Catherine's Reviews > METAtropolis: Cascadia

METAtropolis by Jay Lake
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's review
Jul 26, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: audio, science-fiction, stories-novellas

I was excited to hear about a follow-up of METAtropolis: The Dawn of Uncivilization, though not as happy that the focus would be Cascadia. To me, it was the least interesting of the linked cityscapes presented in the original collection. However, I was gratified to find that we weren't going to spend the entire time hiking in the woods. Though the stories in this collection were more closely linked together, at least geographically, I found them to be more variable in quality, so I will address them all separately.

"The Bull Dancers" (by Jay Lake, narrated by René Auberjonois)
The collection opens with a direct follow-up of the Tyger Tyger storyline established in "In the Forests of the Night" from the original. I found it took a long time to get interesting. Auberjonois's gravely voice was probably selected for its similarity to Michael Hogan's, but it became very grating as the long story progressed. This is one of the stories I think I'd prefer reading for myself.

"Water to Wine" (by Mary Robinette Kowal, narrated by Kate Mulgrew)
I differ from a lot of other reviewers in that I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It had a nice mix of past and present, while giving us a protagonist who seemed like a normal person, unlike the highly militarized characters who inhabit most of the other stories. I liked how the story shows technology as both a positive and negative force, while also evaluating the ethical issues with fundamentalist environmentalism. Mulgrew was an appropriate choice to narrate the protagonist, though she can work a little on her French pronunciation (she swallows the final r in words like "terroir").

"Byways" (by Tobias S. Buckell, narrated by Wil Wheaton)
This was my favourite story in the collection. I really liked the idea of suburban wastelands being digested by giant concrete mulchers. All of the individual characters seemed very distinct, both because they are well described and because Wil Wheaton does a fantastic job creating different voices. The story has a good sense of humour, too. Buckell wrote one of my favourites in the original collection ("Stochasti-city").

"Confessor" (by Elizabeth Bear, narrated by Gates McFadden)
I found this one pretty tiresome. McFadden's narration was a little flat and whiny, but I found that most of the story didn't really interest me. It featured lots of romantic nostalgia that felt superficial. Looking back on the original, I realized that Elizabeth Bear's story was my least favourite in that one, so she's an author I don't think I will be revisiting. One of the weaker stories in the collection.

"Deodand" (by Karl Schroeder, narrated by Jonathan Frakes)
A direct follow-up of the last story in the original Metatropolis, "To Hie from Far Cilenia", this was the weakest story in the collection by far. The story was weighted down with a ton of exposition, woven into the dialogue by making the protagonist shockingly clueless about the world he inhabits. The dialogue went a little something like this: "Do you know what _________ is?" "No." "Let me explain it for the next ten minutes while you try not to understand." This became frustrating because the story reexplained pieces of technology that the audience should already understand from earlier stories, like smartdust which was already explained in "Water to Wine". On top of that, the writing was loaded with clichés.
Unfortunately, the story was worsened by very poor narration by Jonathan Frakes. The main problem was his decision to try Ukrainian, British, and Dutch accents when he clearly doesn't have the ear for them. Someone should have told him that it wasn't working. It was all very unfortunate, because Schroeder did have some very cool ideas, about human-animal interfaces and the distinction between person and thing, on offer. I just don't think the story was handled very well for this audiobook.

"A Symmetry of Serpents and Doves" (by Ken Scholes, narrated by LeVar Burton)
The final story in the collection is a big improvement, and brings us back to the legacy of Tyger Tyger. A lot of reviewers on complain about the story being anti-Christian: the story features one preacher who has lost faith and another who has developed a highly militant form of Christian fundamentalism, while it sows the seeds of a new form of religion. I'm not sure the story is making an argument about Christianity per se, rather than an argument against any theology or ethics based on fear. Burton was a good narrator for this story because his different character voices were convincing. It also kind of brought me back to my childhood watching Reading Rainbow.

A note on the narration:
The original Metatropolis had three actors from Battlestar Galactica (Michael Hogan and Alessandro Juliani who were excellent, and Kandyse McClure who was fine) but they were supplemented by excellent professional narrators (Scott Brick and Stefan Rudnicki). When they first announced this collection, I thought they had done a little bit of stunt casting by choosing the whole roster of narrators from the Star Trek Universe. It felt like they were trying to cast their net toward much more mainstream science fiction fans, but not all of these narrators were really up to the task. Given the choice, I would replace Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, and René Auberjonois with professional narrators. If they had been interested, Brent Spiner, Roxann Dawson, and Avery Brooks might have been better choices, respectively.

Plus, I missed having the editor introduce the various stories in the collection. John Scalzi added some interesting perspectives to the stories and how they came about. It would have been really neat if Jay Lake had done more to pursue this kind of dialogue.

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Reading Progress

July 26, 2012 – Started Reading
July 26, 2012 – Shelved
July 26, 2012 – Shelved as: audio
July 26, 2012 – Shelved as: stories-novellas
July 26, 2012 – Shelved as: science-fiction
August 6, 2012 –
August 16, 2012 –
60.0% "Just finished the story narrated by Gates McFadden and found it pretty tiresome. I wouldn't say it was entirely the narrator's fault."
August 29, 2012 –
80.0% "Just finished Jonathan Frakes's story: his accents are terrible."
August 30, 2012 – Finished Reading

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