Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

‘The Greenman Watches the Black Bar Go Up, Up, Up’ by Jacques Barcia

with 10 comments

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.
Readable? Yes.
Good? No.

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”.

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Written by Martin

30 August 2011 at 21:25

Posted in sf, short stories

Tagged with ,

10 Responses

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  1. As you might be able to tell, I’m having trouble with the concept of “near-future”. What does it actually mean?

    I tend to think that a few decades is near future, a few centuries is medium term, and a few millennia is enough to qualify you in the far-future division. Fuzzy categories, though, I could be persuaded that anything this century should count as near-future; perhaps another way of thinking of it is within the lifespan of someone born today?

    the first two stories in Shine take it for granted that the world will undergo devastating environmental and economic collapse.

    This is interesting. It’s sort of a truism (or at least I perceive it as such) that sf used to have a “default future” (colonise the moon, Mars, stars), and that now it doesn’t, that we now have an immense cornucopia of futures; but that hasn’t matched my recent reading experience, in which futures seem to either include a collapse or a singularity.

    Niall

    30 August 2011 at 22:14

  2. He may have meant “exudes mystery.” Was this self-published or just poorly-edited?

    Josh Brandt

    31 August 2011 at 00:28

  3. Niall: Perhaps another way of thinking of it is within the lifespan of someone born today?

    I dunno, I’d quite like to think the near future will take place within my lifespan! After all, I’m unlikely to be able to collect my pension until 2050 (although I’m sure it will have been wiped out and my house will be under water by then).

    That hasn’t matched my recent reading experience, in which futures seem to either include a collapse or a singularity.

    Well, I’ve got the stats for this (for the UK, at least). Post-collapse and space opera are the clear leaders with singularity in third place but that still accounted for less than half of all Clarke submissions last year.

    Josh: He may have meant “exudes mystery.”

    Ah ha!

    Was this self-published or just poorly-edited?

    It was published by Solaris who I’m afraid are by some margin the worst UK genre imprint for both content and production.

    Martin

    31 August 2011 at 07:52

  4. but that still accounted for less than half of all Clarke submissions last year.

    But about half of all the books that are actually set in the future? (Also I don’t think ‘space opera’ and ‘post collapse’ are mutually exclusive — to the contrary it’s quite common for space operas to have the collapse in their backstory these days, like Paul McAuley’s recent duology, although I know they weren’t in your year.)

    Niall

    31 August 2011 at 08:37

  5. Good point. I count 18 books that weren’t set in the past and only one of these was a collapse narrative (Sylvow by Douglas Thompson). None were space operas, obviously! So that does suggest that they are clearly the two dominant futures.

    If, indeed, they are mutually exclusive. Until you mentioned it, I hadn’t really thought about it but Earth is very often abscent from space opera; it’s not just that the action takes place elsewhere but that our home is destroyed or degraded or forgotten.

    Martin

    31 August 2011 at 13:07

  6. Following up on Niall’s recent musing about what constitutes history, I might suggest that “near future” is similarly not a matter of chronological years but of familiarity. I’d call a setting near-future if it comprised technological or geopolitical developments that are currently considered inevitable or imminent, and if its setting was largely similar to our world but for these changes.

    Abigail

    31 August 2011 at 19:17

  7. Nanotechnology throws a hand-grenade into that though, doesn’t it? Similarly, the old r.a.sf.w joke: fusion is the future and it always will be. Inevitable or imminent is pretty tricky ground.

    Martin

    1 September 2011 at 13:49

  8. Well, yes, our ideas of what is inevitable or imminent change with time, and there are technological revolutions that no one sees coming, microchips and cell phones being the perennial examples. Perhaps I’d tighten the definition by saying that a near future setting includes easily foreseeable developments of existing technology that are commonly believed, not just by SF fans but by the man on the street, to be just around the corner – for example taking the current ubiquity of smartphones, e-readers and tablets and positing a future in which everyone has a single device that combines the three capabilities.

    Abigail

    1 September 2011 at 17:03

  9. ‘Several decades’ sounds on the face of it to be longer than near-future by my book. Two decades, maybe. Five decades probably not.

    I tend to think of near-future as something that’s set a few years from now – within one decade, say. And the future it depicts would be something that you can imagine getting to in that time – so incremental technology increases rather than quantum leaps. I get to call things like ’24’ near-future this way too.

    The problem with near future in this range is that it does very quickly become alternative past. Which can make discussing it tricky once the actual year goes past the set year.

    I’m fairly certain that there was a lot of stuff published even as recently as the ’50s and ’60s which was set around the turn of the century (ie, now) and none of that was ever ‘near-future’. 2001 was made in 1968. A gap of 33 years between the making and the time it was set. And I wouldn’t consider that near-future SF.

    Nick H.

    3 September 2011 at 01:07

  10. [...] by Jetse de Vries ‘The Earth of Yunhe’ by Eric Gregory (Excerpt) ‘The Greenman Watches the Black Bar Go Up, Up, Up’ by Jacques Barcia (Excerpt) ‘Overhead’ by Jason Stoddard (Excerpt) ‘Summer [...]


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