Sniffen Packets

With a name like Sniffen, it's got to smell good.

Counting Heads, by David Marusek

This is the first full-length novel by an established author of short stories and novellas. Its first section is a previously-published novella; the rest of the book follows those characters and their descendants across several generations. It’s a mid-singularity novel: things have changed, but not so much that we can’t follow the humanity. The changes are no more than those between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries.

The AIs are reminiscent of John Wright’s sophotechs: a similar degree of humor and emphasized self-awareness. The complex overlays of valet, mentar, and NASTIE lead to interesting social results. Perhaps the coolest tech mentioned is an artificial “metalanguage” Starkese, a style of speaking used for identification and very sensitive business.

Like Vinge, Stross, and others, Marusek introduces a vast array of characters and weaves them towards each other in the final pages of the novel. Unlike Vinge and Stross, his threads miss! The ending leaves the core emotional issues of the characters unresolved. Based on that, I’d be less likely to read further long fiction by Marusek, and wouldn’t recommend him—though I should go check out Wedding Album, his most famous short story.

It turns out that this is what the author intended: this is one volume of a many-volume episodic work, no more intended to stand on its own than Eye of the World. If he hadn’t mentioned this in his blog, I doubt I’ve had noticed or bothered with him. Tor needs better marketing for books like this—not to mention better editing for books like Instrumentalities of the Night.

This book has also been reviewed by Cory Doctorow.

Books read this year: 27