides that she is part of the key to achieving their goals.

John Scalzi injects a little humor into the book with his tale of a high-tech pig farmer with "Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis." Moving southwest from Bear and Buckell's Detroit, Scalzi settles his action in New St. Louis, a walled city surrounded by the have-nots who are on the verge of rioting. Josephine Washington is a sympathetic council woman who wants to share the city's surpluses, but not their technology with the outsiders, but the main focus is on her wastrel son, Benjy, who finds himself with the choice of becoming a farmer in a vertical sty tending genetically enhanced sheep or exile from the city. As he learns about responsibility, he also comes to realize that technology isn't entirely portable, in order for technology to be of use, the infrastructure for it must be laid first. In a collection of rather bleak stories, "Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis" is a nice change of pace.

Just as Jay Lake opened the volume with a radically different city, Karl Schroeder presents the transition to a new reality in "To Hie from Far Cilenia." Schroeder creates a virtual world overlaid on the real world and his protagonists move through that world to find Miranda's lost son and a shipment of Plutonium. Along the way, they discover a deeper virtual world which is presented as the next stage of human development. While Lake introduced the volume with a leap into the deep end, Schroeder ends the novel in the same way, positing a world substantially different from ours. It is never really clear how the events in the virtual world can influence the movement of physical objects in the real world, and readers who are also into on-line gaming may find this story stronger than those who don't game.

The stories do have a tendency to look at similar topics, although often from different points of view. The greening of cities (or ruins of cities, or, in the case of Cascadia, the citifying of the green) is a major aspect of many of the story. Reducing cities' carbon footprints is very important. Similarly, networking is an important aspect. Lake points out how in large communities, sight recognition is an invitation to failure, but both Reginald and Katy find that becoming part of something bigger than themselves is an important aspect of their lives and gives them something to live for, instead of just existing.

Copyright © 2009 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a seven-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.


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