Not since William Gibson and Bruce Sterling galvanized science fiction in the 1980s has the emergence of a new writer been heralded with such acclaim as that attending David Marusek, whose brilliant first novel, Counting Heads, appeared to rave reviews in 2005. But Marusek did not come out of nowhere. Aficionados of the genre had already taken note of his groundbreaking short fiction: masterfully written, profoundly thought-out examinations of futures so real they seemed virtually inevitable.
Now, in this collection of ten short stories, Marusek’s fierce imagination and dazzling extrapolative gifts are on full display. Five of the stories, including the Sturgeon Award-winning “The Wedding Album,” a shattering look at the unintended human consequences of advanced technology, are set in the same future as Counting Heads. All ten showcase Marusek’s talent for literate, provocative science fiction of the very highest order.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.48(w) x 8.18(h) x 0.59(d)|
Read an Excerpt
THE WEDDING ALBUM
Anne and Benjamin stood stock-still, as instructed, close but not touching, while the simographer adjusted her apparatus, set its timer, and ducked out of the room. It would take only a moment, she said. They were to think only happy, happy thoughts.
For once in her life, Anne was unconditionally happy, and everything around her made her happier: her gown, which had been her grandmother’s; the wedding ring (how cold it had felt when Benjamin first slipped it on her finger!); her clutch bouquet of forget-me-nots and buttercups; Benjamin himself, close beside her in his charcoal gray tux and pink carnation. He who so despised ritual but was a good sport.
His cheeks were pink, too, and his eyes sparkled with some wolfish fantasy. “Come here,” he whispered. Anne shushed him; you weren’t supposed to talk or touch during a casting; it could spoil the sims. “I
can’t wait,” he whispered, “this is taking too long.” And it did seem longer than usual, but this was a professional simulacrum, not some home-made snapshot.
They were posed at the street end of the living room, next to the table piled with brightly wrapped gifts. This was Benjamin’s townhouse;
she had barely moved in. All her treasures were still in shipping shells in the basement, except for the few pieces she’d managed to have unpacked: the oak refectory table and chairs, the sixteenth-century
French armoire, the cherry wood chifforobe, the tea table with inlaid top, the silvered mirror over the fire surround. Of course, her antiques clashed with Benjamin’s contemporary—and rather common—decor,
but he had promised her the whole house to redo as she saw fit. A
“How about a kiss?” whispered Benjamin.
Anne smiled but shook her head; there’d be plenty of time later for that sort of thing.
Suddenly, a head wearing wraparound goggles poked through the wall and quickly surveyed the room. “Hey, you,” it said to them.
“Is that our simographer?” Benjamin said.
The head spoke into a cheek mike, “This one’s the keeper,” and withdrew as suddenly as it had appeared.
“Did the simographer just pop her head in through the wall?” said
“I think so,” said Anne, though it made no sense.
“I’ll just see what’s up,” said Benjamin, breaking his pose. He went to the door but could not grasp its handle.
Music began to play outside, and Anne went to the window. Her view of the garden below was blocked by the blue-and-white-striped canopy they had rented, but she could clearly hear the clink of flatware on china, laughter, and the musicians playing a waltz. “They’re starting without us,” she said, happily amazed.
“They’re just warming up,” said Benjamin.
“No, they’re not. That’s the first waltz. I picked it myself.”
“So let’s waltz,” Benjamin said and reached for her. But his arms passed through her in a flash of pixelated noise. He frowned and examined his hands.
Anne hardly noticed. Nothing could diminish her happiness. She was drawn to the table of wedding gifts. Of all the gifts, there was only one—a long flat box in flecked silver wrapping—that she was most keen to open. It was from Great-Uncle Karl. When it came down to it,
Anne was both the easiest and the hardest person to shop for. While everyone knew of her passion for antiques, few had the means or expertise to buy one. She reached for Karl’s package, but her hand passed right through it. This isn’t happening, she thought with gleeful horror.
That it was, in fact, happening was confirmed a moment later when a dozen people—Great-Uncle Karl, Nancy, Aunt Jennifer, Traci,
Cathy and Tom, the bridesmaids and others, including Anne herself,
and Benjamin, still in their wedding clothes—all trooped through the wall wearing wraparound goggles. “Nice job,” said Great-Uncle Karl,
inspecting the room, “first rate.”
“Ooooh,” said Aunt Jennifer, comparing the identical wedding couples, identical but for the goggles. It made Anne uncomfortable that the other Anne should be wearing goggles while she wasn’t. And the other Benjamin acted a little drunk and wore a smudge of white frosting on his lapel. We’ve cut the cake, she thought happily, although she couldn’t remember doing so. Geri, the flower girl in a pastel dress, and
Angus, the ring bearer in a miniature tux, along with a knot of other dressed-up children, charged through the sofa, back and forth, creating pyrotechnic explosions of digital noise. They would have run through
Benjamin and Anne, too, had the adults allowed. Anne’s father came through the wall with a bottle of champagne. He paused when he saw
Anne but turned to the other Anne and freshened her glass.
