(This review first appeared on StaticMultimedia.com on May 11, 2009)
If the Roman Empire had been built with advanced technology, its fall would look much like David Marusek’s vision of the future. The ten stories in this collection give readers tantalizing looks at possible future technology, its application in everyday life, and its social/political implications.
In Marusek’s future vision, people have so long indulged in artificially sustained longevity and rejuvenation that the natural human condition has become something alien and detestable. Population growth is almost zero because natural procreation has been outlawed. Evolution, both physical and spiritual at a standstill, humans have become blander and more mechanical than their tech-generated proxy alter egos.
The title story “Getting to Know You,” buried toward the back of the book, is the best and leanest look at Marusek’s near-future landscape. Set in 2062, it follows a woman on a visit to sister who has opted out on procedures that guarantee longevity. She plans to force her sister to enter a rejuvenation clinic. The compassion of her goal is called into question, not by her own conscience, but by her new “belt valet”—a portable, personal assistant A.I. that shapes itself to the needs of the owner. “Getting to Know You” is a good introduction to the rest of the volume; if after reading it, you’re eager for more of Marusek’s dismal outlook on the future, you can back track to “The Wedding Album” and “We Were Out Of Our Minds With Joy,” both broader and much longer looks at this same world.
“VTV,” a look at the future of TV journalism, stands out from the other stories, although the forewarning by the author’s foreword should be heeded by more sensitive readers. Some gruesome details make this a stomach-turning read, but even more disturbing is the similarity to disturbing trends in today’s news media and their reliance on ratings-driven, sensationalized stories.
All but one of the stories predates his first novel Counting Heads, published in 2005. The sequel, Mind Over Ship, was released earlier this year. As Marusek says in his introduction, “the pieces in this collection document my development as a writer.” It would more accurate to say it documents the development of his novels. While this retrospective serves well to chronicle Marusek’s meticulous world building for his longer fiction, “Getting to Know You” is not a collection for readers seeking variety.