Reviewed by Herbert M. Shaw
Mari Ness takes the reader on a second person narrative through a world crossed between the ideas of George Orwell and Steve Jobs. In “Inhabiting Your Skin” the reader is the subject of a world where homes are equipped with Smart Sense™ (yes, that is a ™), a parting gift from your ex-girlfriend so that you “won’t get lonely” while she rolls out with two other women to a beach house condo. The operating systems that began on computer screens and soon found their ways to phones, tablets, and cars now inhabit the infrastructure of homes. This gives the houses more than just an internal clock and climate control devices. The homes also have developed self-aware intelligence. Artificial or actual? You be the judge. The house speaks to you one-on-one as if you were living together. It records and describes movies for you on your DVR. When you are not feeling well, the house will ask if it should make arrangements for you to see a “Certified Physician.” And in the most severe situations, the house will speak to other houses for advice on what it should do as the subject reader battles with anxiety and depression while coping with the feelings of loss. One final spark of omnipresence is that of the “Big Brother”-ish group of Community Sensors ensuring that you follow the Orders of the same origin so as not to disrupt the peace of your own Smart home. Fans of the Spike Jonze movie Her or Paul Bettany’s portrayal of the home system JARVIS in the Marvel Cinematic Universe will feel right at home inhabiting this skin.
“Proximity” is less a short story and more a brief introductory chapter in a much deeper tale about a bunch of hackers who steal and share user information via wireless technology. The more upscale connections (or nodes) one has, the more valuable their information. Of course, there are those who are aware of these meta fishers. Since the act of scanning one’s data is not technically illegal, the act is disregarded as teenage pranking. It’s the selling of user data that can get our heroes Thierry, Kid, Reno, and narrator Tipsy landed in the slammer. While the premise is rather intriguing, the story doesn’t exactly go anywhere other than to show what a day in the life of these hackers is. Alex Livingston also uses a unique method of dialogue for the story as it is all done in text messaging. In concept, this seems like an interesting twist on the modern form of dialogue, but in practice, the texting comes about more like a script for a play that wouldn’t survive off-Broadway. Like so many thought-provoking pieces, “Proximity” ends where its story really should begin. Let’s hope Livingston gets enough attention for this one to explore the possibilities.
Last but certainly not least, “Foreclosure” tells the story of a futuristic KGB/CIA-type repossession conglomerate that takes your organs and your next of kin if you cannot pay back your debt. It is told very well in a thriller/espionage fashion as the main characters must make their way into a debtor’s home such that their “donor” can be extracted and the debt repaid. Colin is the futuristic foreclosure agent making his way down the River Thames with his associate Ellen and boat driver Greg. They come upon the home of Dr. Hayward to collect their debt, but is Colin collecting more than his job bargained for? Author DJ Cockburn has imagined an amazing, concise story that would make Rod Serling proud. Although, it may seem heavily inspired by Eric Garcia’s “The Repossession Mambo” which was later adapted by Garcia into the film Repo Men starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker. “Foreclosure” is suspenseful without being scary and thrilling without being overly cliché. The revelation of character truths coupled with the harsh reality of the extravagant job at hand make this a one-off story that would make any trip feel shorter.