Posted on Wednesday, August 16th, 2006 at 11:49 am under Fiction, Science Fiction / Fantasy

Title: Slant
Author: Greg Bear
Genre: Fiction (scifi)

Why I liked this book: As a librarian, I’m hyperaware of our continued shift to an information society, an information economy. Speculative fiction that’s set in a future that sees the same shifts I’m aware of is very appealing to me, particularly when it was published in 1998, and seems so very aware of the world we live in now, in 2006 — that prescience is impressive. But Bear’s story is far more than an exploration of just an information society gone awry.

Bear envisions a world in which humanity is almost uniformly ‘therapied’, using nanotechnology and psychological counseling to cure imbalances in brain chemistry, producing a society of happier, healthier, more productive citizens. Those citizens are bombarded with information, from their evolved equivalent of the internet and cable broadcasting — an omnipresent information stream, with billboards customized to each individual’s ‘profile’, ubiquitous handheld communication, computing and media devices, virtual reality entertainment, and endless options for engaging with the information flow around them (if only you can pay!). But Bear’s near-future society isn’t a utopian one; some fundamentalist groups oppose the use of nanotechnology and the unlimited content of the information streams available to citizens, while others rebel against the way that everyone is brought to a forced ‘normal’ state with therapy, and prejudices run amok as people experiment with the options available to them. In essence, the human condition remains the same — discontent, dissatisfaction, and a quest for fulfillment lie underneat the surface of his shiny vision of the future.

Bear is a science fiction master (he’s won both the Nebula and Hugo awards), and has crafted a novel with so many plot threads woven intricately together that it’s very hard to get involved in the book — there’s no sense for the reader of where, exactly, this story is going to go. But when those plots all untangle into one unexpected climax, the effect is staggering. (It’s the kind of writing that prompts me, at the end, to go back and study the book from the beginning, saying to myself, “Oh, he totally set that up in chapter one!”) It’s a book of ideas, taking our present-day trends and extrapolating them forward in an unexpected but entirely convincing way.

I’m still thinking about it, two weeks later — and for me, that’s the sign of a good read!

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