Saturday, October 27, 2012

100 Books #102 - Mark A. Rayner's FRIDGULARITY

Note: the author graciously supplied the blogger with an eARC (electronic advance review copy) of this book (available Nov. 21st at all the usual ebook outlets). I say graciously because he didn't know if I would like it or say nice things about it or not, he just thought I'd like it, and we're Twitter buddies. And because I did say nice things about a previous book of his, Marvelous Hairy, under similar circumstances. He plays the odds well, that Mark.

"People are willing to die for Twitter, you know."

The "Internet of Things" is barely a thing and already there is someone satirizing the living Snape out of it.

That person is Mark A. Rayner, who, it seems, never met a science fiction/fact trope that he didn't want to mock thoroughly and well (witness his astonishing short fiction tour-de-force, Pirate Therapy, to which he provides ample links in his Twitter feed, not to mention the aforementioned Marvelous Hairy).

Get past the smiles -- the internet emerges into conscious intelligence but decides, somehow, that its interface with the human world will be through the screen on the web-enabled refrigerator belonging to Blake Givens, Canadian doofus -- though, and you'll see that Rayner has more on his mind than just cheap laughs at the expense of our dependence on digital technology and how weird that is making the world. For part and parcel with the intelligence's emergence is its takeover of all of said technology for its own growth and purposes. Zathir, as it/they start calling itself/themselves*, has taken away the internet, leaving humanity to make do with whatever old analog technology it can scrounge up and get working again to stay alive and function as a society.**

As has been posited by the sort of people who like to think about happenstances like this one -- by which I mean pretty much every doomsday type we know -- the younger generations handle this the least well. Rayner milks much humor from scenarios of bereft social media addicts "playing Twitter" by passing around Post-It notes with 140 character messages, complete with hashtags, "playing Pinterest" by pinning magazine cut-outs onto Blake's couch, and scrawling on the walls of Blake's house to recreate a certain other social media outlet that it makes my head vomit to contemplate and so I will not name here. While others rebuild the world, these "Networked" await more messages from Zathir via Blake's kitchen. It's a very funny notion, except when it's not.

Which is to say that Rayner does a very fine job, indeed, of balancing between mockery and hand-wringing, even before this scenario explodes into ridiculous and appalling sectarian conflict and poetry slamming. And while Rayner's absurdist edge is never far from view, for long stretches of this story the man is dead serious. He has not only thought of the comedic but the tragic possibilities of a post-Internet world in which we have allowed our non-virtual skills to wither and dwindle into something we have to look up in what dead-tree books we haven't destroyed to scan into ebook form.

And, in Blake, he's given us a believable everyman, not a complete hero (though he does manage some physical feats that the average netizen would probably find all but impossible), but not an utter boob either (except when the Girl of His Dreams is around). Martin Freeman could play him credibly in the film version, though he might be a bit old. Pitted against him is one "Lord" Sona, a former hardcore videogamer who has turned his WoW-oid online posse into a real-world freakshow-cum-religious crusade that has declared jihad on Zathir and Blake, because, well, what else is a fat guy with a pizza fixation going to do in this world, apparently?

In truth, Sona's villainy is probably the least plausible element in the story, even as it is also the most entertaining. He's an over-the-top combination of pathos and puissance even when he isn't being undercut by his choice of undergarment or home furnishings. All that's missing is a mustache to twirl, but somebody else got that, for this story.

All in all, Fridgularity is a fun way to think about the unthinkable. Can the world really be brought to this kind of a pass, this way? Probably not. But it could be something like this, a little, that brings it all down, and it never hurts to be reminded of that, does it?

Hold onto those shortwave radios, kids.

*As makes sense for a conglomeration of too-intelligent household appliances, social media networks, newswire services and military guidance systems, it sometimes seems like a singular and sometimes a collective entity, its font choices on Blake's refrigerator screen providing the most important clue to how it's regarding itself at any given time.

**This includes, delightfully, a renewed importance for the good old DX crew, ham radio operators who to this day maintain completely informal contact with the rest of the world via home-built radios and antennas and the catch-as-catch can nature of analog radio waves through the earth's atmosphere. One of my best friends is one of these guys, and I can't wait to put this book in his hands. Thank goodness he's not such a quasi-Luddite that he doesn't read ebooks!

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