Read an Excerpt
Year's Best SF 8
By David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
Bruce Sterling lives in Austin, Texas. The novel Schismatrix (1985) and the related stories that made him famous were re-released in 1996 as Schismatrix Plus. He collaborated with William Gibson on The Difference Engine (1990), became a media figure who appeared on the cover of Wired, became a journalist who wrote the exposé The Hacker Crackdown (1992), and returned his attention to science fiction in 1995, with a new explosion of stories and novels, including Heavy Weather (1994), Holy Fire (1996), and Distraction (1998). His most recent novel, Zeitgeist (2000), is fantasy. His interest in the political and cultural implications of future change has informed his work, and in his recent nonfiction book, Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years (2002), he re-imagines the future after the turn of the 21st century.
"In Paradise" was published in F&SF, a magazine that published a large number of especially good stories this year. It is a madly jolly, near-future love story, in which the machete of satire is wielded against the advent and spread of intrusion into the private lives of citizens in the name of homeland security. Certain moral and ethical problems are oversimplified so that love conquers all. It is first in this book because we found it so representative of the year 2002 and so much fun.
The machines broke down so much that it was comical, but the security people never laughed about that.
Felix could endure the delay, for plumbers billed by the hour. He opened his tool kit, extracted a plastic flask and had a solid nip of Scotch.
The Moslem girl was chattering into her phone. Her dad and another bearded weirdo had passed through the big metal frame just as the scanner broke down. So these two somber, suited old men were getting the full third degree with the hand wands, while daughter was stuck. Daughter wore a long baggy coat and thick black headscarf and a surprisingly sexy pair of sandals. Between her and her minders stretched the no man's land of official insecurity. She waved across the gap.
The security geeks found something metallic in the black wool jacket of the Wicked Uncle. Of course it was harmless, but they had to run their full ritual, lest they die of boredom at their posts. As the Scotch settled in, Felix felt time stretch like taffy. Little Miss Mujihadeen discovered that her phone was dying. She banged at it with the flat of her hand.
The line of hopeful shoppers, grimly waiting to stimulate the economy, shifted in their disgruntlement. It was a bad, bleak scene. It crushed Felix's heart within him. He longed to leap to his feet and harangue the lot of them. Wake up, he wanted to scream at them, cheer up, act more human. He felt the urge keenly, but it scared people when he cut loose like that. They really hated it. And so did he. He knew he couldn't look them in the eye. It would only make a lot of trouble.
The Mideastern men shouted at the girl. She waved her dead phone at them, as if another breakdown was going to help their mood. Then Felix noticed that she shared his own make of cell phone. She had a rather ahead-of-the-curve Finnish model that he'd spent a lot of money on. So Felix rose and sidled over.
"Help you out with that phone, ma'am?"
She gave him the paralyzed look of a coed stuck with a dripping tap. "No English?" he concluded. "Habla español, senorita?" No such luck.
He offered her his own phone. No, she didn't care to use it. Surprised and even a little hurt by this rejection, Felix took his first good look at her, and realized with a lurch that she was pretty. What eyes! They were whirlpools. The line of her lips was like the tapered edge of a rose leaf.
"It's your battery," he told her. Though she had not a word of English, she obviously got it about phone batteries. After some gestured persuasion, she was willing to trade her dead battery for his. There was a fine and delicate little moment when his fingertips extracted her power supply, and he inserted his own unit into that golden-lined copper cavity. Her display leaped to life with an eager flash of numerals. Felix pressed a button or two, smiled winningly, and handed her phone back.
She dialed in a hurry, and bearded Evil Dad lifted his phone to answer, and life became much easier on the nerves. Then, with a groaning buzz, the scanner came back on. Dad and Uncle waved a command at her, like lifers turned to trusty prison guards, and she scampered through the metal gate and never looked back.
She had taken his battery. Well, no problem. He would treasure the one she had given him.
Felix gallantly let the little crowd through before he himself cleared security. The geeks always went nuts about his plumbing tools, but then again, they had to. He found the assignment: a chi-chi place that sold fake antiques and pot-pourri. The manager's office had a clogged drain. As he worked, Felix recharged the phone. Then he socked them for a sum that made them wince.
On his leisurely way out - whoa, there was Miss Cell phone, that looker, that little goddess, browsing in a jewelry store over Korean gold chains and tiaras. Dad and Uncle were there, with a couple of off-duty cops.
Felix retired to a bench beside the fountain, in the potted plastic plants. He had another bracing shot of Scotch, then put his feet up on his toolbox and punched her number.
He saw her straighten at the ring, and open her purse, and place the phone to the kerchiefed side of her head. She didn't know where he was, or who he was. That was why the words came pouring out of him.
"My God you're pretty," he said. "You are wasting your time with that jewelry. Because your eyes are like two black diamonds."
She jumped a little, poked at the phone's buttons with disbelief, and put it back to her head.
Felix choked back the urge to laugh and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. "A string of pearls around your throat would look like peanuts," he told the phone. "I am totally smitten with you. What are you like under that big baggy coat? Do I dare to wonder? I would give a million dollars just to see your knees!"
"Why are you telling me that?" said the phone ...
Excerpted from Year's Best SF 8 by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
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