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Coming Soon Enough: Six Tales of Technology’s Future Kindle Edition
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Subsequently, someone with better insight into the intentions of the author posted a comment on my review offering an explanation for why the story was written as it was. In response to his comments, I am modifying my review as of 10/12/14 but not changing my overall rating of 3 stars. As you will see below, I still feel the story in question has a problem.
Now begins my modified review.
I bought this book because I am an IEEE member and was intrigued that IEEE commissioned a book of fiction. However, I'm not a connoisseur of scifi short stories; hence, it was probably preordained that I would not give this book a super-high rating. Consequently, I was not planning to write a review at all. (Would you ask someone who is not a sports fan to write a review of a World Series game?)
But I decided to go ahead and write a review when I found one of the stories to be quite confusing. I'll have more to say about that below.
Regarding the book overall, first my general comments.
On the good side, there is some imaginative futuristic technology described.
On the not-so-good side, I felt that all the stories can be faulted to some degree in the way they portray the attitudes, feelings, and actions of the characters (human or alien). These portrayals do not seem realistic to me, although some of the stories err less egregiously than others in this regard. Simple considerations of the likely motivations and emotions of the human (or alien) characters when confronted with the described situations would suggest markedly different, more complex, more conflicted, and more nuanced behaviors than those described. Reflecting these subtleties in the writing would have created narratives that were more realistic and more interesting. I could go on and on with specifics here, but that would spoil the plots for the reader, which is not a proper thing for a reviewer to do. Again, I am not a connoisseur of scifi short stories, so perhaps I am being unfair here as perhaps the audience for this genre expects this style of character portrayals.
Now for my comments on the confusing story. I should post a PLOT SPOILER warning here, so stop reading here unless you don't mind having the plot of one of the stories spoiled.
The story in question is titled "Water Over the Dam" by Mary Robinette Kowal.
My confusion occurred near the end of the story, where the narrator says of the main character, a female named Aniyah,
"The echo of her 'What the hell?' was still fading from the room."
My confusion arose because there was no previous, explicit indication in the text that she had uttered this phrase, although the male character Hillam, with whom she was interacting, had uttered this phrase a bit earlier.
The solution to this reader's conundrum was that Aniyah had spoken the line without being conscious of speaking it -- the line had slipped out. This interpretation is supported by the fact that Aniyah was described a few lines earlier as having trouble holding her tongue in check, owing to her extreme dislike of Hillam and his agenda.
The main reason I did not pick up on this on my first umpteen readings of the passage is an example of my general criticism above, which is that the authors of these stories do not portray the behavior of the characters in a realistic way. Let's look at the larger context of the sentence quoted above:
"Aniyah stared at Hillam for a full second before realizing that his face was turning red because she'd already spoken. The echo of her 'What the hell?' was still fading from the room."
Human blushing (face turning red) is an uncontrollable physiological response to one of two emotions: embarrassment or anger. Now if I am understanding the story properly, Hillam had gone to great lengths to create a bogus data set that made Aniyah's technology look bad. Upon presenting this bogus data set to Aniyah, Hillam would of course expect Aniyah to react with shock, disbelief, denial, and general agitation. Aniyah's response of exclaiming "What the hell?" lies entirely within the range of reactions that Hillam would have expected from Aniyah. Aniyah's utterance would not cause Hillam to feel either embarrassment or anger, contrary to the description in the text. Instead, he would feel smug and self-satisfied with his clever dirty trick.
If the passage had been written the following way, there would have been no confusion in my mind:
"Aniyah stared at Hillam's smug and self-satisfied countenance. The echo of a 'What the hell?' she had blurted out was still fading from the room."
I still would have had to re-read the ending several times to figure out Aniyah's "gotcha" of Hillam, but at least I could have figured it all out on my own.