Ensconced in his cabin in Fairbanks, Alaska, David Marusek sweats out the details of the next century. He has published ten of his “everyday science fiction” stories in thirteen years, most of them an elaboration of the world that would make up his sole novel, Counting Heads (2005). It took him a year to deliver “The Wedding Album”(1999), an investigation into the future of memory and the opening salvo of Getting to Know You, a wonderful collection of his short SF work since 1993.
It begins with a marriage in the late twenty-first century. Before they take their vows, Anne and Ben cast simulacra of themselves, perfect digital copies that retain all the personality of the real Anne and Ben at the time they were made. So as the realbody Anne succumbs to her depression and the realbody Ben shuts himself off from her pain, the sims remain innocent, perpetually in anticipation of a kiss.
Marusek’s stories are stealthily devastating, secreting tragedies underneath the practical veneers of shiny new technologies. “The Wedding Album” works because of how probable it feels—he makes the leap from digital video to simulacra seem inevitable, and then pushes the story to its logical and bitter extreme, a digital memory witnessing the dissolution of her real self. Another evolution, from PDAs to personal “belt valets,” forms another Marusek obsession. It undergirds much of “We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy” (1995), which documents how children are conceived during a Procreation Ban, and which turns up as Part 1 of Counting Heads.
These valets are PDAs with “personality buds” that the owner grows to attune to his quirks, imaginary friends who do your taxes and run background checks on future mates.They are so integral one ingests them through the miracle of nanotechnology, essentially taking over different functions of the brain.We’ll never have to remember a birthday again—but when a valet is destroyed, it leaves one bereft, cut off from the world and lost in techno-mourning.
Other stories touch upon the politics behind the Ban (1999’s “Cabbages and Kale, or: How We Downsized North America”) and the violent backlash against high-tech (2001’s “A Boy in Cathyland”). The most purely pleasurable of the bunch is “Yurek Rutz,Yurek Rutz, Yurek Rutz” (1999), an epistolary sketch addressed to the former editor of Asimov’s magazine, Gardner Dozois. It’s the finest sci-fi joke ever written, not least because its punch line pops up in his other stories—a self-reflexive reward for the attentive reader. The most recent piece in the collection is “My Morning Glory” (2006), a sprightly takeoff on Marusek’s “boutique economy” concept. Mass production becomes obsolete when every product is tailored to individual tastes, so as our nameless protagonist wakes up he’s greeted by his eponymous flower (“We’re off to a brilliant start on a
brand new day!”), urged on by My Personal Trainer (“Tuesday is—Nimble Knees Day!”), serenaded by My Kitchen, and flattered by My Mirror. In his introduction, Marusek disingenuously claims this story contains his only happy ending, but as with all his work it’s spiked with regret, satirically displaying how new inventions erode our self-reliance. So as the protagonist closes the story with “Thank you, My Morning Glory. I’d be lost without you,” it’s weighted with the knowledge of our increasing technological codependency.