Tor.com, October 2010
“Good Night, Moon” by Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling
“Clockwork Fairies” by Cat Rambo
“Lightbringers and Rainmakers” by Felix Gilman
Reviewed by Bob Blough
Tor.com published three pieces of short fiction this month. One, a gonzo Hollywood parody by two prolific SF writers, another a steampunk story by relative newcomer Cat Rambo, and the third of the steampunk variety as well.
Hollywood is the send up in Rudy Rucker and Bruce Sterling’s “Good Night, Moon.” Two “augmented reality” designers meet in Schwarz’s Deli in Hollywood to discuss the new dream fabule one has created for a show called Skaken Recurrent Nightmares. For a new episode of the series, Jimmy Ganzer has created a huge paramecium dreamscape for which they plan to use Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” as a template for the episode. These former young turks of the dream business — having been among the first to get into the new technology allowing dreams to be an experiential construct — are now of the second or third generation and find themselves falling behind the current new technology of “ribbonware plugins” which allow for the reconfiguration of reality itself through the dream state.
The story is written in “Hollywood speak” which is already a step away from reality as it is, and tells how the designers continue bringing in the new, young blood to the business, as well as a producer. This is a rather lightweight treatment of an interesting concept which made me laugh out loud more than once.
Cat Rambo’s “Clockwork Fairies,” though well described, takes place in a generic steampunk setting. It involves some surprising twists, but the most interesting element is the voice of the narrator. He is highly unsympathetic and grows only more so as the story rolls along, yet Ms. Rambo somehow keeps him from becoming a total jerk (which would have made me want to heave my computer across the room) by placing him firmly within his milieu and allowing a lot of his stupidities to be a mark of the time rather than just of his own contrivance. His sense of entitlement in the Victorian culture reminded me overmuch of the sense of entitlement many of us share in our first-world status today. The circumstances and prejudices may be differently expressed but the essence of human nature remains the same.
The third offering this month comes during its steampunk fortnight as well. I suppose this is then a steampunk story but it certainly does not fit the “punk” sensibility and though it has an “apparatus” to make electricity, winged flying air machines and the like, it still didn’t seem too steampunkish to me.
The story “Lightbringers and Rainmakers” by Felix Gilman is an overlong series of letters between the protagonist of the story, “Professor” Harry Ransom, with various family members and friends. These letters are written when Harry has left the cities behind and is trying to make his name by conning people (if need be) in the small towns on the edge of civilization. The story might take place on an alternate earth or on a completely different planet, though it seems as if it is another planet, with its descriptions of the wild ones or hinted-at natives. It concerns Harry’s adventures as he tries to stay out of the clutches of both sides of a war while bringing his electricity apparatus to full and complete functioning, all the while being attacked by soldiers, real con men, and the natives of the area.
This sounds much more exciting than it reads. In fact, it feels rather conventional. You may enjoy it more than I did. It’s not poorly written – the main character’s voice is well done, but it all seemed lifeless and retro in a tired kind of way.