Tuesday, 13 May 2014

'Immersion' - Aliette de Bodard

I’ve never been too big on the whole genre awards thing (except when people I know get nominated, congratulations all you blogging Hugo nominees!); preferring instead just to read books for the sheer hell of it and not get caught up in some of the more tangential discussion. Life is far too short to let some obnoxious troll ruin your day, seriously ;o)
I will make exceptions though. Pyr have just published the ‘Nebula Awards Showcase 2014’ which, for some reason, is all about the stuff that won awards in 2012… I guess it makes sense to someone. The thing is though, the 2012 winners are all genre history now and I can read the book in my own good time. A book full of award winners should be savoured like a fine wine, not gulped down so you can say that you drank it before everyone else.

On a slightly more (okay, a lot more) shallow note. The ‘Nebula Awards Showcase’ has an awesome cover with a dragon on it and that will always encourage me to pick a book up. Go on, check it out…

See what I mean?

Anyway, I've recently got back into reading on the train (apparently there’s only so much ‘Subway Surfers’ you can play before you find yourself deliberately running the little guy under a train) and Aliette de Bodard’s ‘Immersion’ (2012 winner for ‘Short Story’) seemed like just the right length for the journey between Lewisham and Waterloo. Yep, the ‘Nebula Awards Showcase 2014’ is another one of those books that I will be dipping in and out of.

At a first glance, I wasn't sure what the big deal about ‘Immersion’ was. I mean, a science fiction tale about humanity becoming dependent on technology (and it’s very easy to come to rely on the act of immersing to function in this future)? Who would have thought it? It’s not exactly an original premise is it? De Bodard is playing with overly familiar tropes here then but does enough to turn ‘Immersion’ into a little bit more than just the same old thing.

The stark contrast between Agnes, overly immersed, and Quy, only immerses when she has to (and always adjusts the default setting) really lends welcome emphasis to Agnes’ situation and the fact that you can’t see Agnes at all, behind her avatar is amazing use of imagery to show the reader how serious things are. Technology will rule you if you let it and it is easy to forget what makes you human when a machine can do your living for you. Like I said, old tropes but de Bodard really makes them her own.

What I also really got behind was the subtle note of hope injected into the closing stages of the piece. De Bodard clearly places great importance in her message and strikes a wonderful balance between the danger it represents and the ingenuity of humanity to find a way round it. If it had been too easy then the whole story would have fallen flat on a punctured concept but de Bodard gracefully sidesteps that issue and leaves us with a little hope for Agnes.

Nothing original then but ‘Immersion’ rises above the rest of the field with its exploration of humanity, how it can be consumed by technology but never for long. I like optimistic sci-fi like this.

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