A Science Fiction Thriller about you – on Automatic
Mature-content Rating: PG-13 (coarse language and sexual references)
Do you ever feel bogged down by technology? There have been so many advancements recently that make it easier to connect with people. Facebook and Twitter have taken a running leap off of the social networking ledge, hoping someone with catch them… and so many people have. Social networking has attracted everyone from the 10 year old kid looking to stay in touch with friends when they aren’t together to the 80 year old lady reconnection with friends and family she hasn’t seen in years, or decades. This is great, but sometimes it can get a bit much. Sometimes we see that list of 100+ emails, or scroll through pages of new posts on Facebook or Twitter and before you know it, the day is gone. David Wailing says, “Have no fear! Auto is here!” This is a near-future science fiction thriller that is so believable, it’s scary. In the world of Auto everyone has a computer. No, not those old clunky laptops (gross! Those things have physical keyboards and are so heavy!) but computers embedded in sunglasses or hanging in the air as paper-thin machines. The most impressive thing is not the computers, but the people behind them. Everyone’s profile is in “the cloud” and these personal computers work furiously to deal with internet traffic sent to you, automatically. No more wading through pages of junk mail, keeping your Facebook friend list up-to-date, or deciding which tweets are important enough to pay attention to. Your Auto will manage, categorize, and give you everything you need from the most important to the least. With so many things happening automatically, how much of your on-line identity are you really in control of, and how much is controlled by the internet itself? Will this new technology make your life easier, or change it completely? Find out in Auto.
Right off the bat, I fell in love with the concepts that this book puts forth. Letting your “auto” compute your “compatibility index” with someone before going out with them, or being able to tell if someone is gay/straight, in a relationship/single before even talking to them is wonderful. It has been said that science fiction is meant to send messages of what is good/bad in our society today, and Auto definitely does this. Having someone’s “paedophile index” go up because they happen to walk past an elementary school to and from work every day, or getting hate-mail automatically plastered all over the internet because you are in a relationship with a “foreigner” says a lot about some of the social profiling issues that we face in the world today. I will say no more regarding specifics (to prevent spoilers) but it must be said that the magic of tech, and how it relates to the near-future world portrayed, is magnificent.
Not all of the stories in this collection implement the same things, but many of them share similarities. Many of the stories use computer (auto) status updates speckled throughout to increase suspense. It is almost like watching a progress bar, which in itself isn’t that thrilling, but when the needle reaches 90%, whether you’re installing a program/OS or downloading a movie, there is a thrill that finally you will reach the end. A computer telling you that there is 25%… 32%… 45%… 66%… 83%… 91% that you are going to die will put anyone on the edge of their seat, watching the number climb higher and higher, the story unfolding in a pleasant climax. The waves are rising higher and higher in front of you, and there is no way out, but once they come crashing down, a settling calm washes over you. The suspense builds until you can’t stand it any more, and then it breaks with such a glorious conclusion that you have to sigh, or smile, watching the rainbow revealed after the storm. This (for me) was the selling feature of Auto.
Each story has good pacing, one building on the the concepts of the last. Not only is each story paced well, but the collection as a whole is built in such a way that by the end you will be shaking your head in awe of the magic therein. At first, I was reading a bunch of little stories from different characters in the same universe, and it was wonderful… then something changed. I will not spoil the magic, but the best I can say is that the stories may be more connected that it initially seems. This surprised me, especially since each story was released individually to start out with. They are great on their own, but reading this collection as a cohesive whole is the only real way to give it justice.
With all of this, is there anything more to say? I usually like to talk about general concepts in my reviews, but certain elements of the auto universe were so beautifully implemented that they deserve specific attention. As I have mentioned, the tech in general is absolutely brilliant and makes the world come alive. Specific things that really sold it for me were people being able to “sim” certain things in their lives. Everything from going to a friend’s party to having sex can be simulated, giving a whole new meaning to social networking. A particularly magical and often humorous implementation of this is that dead people do not die. No body? No problem. So many people are doing things online that dead people can still go to parties, make friends online, and talk to you. Wonder what your dead father would think about this new guy you are dating? No problem. Just ask his computer. It lives on, emulating him as perfectly as it did when he was alive.
A lot of the bad is a bi-product of the format choice of this collection. There was some magic in the individual stories holding their own, yet being knit together all at the same time. Despite this, certain elements of the collection could have been stronger if it was told as one long and flowing story. I do not necessarily suggest a format change to be the solution, because I enjoyed it the way it was formatted, but… well, let me try to explain. There is only so much room when telling a short story. Only a certain number of words can be dedicated to back-story and prose. Because of this, certain scenes were completely skipped over and talked about later as if they happened. This was surprisingly not as bad as it could have been and, though it was tell vs. show, it was not horrendous. I do, however, feel that certain scenes or back-story elements would have been stronger if they were fully fleshed out instead of skipped and skimmed over. In order to do this properly, a lot of words would need to be added to this collection, but since when is more of a good thing bad? 😉
I liked some of the stories more than other, but as a whole, the Auto collection is wonderful. It is a flavourful near-future science fiction short story collection that not only works as individual stories, but works even better as a packaged whole. The tech is fearfully realistic and the suspense will keep you turning the pages until there are none left. If you like science fiction, thrillers, wonderfully crafted plot, humorous dialogue, and an all around delightful page-turner, this book is for you.
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