What is the name and who is the author of this science fiction short story about a Utopian Transparent Society
March 10, 2009 12:20 PM   Subscribe

After looking everywhere and which a way, I am at a loss. I am looking for a short story with a near future high tech anarchy as background-- something that resembles David Brin's concept of The Transparent Society, Utopian Version, where every body knows everybody else's business--as opposed to, say, Police Surveillance State On Steroids Big Time where Big Brother knows your business and location as in 1984 meets The Minority Report.

The story itself in part recounts the life of a young man coming of age in a world where the revolution is over and everyone's life is an open book in document and real time--in this world, teenage men have to find spaces under culverts or abandoned warehouses to stage their fights and duels as all else is on camera, being recorded and provided then to everyone else's examination.

At more than one point, the youth confides in an old man on a park bench. An old man who is a veteran of the recent Revolution, who can remember the penultimate moment of said Revolution as being there when the mountain fortresses of Zurich are breached and battle is joined hand to hand with the Gnomes in the caves beneath their vaults. Or something like that.

As part of the story's later action, said old man/war veteran on the bench draws out his younger companion in conversation and then later posts, to the local or universal public access channel, a not unsympathetic documentary about this youth, his life and his loves, along with supporting documentation and points of view from the all encompassing public record. Which is, as I recall, profoundly embarrassing to this sensitive young man.

The story ends with the report of death of this young man in a duel--which occurs offstage in every sense, at an undisclosed location without camera or microphone, and which is to that young man the only place in the world where a person could be free. Or so I recall now.

No doubt, some of you have had the answer since the opening paragraph but I have yet to find the story of which I speak. And it was a nominee, if not winner, for best short story or novella or something in some year or another. I forget which. I only read it once-- damn, where was I ? The dentist ? --and now I can't find hint not mention of it. Woe is me. Hope me please. What is the title and who wrote it ? I want to re-read it and see how my memory of it compares to the real thing.

I'll be pissed if it's Brin, btw...
posted by y2karl to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think it is Brin. Specifically, it sounds like a major subplot of Earth. There are three young guys in this version, one of them joins the army and dies while battling Gnomes, one of them goes to work with chimps in a refuge, and I forget what happens to the last one. But your recollection of a documentary being made by the old guy about the youths matches my memory - in fact, it's the documentary being made that encourages the kids to do something with their lives.

Re-reading what I just wrote makes it sound like a crazy-bad book, which it isn't. I hope I haven't conflated multiple books into this summary.
posted by flipper at 12:52 PM on March 10, 2009

Call me crazy, but some of the stuff you're describing rings a bell for me, although it was certainly not a short story or novella. The stuff about the 'mountain fortresses of zurich' and the surveillance society seem very familiar, although only as a backdrop to the main story, which is about virtual reality. The series is called 'Otherland' by Tad Williams.

Otherland (wikipedia)

My memory is hazy, and I'm pretty sure this is the series...
posted by ChefQuix at 12:54 PM on March 10, 2009

Or I could be completely wrong, apparently..
posted by ChefQuix at 12:56 PM on March 10, 2009

I have read the story you talk about. It's definitely a short story. At first I thought it was in Sterling's Globalhead, but looking through descriptions of the stories, that's not it. I'm going to go with pre-1996.
posted by adipocere at 12:56 PM on March 10, 2009

I, too, have read Brin's Earth. The novel is certainly set in that situation. Perhaps you read an excerpt, or the short-story that grew into the novel if there is such a thing.
posted by _Skull_ at 1:39 PM on March 10, 2009

Best answer: http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0553057782/ref=sib_dp_srch_pop?v=search-inside&keywords=documentary&go.x=0&go.y=0&go=Go%21#

You can Look Inside! Earth at Amazon. I searched for "documentary" and found a sequence remarkably like the one you describe, y2karl. (I dunno if the link I used will work for others.)
posted by cgc373 at 2:20 PM on March 10, 2009

Best answer: Flipper has it. You are talking about one of the sub-stories of Earth, probably published as a short story for a magazine. Lots of neat ideas in the book.

As for the last boy, he becomes bitter and disillusioned and picks a fight to the death he knows he's going to lose (and does).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:46 AM on March 11, 2009

Oh, and the chimp guy wasn't part of the group.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:50 AM on March 11, 2009

Response by poster: Wow, I just opened this up for the first time since I posted. Thank you all for the information. I wonder, adipocere, if the short story was embedded in the novel. It wouldn't be the first time that's happened. The second result, adipocere, is very reminiscent of the story I remember. But I remember a story and a different story at that.

How frightening is to think of how one can misremember events, conversations and books. I have a friend who swears her mom remembers plot elements of sit coms as family events. "...Do you remember when Uncle Skeeter borrowed that guy's motorcycle at Seaworld and then jumped it over that pyramid of acrobat dolphins ?" It's so scary to think that, so few there are in the ifrst place, that this or that pleasant memory was no event you actually lived.

Well, I have read me some Brin but I have never read Earth. I will remedy this oversight forthwith. Tad Williams ? Even if putatively cyberpunk, I don't know... I have given enough minutes of my life to his words already.
(Stupid awful icky cat book my sister sent me Gripe... Gripe... Gripe... Grumble... Bitch... Moan...)

But, again, thank you for the thoughts, all of you.
posted by y2karl at 8:57 AM on March 11, 2009

Response by poster: And I am pissed, by the way....

On the other hand, there is something new and familiar to read this weekend. The novel and the familiar combined: satisfying the Hey! Let's ride bikes! and Hey, Get Off My Lawn! side alike. As Dick Proenekke would say, 'Hard to beat that.'
posted by y2karl at 9:21 AM on March 11, 2009

Response by poster: From Watching, all the time watching... goggle-eye geeks... on page 107 to The Sun was the final home of warriors. on page 121 is the story I recall reading. (At least on those pages in the searchable online mass market edition that Amazon provides.)

Given the themes, its most likely title as a short story was most likely Privacy, which ran in the September 1989 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and was subsequently anthologized in the collection Orbit 3.

As for the last boy, he becomes bitter and disillusioned and picks a fight to the death he knows he's going to lose (and does).

I remembered that from my first read. The irony there was the sheer difficulty a young person could engage in such an activity and keep it off the data net.

Which was Brin's phrase for what we know as the internet.

I often think of this story, and now, the novel Earth, as being one of the very few works of science fiction where the writer imagined something close to what the internet has become in our lives. Oh, the Ender series did so, too, in a lesser way, it can be argued. But Brin, to my mind, came the closest. And, as it turns out, Brin has spun a cottage industry out of the predictions in Earth.

The sad part for me was that it was not that great a novel. Or so it seemed. Ambtious, yes, but as to well written--well....

Of course, part of that is the copy of Earth which I picked up at Half Price Books was a misprint. It had pages 98 through 115 repeated twice and a huge chunk missing on top of that.

On account of the latter fact, I am reserving judgment. I suspect, however, that my assessment will not change much.

I want to thank flipper, cgc 373 and any portmanteau in a storm once more for nailing it so fast. Flipper had the answer in just over 20 minutes. Now that's delivery!
posted by y2karl at 3:24 PM on April 13, 2009

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