Review: METAtropolis

Posted: October 23, 2009 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: John Scalzi (Ed), Science Fiction, Anthology, Short Fiction, Subterranean Press

How about something new and different for our review here at EBR? We read and review novels pretty much constantly, but we have yet to discuss any short fiction. The thing to be wary of when reading short fiction, in our opinions, is that you can’t treat it like a novel. Where novels have several fully developed ideas that all contribute to the plot, setting, and characters, short stories and novellas typically only have one or two fully developed (sometimes) ideas. If you go into a collection of short fiction with the right mind-set, you will find that it can be a refreshing change from the novels that you have been reading.

All of this brings us to the collection of novellas METATROPOLIS (Amazon), edited by John Scalzi. Included in this collection are five stories about the world’s (mostly, however, in the USA) future cities in a post-apocalyptic setting where all the eco-crazies and capitalism-haters were right. Each story was written by a different author: Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Jay Lake, Karl Schroeder, and John Scalzi (who, as we mentioned before also acted as the project editor). METATROPOLIS is different from most collections of short fiction. In most anthologies or collections, we get a handful of stories that all include one common theme (vampires, zombies, robots, etc.), but are otherwise unrelated. METATROPOLIS came together through the collaborative communication of the five previously mentioned authors. They brainstormed together. They read each others work during the process so they could give feedback and figure out how to connect the five stories. To us, this sounds like an ideal creative situation.

As individual stories, each of these novellas could be considered average. However, by putting them together, the old saying is completely true where the finished product is far greater than the sum of its parts. Each story brings something new to the table while building on the ideas introduced in the prior story. We get deeper ideas like one man’s attempt to overthrow and entire society (Jay Lake’s “In the Forests of the Night”), and a look at the evolution of networking and gaming theory (Karl Schroeder’s “To Hie form Far Celenia”). The other stories give us pieces of how societies and their components evolved in the created future of METATROPOLIS. Want to know about the way people are placed for work, and a cities ability to deal its responsibility to the dying (literally) suburbs? John Scalzi has you covered in “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis.” How about ecological protests, and the future of micro-transactions? Tobias Buckell’s “Stochasti-City” gives you the details. Lastly, an economy built on reputation alone? Elizabeth Bear tackles this subject (as well as the aftermath of the events from Buckell’s novella) in “The Red in the Sky is Our Blood.”

As you can see, it is an impressive list of ideas and themes that blend together extremely well. We have to assume that good editing and project managing by Scalzi helped the effort, but we also imagine that five incredible authors working together from step one through completion had serious beneficial impact on METATROPOLIS.

We will be the first to admit that we prefer novels as opposed to short fiction. We like seeing a big, developed story. However, METATROPOLIS won us over. The writing was fabulous in each story, as well as extremely accessible. There were moments where the casual reader might feel some of the stories were preachy, and we have one thing to say to those readers: Stop thinking so hard. Read the stories for the enjoyment of them. Not everything has to be profound and earth-shattering. For us, the cool factor of METAROPOLIS is in the execution of the fantastic ideas.

What do we want now? How about direct sequels to the novellas? We can’t think of it having been done before, and these five authors would be the perfect people to pull it off. How bout it Scalzi? Get the gang together again!

Not everything has to be profound and earth-shattering. For us, the cool factor of METAROPOLIS is in the execution of fantastic ideas.

The one thing that is tough about this collection is that it isn’t widely available. We paid $30 for our copies from the amazing Subterranean Press, but they are currently sold out. Amazon says they have some copies available, but we don’t really trust the listing (we’ve been burned before…). At one point, Scalzi mentioned to us in an email that he would have an announcement on the future availability of METATROPOLIS shortly. Hopefully (for you) this means a paperback release (or a hardback re-print at the very least) is coming soon.

Regardless, however you can get it, do it now.

  • Recommended Age: 15+. Some deeper material at times that may go over the head of some younger people.
  • Language: Some, but nothing excessive
  • Violence: Not really. This is more about the evolution of ideas and society. Violence wasn't really needed to get the points across.
  • Sex: Some light innuendo

OK. We want to see more projects like this in the near-future, so the best way we can think of to accomplish this is for all our faithful readers to bug the authors of METATROPOLIS until they give in. Drop by their sites, and beg them for more collaborative imagineering.

John Scalzi —
Jay Lake —
Tobias Buckell —
Elizabeth Bear —
Karl Schroeder —

Also, go bug Subterranean Press to get more collections like this. They are a terrific provider of limited edition novels and collections. We’ve been customers of their online establishment for a year now, and have immensely impressed by them.

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