“In print news your job is to know things about others, you peer out at the world through an arrow slit. In telepresence you are known. If I'd still been writing for a newspaper—if there still were newspapers—I could have forgotten...”
In 1996 Raphael Carter wrote The Fortunate Fall. For perspective, Neuromancer came out only 12 years previous and this book is already placed squarely in post-cyberpunk. Normally I'd scoff a little at that..but I have to say that is more of an acknowledgment of this work than the post-modern call to kill the genre from the onset of its birth (by the very people who wrote in the field no less). For reference, Trouble and her Friends came out only 2 years previous and I would not call that post-cyberpunk. It's also very hard to review because of the structure and how the book ends.
Maya tells her story as though the reader is an audience consuming a story by her with prior knowledge of an important historical event, or at least an extremely newsworthy one; to the point that it seems assumed the general populace or consumer of this knows of it, at least. And they are getting the "real" truth by reading it rather than getting it in another, futuristic format like moistdisk, opticube, dryROM, where the whole truth was not disclosed to the consumer.
“...you can't just break through a person's defenses like that; the defenses are a part of the person, they are the person. It's our nature to have hidden depths. It's like...skinning a frog and saying, 'Now I understand this frog, because I've seen what's inside it.' But when you skin it, it dies. You haven't understood a frog, you've understood a corpse.”
In the 24th-century Maya is what is called a "telepresence." She is cyberized to not only report the news but to almost become the news. All of her is broadcasted; her thoughts, memories, feelings—all of it goes out and is consumed by the audience. Because of this massive sensory output, all telepresence have a screener; post-production happens on the fly as it goes out over the net. Only the memories and thoughts that play well with the story actually ever make it to the audience. The screener, however, consumes all of it.
When Maya's screener falls in love with her after imbibing essentially everything (emotions, both past and present memories, etc.) about her while broadcasting a story to the world, things start to really get interesting.
“You think we have a connection because of all the things you've sucked out of my mind by screening, but that isn't real. Trust comes when you've worked with someone for years; it doesn't speed up just because you can think fast, and it doesn't materialize when you stick a cable in someone's head. What you get from screening me isn't friendship, it's data. We're strangers.”
Through her perspective we learn of the world, we learn she's a criminal and has a suppressor chip in her head that stops her from feeling any strong emotions for other people, and that she's got a criminal record for this. Ostensibly, she doesn't feel the same as everyone else around her but always seems more human (or humanized by the narrative); often reading as very endearing to me because she's got this disconnect with herself and others that are all too relatable in this day and age. Also of note, cognitive dissonance is exceptionally well executed throughout this fiction.
Maya's recounting is largely of her big break, the scoop of a lifetime, the last whale to ever exist, if it's real; and whether it's true or not, because of the nature of how the narrative is structured, makes a compelling read that ends up being largely subjective to the reader.
Dissidents like Maya, as we learn, are literally suppressed with chips and the state is cold, fascist, and mechanical; evocative of late 80's fearfulness of technology but also clearly evocative of Nazi Germany and fascism, in general.
This future has the cyberpunk action you'd expect sure, but the technical aspects are really well done compared to most first wave cyberpunk; Raphael seems to have had a better understanding of technology, took the first wave template, and used it to great effect here. This world is very rich. Personality and technology aside, the plausibility of it is scary because of the bigotry so rampant these days. This nihilistic future the genre often depicts also has, this time, a laser focus. An unabashed, condemnation brought with an intensity and precision I've rarely read. The cultural psyche in which the major population has in their minds regarding their view of individual citizens gender identity and proclivity toward tribalism is still reflective of where we are today.
“The mind has doors...even as the body does. And when you drill new holes, you tap old hungers.”
The prose are beautiful from the very first page to the end of the book. There are multiple themes reminiscent of 1st wave that is done so much better. Technology keeping us further apart yet connecting us, what that would do to our relationships is eerily on point for a book that predates my own ability to get Internet access.
It's a short read, it's compelling and relevant. It's also worth noting this was the first and only debut of the author who refused to be associated with any gender at the time of writing. Part of what makes Maya's story so riveting is, perhaps, this earnest expression of self in the text. There is no clear villain in the story. Maya herself is never untarnished and sometimes exemplifies the biases that a population internalizes, made even more complicated because of by her own omission, she is the one recanting her story, without the benefits of future technology where people may know the truth of things because they would also have the context of her emotions, feeling them as they consumed the story.
“...it changes the central fact of the human condition: that each of us lives behind one set of eyes, and not another; that our own pain is an agony, and another's pain only an abstraction we believe in by an act of faith. It makes impossible all the sins of locality, all the errors that arise from being prisoned in one body and no other--as racism, sexism, classism, and of course and especially nationalism.”
The intersectional characters explore and bring out different aspects of Maya and the technology too, is a vehicle for her exploration, limiting her and governing her. Effecting her years later from its inception. Her own will is literally stifled when she is a camera and therefore the lens from which people perceive the entirety of the story though, so much so that at one point, the audience will not even allow her to blink because they are captivated by what she sees.
“I'd caught what cameras call an updraft: just as the viewers got over the first rush of interest, others smelled the excitement and tuned in. The surprise of the newcomers strengthened the scent, attracting still more people, in a spiral that could make the feedback escalate out of control. Wave upon wave of astonishment crashed through me. I tried to look down, but the curiosity of millions forced my head back up. I stood there staring at the whale like someone forced to look into the sun, unable to turn away, though my mind cringed from the sight and my eyes were burning. It was not just an updraft, but riptide: feedback so strong that it flooded out my own emotions and derailed my thoughts. The audience grew so large and so greedy that it wouldn't even let me blink.”
The actual historical truth and alteration of media coverage and news is on trial via the actual job of being a telepresence and what it entails and is demanded by the population. Hint: it's not to be a well-educated population so that they can make proper decisions voting anymore (nor is it now, any longer). Its fascinating and the relationship to our media is very well articulated in a very nuanced and deft commentary on a lot of broad sociological issues.
This book came across to me as very thoughtful, often insightful; always beautiful, filled with prose. The Summer Prince was a similar read for me, I know I will reread this quite a few times. Check out some of the lifts from the book I took to see if it's your style, for me it was well beyond what I was hoping for.
“Feel no regret for roses, autumn too has its delights...How could she say that? Didn't she see that for us there could never be autumn, that we could never sit, as anyone else could sit, beside the fire all day on Sundays in November; that September's leaves, that fall for man and beast alike, were not our leaves to walk in; that October storms would never find us sharing an umbrella? The love of spring had thrived on wine and candles; now in the August of our lives, we needed newspapers and comfortable chairs. But it was impossible. No autumn--only a cold wind that blew through our summer, freezing the leaves in their places before they could motley and fall.”