J. Brad Hicks (bradhicks) wrote,
J. Brad Hicks
bradhicks

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It's like a cyberpunk "Bordertown" anthology! Scalzi et al, Metatropolis

I recently finished Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, John Scalzi, and Karl Schroeder's shared-world anthology Metatropolis (Tor, 2010, John Scalzi ed), and I have only one major complaint about it: there isn't enough of it. It arguably needed at least one, maybe two more stories in the anthology to fill in some missing plot threads. What I really want is what we eventually got out of Terry Windling, et al's Borderland, et seq. Metatropolis wants to be the first of an entire series of shared-world novels and anthologies using this setting.

I'd like to think that it could happen, because in a weird sort of a way, perhaps unconscious on the part of the authors, it has a lot in common with the Bordertown series. In a very real way, the "Metatropolis" of this book is to 3rd-wave cyberpunk what Bordertown was to 2nd-wave urban fantasy. Both are collections of very relatable characters dropped into what are, or ought by all rights to be, horrible dystopias. Both assume a collapsed, closed off economy, and neither one glosses over the suffering and hard work that goes into living in a post-economic society, into rebooting an economy almost from scratch. But in both series, because each and every one of the main characters has refused to give up, and because the people who came before them refused to give up, and because people the rest of us abandoned are open to improvisation and clinging to the hope for joy, a better world is emerging, a world that even the rich who escaped the catastrophe, whether the high elves on Dragon's Tooth Hill or the corporate barons of the free-city enclaves, are starting to envy as much as they fear it.

I really want to give you as little description of the world of Metatropolis as I can, because the setting really is the main character here, and the slow reveal of how the world works and why it works that way is one of the main joys of reading it. But just to whet your whistle: it's been about 15 years since the US government, choked of all meaningful revenue, has given up on solving problems and repairing infrastructure and enforcing the law; as long as they don't bring down the wrath of the ultra-tech US military, corporations can get away with anything in their own cities. Not entirely coincidentally, it's also been about a decade since all meaningful supplies of oil have run out and the big industrial nations, like the US and China, have switched everything over to coal-fired electricity, leading to runaway global climate disaster. Miami and Manhattan no longer exist, and presumably neither do similarly low-lying cities around the world; other coastal cities have moved inland, to the extent they could. Switching from gasoline to electricity has required jobs to concentrate back into city cores, which are entirely run by the local employers. The biggest employers are big agribusiness, who use their genetic engineering patents to control high-density skyscraper urban farms that provide most of the food and much of the raw materials for what industry remains. If you aren't wanted, you're exiled permanently into The Wilds, into rural, exurban, and outer-ring suburban America where there is no food, no electricity, no nothing ...

Except that that's not true. Because for at least a decade now, various ideologically competing gangs of cyberpunks, gene-hackers, mad scientists, and homebrew engineers have been bicycling from town to town, campsite to campsite, suburb to suburb, teaching groups of survivors to convert the abandoned buildings of the suburbs into their own zero-footprint sustainable indoor grow-farms, releasing their inventions into the Creative Commons so that anybody with a home-brew RepRap can adapt them to local conditions. Co-ops, some of them merely practical, some of them overtly political, are springing up faster than the world's largest private-security corporation can squash them. And it's dawning on more and more of the people inside the cities that the people the corporations left behind are now, increasingly, living better lives than they do. Corporations and their security contractors are cracking down harder and harder for fear that this Creative Commons attack on intellectual property values will catch on, and Big Coal is leaving the US more and more economically and diplomatically isolated; their world is collapsing just as the new technologies in the abandoned exurbs are starting to make life actually pleasant.

This really succeeded where Jetse de Vries only partially succeeded with his Shine anthology. Both books try to maintain optimism that we will solve our problems, that (as the Occupiers are chanting now), "We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!", without hand-waving away the crisis that we're in right now. But the team world-building in Scalzi, et al's Metatropolis far outstrips the individual efforts in Shine, and the characters really bring it to life in ways that most of the stories in Shine didn't quite. I want more, please!
Tags: books, science fiction
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