Kathryn - Kat - Allen (katallen) wrote,
Kathryn - Kat - Allen

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Best of Apex Magazine - review #7 - A Matter Of Shapespace by Brian Trent.

This is one of those stories that has a certain something, and is easy to read, and you make it all the way through fairly happily...



Well fairly happily for a story that destroys the whole world(?) by the end but that's

A Matter Of Shapespace by Brian Trent.

This is a story of two halves -- or maybe it's actually three thirds...

We're introduced to Jacob, and Jocelyn, in what starts as an intriguing puzzle -- why is there a pyramid in Jacob's living room? We enter a world where every possession, even every person, is in a manner of speaking rented. I would imagine there are no poor or unemployed/unemployable people in this world and apparantly no anything but humans in something akin to a vast physical holodeck, so I'm not exactly going to get attached to anyone. After some well written exposition about how matter is continually reshaped to requirements there's a scary moment bit until Jocelyn reveals herself and the whole pyramid thing is only a practical joke of hers -- a seriously deranged practical joke since she now needs him to trust her that a very secret merger has happened and he's got to attend a super-secret meeting and she's been released from their version of debtors prison early to take him.

And so to act two part one, where Jacob runs away from Jocelyn and for a short while the story seems to head off into a corperate espionage/warfare man-on-the-run story, but all is quickly reset and Jacob then goes quietly off to the meeting. In act two part two Jacob learns the merger is real and the newly formed entity is going to physically attack the third of the trio of megacorporations, making all their mass into a tidal wave of destruction that will sweep over the area of the Earth they've been denied access to for years and...

At this point you know everything will go badly. That Jacob only demures slightly about the many deaths being caused and how safe he himself will be and not about how plain dumb the plan is does not actually make the plan any smarter. Clearly being remodelled constantly does weird shit to human brains. I am wondering why a meeting was needed at all, because it really doesn't feel like Jacob, or any equity baron etc, is making a choice rather than being driven to agree by the corporation itself.

Part three is the invasion and finding out what actually goes wrong -- sadly it's not as clever as the set-up, just good old EMF bombs (I didn't recall being told that could be a problem) meaning all the matter on the planet is frozen in a ghastly destructive tableau and all the preserved minds are floating around in what Jocelyn described already as a kind of hell.

The story does demonstrate that you can be interested in seeing bad people get their comeuppance -- but also that the end of all life on Earth can be reduced to a comeuppance.

And again it is a good read while you don't stop and don't think about it too much. Amusingly weird.

But then you start realising that it has worked far too hard. The bit at the end of part one where he becomes afraid, sets up way more thrills than are paid back later in the slow fizz of the intended climax of the story. Jocelyn is clearly there so there's a description of what being a disembodied consciousness is like (not nice) and the hoax, the chase, the coporate set-up is there to cover exposition and to have events happen so as to disguise that this is a neat idea/image that required something in which to hide the exposition and backstory, or it would just be a retelling of a fight between grey gloop and... other grey gloop, ending with all the grey gloop artistically paused.

I can see why you'd want to make a story to get to that idea/image, it's a neat one with a gorgeous world-buildiness behind. But the two story starts used to get there, Jacob, Jocelyn, etc are all way too written not to point up what's happening. Jocelyn exists so Jacob can ask her about being in cloudspace. He runs from her so he can give the idea of warring corporations. His arms and legs are removed so we can see he's being presented with the options while powerless to walk out, etc. The guns have been placed on the mantelpieces and pointed at so we will understand when they reappear later.

But the idea of the glitch your house can't see was actually more interestingly shown than the end of the world.

The idea of running for your life/lifestyle in a world that can swallow could have been a thrilling story too.

In the end we get a meeting that's more exposition and not that interesting -- and we've already had the expositional set-up for two previous starts to the story -- and a distantly observed catastrophy that was clearly going to end with them being disembodied for good.

Personally I was rooting for Oakland to have engineered the whole lot so as to become the single owner of Earth, less turning them to stone and more removing Sun Ragnar control and having a sea of matter to play with at their leisure while the disembodied watched impotently. I was thinking that maybe Oakland had tired of shapespace altogether and reverted to a world of things that exist and allowed the rest of the world to be itself while knowing it would eventually be greedy enough to start a war, allowing them to strike in self-defence.

So, readable.

Kept me following through the changes.

Not exactly earned or climactic but nihilistic ending.

Satisfying until you realise you never got a real answer to why Jocelyn was allowed to play with Jacob's house just a string of things to keep you interested through the exposition until the set piece image at the conclusion.

If I wasn't reviewing I'd have called it okay and thought it was suffering from being too clever by half and following The Performance Artist -- now it's those things and a confidence trick.
Tags: #7, apex, review, short fiction
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