‘The Greenman Watches the Black Bar Go Up, Up, Up’ by Jacques Barcia
This is an interesting story primarily for what de Vries’s says about it in his introduction rather in its own right. He describes it as his “ideal” and continues:
It is complex yet recognisable, it is exotic yet familiar, it exhumes mystery while shedding new light on old tropes, and its progress is very hard fought, at every level. Yes, the world is – or may be – a better place, but not before we have worked and thought very hard to get there.
A lot of this has an empty ring to it, it sounds good but what does it actually mean? “Exhumes mystery”? It is obvious, however, that de Vries believes progress will be hard and that fiction must reflect this. But this sentiment stands in marked contrast to his facile opening story, ‘The Earth Of Yunhe’. Nor am I convinced ‘The Greenman Watches the Black Bar Go Up, Up, Up’ is much better in this respect.
The Greenman is Inácio Lima, “soldier-turned-analyst”, a revolutionary in the Green War who – having won – returns to his home town of Recife, Brasil to become a sustainability consultant. The story starts as he is employed by a group of anonymous teens to perform ethical due diligence on a company they are interested in investing in. It is a nicely understated premise but unfortunately lacks any tension in its resolution. Inacio makes a couple of phonecalls, goes to visit a few people; this allows Barcia to fill us in on his world and background in a way which very much falls into the category of worthy but dull.
Then Inácio’s dead husband Lúcio turns up. Before the reader has much chance to ponder this strange development, Barcia rushes us to our conclusion by having Lúcio spill the beans. Turns out the company Inácio is investigating have succeeded in uploading human consciousness to computers and, unbeknownst to him, Lúcio was the first successful subject. How very convenient. (The story also shares the same contrivance as ‘The Earth Of Yunhe’ by having the local political leader being the protagonist’s dad.) Alas, immortality uses too much energy so Inácio has to regretfully advise his potential investors that they keep it off the market. This paradigm shift in human evolution is quickly and cleanly dismissed and everything is resolved with no mess or fuss. We close with a line of immortal badness: “He wondered what the carbon footprint for love is.” Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
Near-future? Sort of.
Optimistic? Sort of.
As you might be able to tell, I’m having trouble with the concept of “near-future”. What does it actually mean? As an analogous exercise, I tried to think of what I mean by the recent past. It didn’t help; it could be anywhere between the Second World War and last year. This story (like ‘The Earth Of Yunhe’) is set in the 21st Century at least several decades hence. Does that make it near-future?
“Optimistic” is also a bit tricky because both of the first two stories in Shine take it for granted that the world will undergo devastating environmental and economic collapse. Sure, they hold out hope for the future after that but it seems like in this context optimistic means “life might be okay for my great-grandchildren”.