One Other Thought On "The Girl In The Road"

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So my buddy Monica Byrne’s debut novel “The Girl In The Road” (out tomorrow) is getting the best kinds of reviews, as far as I’m concerned – a jagged mix of 1-stars and 5-stars.
Which is to say that Mark Rosewater wrote a column a long time ago discussing how averages can lie, talking about how Magic card ratings can be misleading.  A three-star average can mean that this card is pretty damn “meh” – people looked at this card, thought it was okay, and moved on.
But a three-star average can also mean that half the people in the world gave it five stars, more than five stars, fell in love with this card and married it and had little cardboard babies.  And the other half hated it, thought it was dreck, couldn’t see why anyone had printed it.
Those three-star averages are the gold, my friends.  The real controversial stuff lies in those types of three-star reviews, because you’ve dug to something that either hit a heart-vein or punctured your spleen.  Awwww, yeah.  (Not that Monica’s at three stars, more like three-point-eight, but still.  Wild variances.  Which is fucking awesome.)
But in retrospect, what I liked about her novel is that it’s not really a sci-fi novel, but it totally is.
Which is to say that most science fiction novels (and fantasy!) revolve around the science fiction element.  If you have an artificial intelligence in a story, 99 times out of 100 the tale will revolve around understanding something about how this AI works.  If you have a spaceship, understanding how the spaceship works will be a plot point.  If you have genetic supermen, you’ll discover something about the origins of the genetic supermen and what that means for the future of the genetic supermen.
Monica’s tale has no real scientific backstory.
Which is fucking beautiful.
I use iPhones all the time, but there’s never going to be a point in my life where the thread of my existence will balance upon understanding the App Store.  I drive in technologically-advanced cars, and my emotional character arc will not consist of fathoming the mysteries of the lithium battery.  I have had life-saving surgery, but aside from having more tests there’s nothing in my life that rests on knowing the Horrible Secret Of What Really Happened in The ER.
And in Monica’s story, the tech exists, it’s pervasive, but it doesn’t really do anything. All that matters is this slightly crazed girl walking upon the rolling surface of the ocean-spanning electricity harvester, and at no point does she reveal the vast conspiracy behind the FloatNet or have to hard-wire a solar panel to survive for one more day or discover the ecological hazards this thing is wreaking.
It’s a pure story.  It’s about a girl who lives in this world, and is affected by it, but the story is intensely hers.
I don’t write stories like that.  Perhaps many people do, but I generally don’t read them.  And it’s a very nice refreshment to have technology the way I think of it, which is to say a thing that malfunctions occasionally but isn’t the main thrust of what I do.
I’m more than my tech.  Meena’s more than hers.  And God bless her, Monica’s written something neat to play with.
That is all.

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