mataglap -- an Indonesian word meaning "dark eye" or, probably, "dilated eye." It is an indication that someone is about to go berserk and start killing people at random. Used in Walter Jon Williams' novel Aristoi as the name of a berserk form of nanotechnology that devoured the planet.
You can e-mail Mataglap SF at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, July 05, 2009
True Names, by Benjamin Rosenbaum and Cory Doctorow
Two previous nominees team up to deliver a story that manages to be way out there and yet deals primarily with a small cast of characters. What these characters are, despite their human names, emotions and speech patterns, isn't entirely clear, they would seem to be parts of some sort of cloud of replicated intelligences, with tentacles and gills and yet behaving more like a group consciouness or swarm of nano-machines, you can't really tell if they're biological or just pretending to be or they just think they are. This difficulty in establishing the form of the characters obviously detracts from the story they are living out.
There would seem to be a world of consciousness called Beebe, living off a comet somehow, who have some long-standing grudge against a similar organism called Demiurge. These two are at odds until they find the need to unite against a common enemy called Brobdignag, which apparently just wants to devour everything in its path. Parts of the larger entities, with their own names like Alonzo and Nadia, conceive somehow a new entity called Firmament just for the purpose of taking on Brobdignag, centering around a planet called Byzantium. The good guys prevail, for what its worth.
I have managed to miss Rosenbaum's previously nominated stories, nothing personal, but my guess would be he's the one with the more poetic, colorful expository sections. Presumbly Doctorow, based on my encounters with his other work, provides much of the dialog and a lot of computer references. These serve to help bring the story more down to earth (not Earth, just to comprehensibility), but they can be sort of jarring too, such that the tone of the story seems inconsistent from one section to the next (and there are a lot of sections). There are some interesting concepts floating around here with these swarms of sentient group organisms or nano or whatever the hell they are. Beyond the basic plot is some ulterior quest to discover the secret of determining whether this is all a dream and if so then whose? But after a very long slog you can't be quite sure what the fuss was about, since the characters are obviously not human even if they want to be or think they are. Why are there sockpuppets in the story? What if anything does this have to do with Vinge's "True Names"? These two worthy writers have come up with the makings for a fascinating milieu, but the plot they choose to expand upon is not worthy of the setting, at least in the amount of space they've chosen to use. The ingredients for a great story are in here, but this isn't it.
Friday, July 03, 2009
The Political Prisoner, by Charles Coleman Finlay
While a couple of this year's novella nominees are so sfnal as to be essentially incomprehensible, Finlay gives us a story that is a compelling read and throws around a few questions and ideas worth pondering, but could be accused of not being science fictional enough. Following along from his 2002 Hugo-nominated novella "The Political Officer", this story features the return of that tale's protagonist, Max Nikomedes, who has the dubious occupation of double agent in the midst of an ongoing war between two quasi-religious factions whose motives are unclear. In that first story Max had to cause a nuclear accident on a spaceship in order to accomplish his objective and keep his cover, and this story picks up not too long after that where the ongoing skirmishes between his two rival masters lands him in the wrong place during an assassination attempt and ultimately bound for a labor camp.