Wednesday, 17 December 2008
‘Getting To Know You’ – David Marusek (Del Rey)
When Sue rang me up, to let me know that a book called ‘Getting To Know You’ had arrived in the post, my first thought was, “I can’t remember ordering a self help book...” I did wonder if I’d had a drunken episode on Amazon but some quick googling revealed that this was in fact a collection of science fiction so that was ok! I’ve got nothing against self help books but this blog isn’t the place for them...
Not only is ‘Getting To Know You’ a sci-fi short story collection but, weighing in at a very slender two hundred and sixty seven pages, it was just the right length for me to bump it into the reading schedule for what is becoming ‘Quick Read Week’ on the blog. I’m very glad that I did, ‘Getting To Know You’ was a superb read...
Marusek’s worlds of the future are brimming with technology designed to make things more comfortable, and enjoyable, for their human inhabitants. Occasionally this can be a good thing as the events of ‘My Morning Glory’ show, there’s nothing better at keeping those positive thoughts flowing than technology designed for that very purpose! ‘My Morning Glory’ is a very upbeat tale with advice that I’ll certainly be following,
“Forget all about focussing on this afternoon Sir, and focus on making it till ten. That’s all you have to do. Now get out there and show them what you’re made of.”
More often than not however, Marusek finds that we will inevitably react against the machinery that shapes our lives and then (because humans seem to be contrary like this) we will react against this reaction. It’s almost like we’re given utopia but won’t be satisfied until we’ve found something wrong with it (it’s either that or there’s something in us all that’s inherently uncomfortable with technology that’s advancing faster than we are)... The short stories ‘Getting To Know You’, ‘The Wedding Album’ and ‘A Boy in Cathyland’ chart the course of these reactions to rather downbeat conclusions that highlight our reliance (albeit reluctant) on the technology that sustains our society.
‘Getting To Know You’ is a collection that is ultimately about certain aspects of the human condition and Marusek explores these themes, speculating upon what it might mean to be human in the (far) future. The best example of this is the story ‘The Wedding Album’ where holographic simulations experience the passing of time and react to what this throws at them. As humanity regresses, holographic ‘life’ develops even further and Marusek uses this to show that humanity isn’t necessarily restricted to humankind. The nature of humankind itself remains as diverse as ever though and Marusek acknowledges this by taking opposing views, on solitude, in the stories ‘The Earth is on the Mend’ and ‘Listen to Me’. Nothing is ever ‘black and white’ and Marusek ably demonstrates how one man’s need can be another man’s complete aversion...
‘Getting To Know You’ is a strong collection of stories that only personal taste stops being a perfect collection (‘Cabbages and Kale, or how we downsized North America’ seemed to set itself about one thing but focussed on another aspect of the plot and this mixture didn’t work for me). The tale that really stood out for me though was ‘Yurek Rutz, Yurek Rutz, Yurek Rutz’, a haunting yet compelling (and strangely logical) tale of Alzheimer’s, cryonic storage and the protecting of Yurek Rutz’s immortal soul. Having finished the tale of Yurek Rutz I was left in awe of how well everything fitted together and I found myself hoping that it all turned out well for Yurek Rutz. Once you finish the tale you’ll understand why I’ve mentioned Yurek Rutz’ name more than once, you may even end up slipping it into conversation yourself :o) The fact that a Yurek Rutz pops up again in the next story surely cannot be coincidence.
Short story collections don’t often work for me but ‘Getting To Know You’ was a more than delightful exception. Well worth a look if you get a chance.
Nine out of Ten