“Wait a minute!” shouted Benjamin, waving his arms above his head. “I get it now. We’re the sims!” The guests all laughed, and he laughed too. “I guess my sims always say that, don’t they?” The other
Benjamin nodded yes and sipped his champagne. “I just never expected to be a sim,” Benjamin went on. This brought another round of laughter,
and he said sheepishly, “I guess my sims all say that, too.”
The other Benjamin said, “Now that we have the obligatory epiphany out of the way,” and took a bow. The guests applauded.
Cathy, with Tom in tow, approached Anne. “Look what I caught,”
she said and showed Anne the forget-me-not and buttercup bouquet. “I
guess we know what that means.” Tom, intent on straightening his tie,
seemed not to hear. But Anne knew what it meant. It meant they’d tossed the bouquet. All the silly little rituals that she had so looked forward to.
“Good for you,” she said and offered her own clutch, which she still held, for comparison. The real one was wilting and a little ragged around the edges, with missing petals and sprigs, while hers was still fresh and pristine and would remain so eternally. “Here,” she said,
“take mine, too, for double luck.” But when she tried to give Cathy the bouquet, she couldn’t let go of it. She opened her hand and discovered a seam where the clutch joined her palm. It was part of her. Funny, she thought, I’m not afraid. Ever since she was little, Anne had feared that some day she would suddenly realize she wasn’t herself anymore. It was a dreadful notion that sometimes oppressed her for weeks: knowing you weren’t yourself. But her sims didn’t seem to mind it. She had about three dozen Annes in her album, from age twelve on up. Her sims tended to be a morose lot, but they all agreed it wasn’t so bad, the life of a sim, once you got over the initial shock. The first moments of disorientation are the worst, they told her, and they made her promise never to reset them back to default. Otherwise, they’d have to work everything through from scratch. So Anne never reset her sims when she shelved them. She might delete a sim outright for whatever reason,
but she never reset them, because you never knew when you’d wake up one day a sim yourself. Like today.
The other Anne joined them. She was sagging a little. “Well,” she said to Anne.
“Indeed!” replied Anne.
“Turn around,” said the other Anne, twirling her hand, “I want to see.”
Anne was pleased to oblige. Then she said, “Your turn,” and the other Anne modeled for her, and she was delighted how the gown looked on her, though the goggles somewhat spoiled the effect. Maybe this can work out, she thought, I am enjoying myself so. “Let’s go see us side-by-side,” she said, leading the way to the mirror on the wall.
The mirror was large, mounted high, and tilted forward so you saw yourself as from above. But simulated mirrors cast no reflections, and
Anne was happily disappointed.
“Oh,” said Cathy, “Look at that.”
“Look at what?” said Anne.
“Grandma’s vase,” said the other Anne. On the mantel beneath the mirror stood Anne’s most precious possession, a delicate vase cut from pellucid blue crystal. Anne’s great-great-great-grandmother had commissioned the Belgian master, Bollinger, the finest glass maker in sixteenth-century Europe, to make it. Five hundred years later, it was as perfect as the day it was cut.
“Indeed!” said Anne, for the sim vase seemed to radiate an inner light. Through some trick or glitch of the simogram, it sparkled like a lake under moonlight, and, seeing it, Anne felt incandescent.
After a while, the other Anne said, “Well?” Implicit in this question was a whole standard set of questions that boiled down to—shall
I keep you or delete you now? For sometimes a sim didn’t take. Sometimes a sim was cast while Anne was in a mood, and the sim suffered irreconcilable guilt or unassuagable despondency and had to be mercifully destroyed. It was better to do this immediately, or so all the Annes had agreed.
And Anne understood the urgency, what with the reception still in progress and the bride and groom, though frazzled, still wearing their finery. They might do another casting if necessary. “I’ll be okay,” Anne said. “In fact, if it’s always like this, I’ll be terrific.”
Anne, through the impenetrable goggles, studied her. “You sure?”
“Sister,” said the other Anne. Anne addressed all her sims as “sister,”
and now Anne, herself, was being so addressed. “Sister,” said the other Anne, “this has got to work out. I need you.”
“I know,” said Anne, “I’m your wedding day.”
“Yes, my wedding day.”
Across the room, the guests laughed and applauded. Benjamin—
both of him—was entertaining, as usual. He—the one in goggles—
motioned to them. The other Anne said, “We have to go. I’ll be back.”
Great-Uncle Karl, Nancy, Cathy and Tom, Aunt Jennifer, and the rest, left through the wall. A polka could be heard playing on the other side. Before leaving, the other Benjamin gathered the other Anne into his arms and leaned her backward for a theatrical kiss. Their goggles clacked. How happy I look, Anne told herself. This is the happiest day of my life.
Then the lights dimmed, and her thoughts shattered like glass.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Short stories that riff on Marusek's themes from his novels. Excellent.
This collection of short stories is roughly divided between stories that are his future history stories and one that are independent of that chronology. There were a few stories that were not to my taste, but his future timeline stories are all excellent IMO. I do strongly recommend reading this collection before reading his novels, both of which are also excellent. His vision of how technology and society changes is scary, compelling and realistic all at once. His array of clone types (Russ, Jerry, Evangeline, John, etc) to provide a workforce that is as standardized as possible is so well thought out, you'd think Marusek has seen it. The development of AI's as personal assistants, a world in which even moderately powerful people have their own information networks. I can't wait to see what he does next.