Getting to Know You by Marusek, David, 2007

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From about May 1995 until mid-1997 I gave up SF novels completely. It was quite difficult to resist the siren calls of my favorite authors during those years, but I was a law student, and could afford absolutely no deviations during those first two years. The third year was different altogether, and for those of you who have gone, you well understand the aphorism about law school years. That is to say, the first year they scare you to death, the second year they work you to death, and the third year they bore you to death. Understanding the first third of that saying within the first week or so, I swore that nothing would cause me to run astray. And guess what? I stuck to it! Almost, that is. Part of survival in such a crazy environment is making yourself take back a little bit of time for quiet reflection and unwinding, even if it is a minuscule amount in comparison to your whole day. So I made a deal with myself: Give up on SF books so as to study and work as much as possible, but take 30 minutes per night to read whatever I choose. Thus I turned my attention to a style of literature that I had completely ignored before; the short story. At first I went through the usual suspects. Guy de Maupessant, Anton Chekov and O. Henry. But when I got to O. Henry's Roads of Destiny, a disguised genre tale, I thought, "Hey, I wonder what's going on in the world of SF short stories?" The next day I went out and bought Garnder Dozois' Years Best for 1994 or 1995, and until recently, haven't looked back at all. Dozois introduced me to some of my favorite new writers, whose careers and works I follow to this day with glee. Writers like Ian McDonald, and Tony Daniel, Tony Chiang and Iain M. Banks, Robert Reed, Alaister Reynolds, Charles Stross and last but certainly not least, David Marusek. It was Marusek's story in that volume, his second sale ever, called We Were Out of our Minds with Joy that really caught my attention, despite the high quality of other stories of that year. Ive been a dedicated fan of Marusek's since. To date he has only penned ten or so short stories and one novel (he's hard at work on his next book now). Finally, someone has come out with a compilation of his short stories. Subterranean Press' Getting to Know You by David Marusek gets a strong and well earned five out of five stars.

Simply stated every single solitary word of this book is pure gold that left me begging for more. Five of the stories in this book are reworked a bit in his first novel, Counting Heads. Collectively they tell a story that by Marusek's own words was inspired by Herbert's idea of the Butlerian Jihad. That motif is not only the central issue in one of the stories, but it hangs over them all, threatening to come at a moment's notice. Overall I would say that many of Marusek's stories are gadget/AI stories with a realistic and humanistic bent to them. One story (Cathyland, mentioned below) has clear post-human elements to it, though some will argue that the entire book is full of post human stories. Instead, I think the people in this book are on the verge of going post human, as their technology is so advanced and they have such fine control over their own internal biological processes, but they haven't quite gotten there yet.

The Wedding Album and A Boy in Cathyland tell the story of how our society goes to hell and the war that ensues after AI in all its various forms is emancipated. What is left in the dust is a society that summarily executes owners of high-tech merely for owning it, and encourages and rewards individuals who grow extra brain tissue and keep it in various appendages so that people on their own are capable of processing large amounts of information without machines. We Were Out of our Minds with Joy tells the story of two lovers in a thoroughly transformed society who are granted an extremely rare license to have a child. That story is absolutely beautiful in every detail, but ends on a very bitter note when fate and computer error throw the couple a curve ball that nobody ever saw coming. On its own its one of the best dystopian pieces I have ever read, in any form. As a matter of fact this story is so good that virtually every reviewer that looked at in 1995 swore that it was penned by some big name in SF who was writing under a pen-name. Nope! Jus' little ole' Marusek, living in a cabin in Arctic Alaska with his blind, deaf and incontinent dog.

Many of these stories were compiled yearly in 'Best of' collections (I had not heard of all of them until I bought this book), but I have to say that they really work even better when compiled together. As you can probably tell, several of them are not only set in the same universe, but in the same story line. Marusek had changed several for incorporation into Counting Heads, but this is essentially true. But even the stories like VTV, about opportunistic and amoral TV network personnel who are blindsided by opportunistic and exploitative pseudo-terrorist hunters, fit into the whole. Unlike Herbert, Marusek shows us what technological evils are going to come, and not only how, but why that lifestyle will create a conflict we cannot win: Because our numbers will be too few, and the resources stretched too thin.

Marusek is working on another novel right now, but has managed to put out two more stories after this book. The first one can be purchased in chapbook form from Subterranean, and is called She was Good, She was Funny. Its not a genre tale at all, but it does remind me quite a bit of something Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy would have written. The second is available on-line, for those of you who like to taste before you buy, Here. Its called Osama Phone Home, and is the first fiction ever included in the MIT Technology Review. Enjoy!

This author gets me more excited about reading and science fiction than anyone else ever has, and this is another one of those books that I think nobody should miss. As contemporary SF goes, I really cant think of anything better than Marusek's work. If you are lucky enough to get a deluxe edition of this book, you will get a bonus 11th story in chapbook form. Marusek has been publishing for over 10 years now, but despite that he has a relatively small body of work. That makes it easy for anyone who is interested to collect everything out there with little cost or fuss. Marusek is one of my favorite authors, and is one that is worth watching. I dont think that his production pace will ever pick up, as he seems to worry every detail of every story before he puts it out there for the rest of us to read. But I can smell it; he's got a masterpiece or two inside that head of his. How long we will have to wait is anybody's guess, but I predict that it (or they) eventually will come.

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)

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