David Marusek is not a prolific author. He doesn’t churn out novel after novel and fill his spare time writing dozens of stories for small markets. Since beginning his professional science fiction writing career in 1993 with the publication of his short story “The Earth is On the Mend” in Asimov’s, he has published a total of 13 short stories, all of which are collected in Getting To Know You. While the stories in the book vary in scope and theme, they all feel polished and distilled, and give you the sense that Marusek has a strong grasp on the promises — and threats — of the future of technology and science.
Five of the stories in the book are set within the same future society as Marusek’s 2005 debut novel, Counting Heads. Cloned workers do all the necessary manual labor, people easily live for hundreds of years with anti-aging treatments, and the availability of ubiquitous high-speed wireless data networks, sophisticated AI, and 3-D holographic projectors means people can send personal “proxies” off to do their errands, whether it’s delivering a message to a friend or a campaign speech across the country.
Marusek’s vision of “belt valets” — tiny AI systems that adapt to your personality to provide you with a powerful and responsive assistant — is like a futuristic Google Desktop for the physical world. The valets, equipped with foolproof natural language processing software, collect, store, and understand all the data you receive on a regular basis, can retrieve, send or display any data to anyone, and can even handle tasks in your stead when you’re too busy. They’re a sophisticated version of today’s simplistic “life recorder” systems, where a head-mounted video camera records your entire day while various applications extract as much useful data (performing optical text recognition, speech to text conversion, music fingerprinting, etc.) as possible from the video stream. Life recorders aren’t yet common, generally being limited to a very small number of hobbyists, but as the need and desire to track the numerous concentrated data streams throughout one’s life increases, they could easily become less of a niche interest and much more mainstream.
The standalone story “VTV” (originally published in Asimov’s in 2000) is a disturbing exploration of the current mass media trend toward using shock value to draw in viewers. In the story, upon learning that a particular professor may undergo an assassination attempt, television news channels dispatch reporters to stake out her house using high-tech surveillance devices — not to catch the assassin, but rather to try and get the best footage when the hit goes down. Marusek deftly draws comparisons to current television news practices and the mindset of the YouTube culture, where watching and recording is more important to some than participating, no matter what the cost.
In the blurb he wrote for the book, Marusek admits, “I obsess endlessly over my stories.” His dedication to exploring the truly human sides of the technologies he’s dreamed up is evident in his writing; while his gadgetry and technology is fantastic and interesting, it’s the way it affects the lives of individuals and all of humanity that make it truly fascinating.
Reviewer’s note: thanks to Subterranean Press for providing a review copy of Getting to Know You. If you are a writer or publisher of hard science fiction or popular-science nonfiction and would like your book reviewed on UberReview, please email ryan at uberreview dot com.