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Recently read: A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe
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Default User
2021-05-27 02:22:09 UTC
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This is the first in a two-book series. I don't know if more were
planned, but Wolfe died a couple years ago, with the sequel to this
coming out in 2020.


Ern A. Smithe (with a silent 'e') is a reclone. Someone banked DNA and
a memory scan, and years later a reclone was produced. Reclones are not
people. They are property that is owned. In particular, E. A. Smithe is
owned by a branch of the public library. That's because he was a 21st
Century author, writing mysteries. Patrons can consult or check out the
recloned authors as needed.

This is set somewhere 150-200 years after present. Humans have explored
the solar system via robotic probes but radiation prevents much human
exploration. The stars are just too far away. Humanity has hit a wall
and is collectively tired. The population is down to a billion and many
think it should be lower.

A woman, Colette, comes to the library to check out Smithe. She has a
book that she is certain holds a secret. The book was given to her by
her brother, supposedly the only thing found in their late father's
safe as her brother began settling the estate. After that, her brother
was murdered.

She feels certain that the book has the secret to her father's wealth.
Oh, the author? Well, E. A. Smithe. He initially doesn't remember
writing the book, but later recalls that it was a boutique printing,
which makes is nearly impossible to find another copy to see if the
text is altered.

Colette is also fearful that she is being followed or bugged, a fear
that seems reasonable when two men get past the security at her
apartment, looking for the book. Smithe, however, hid the book.

Colette and Smithe go to the old family mansion. There are several
rooms in the top floor that were her father's domain and forbidden to
everyone else. They are locked and no one has key cards. The pair
investigate aspects of her father's and brother's doings. During that,
Colette disappears from a hotel. Smithe follows library rules and turns
himself in to the nearest branch for return to his.

After return, he is checked out by two policemen. Colette lived in
their jurisdiction and they are investigating her disappearance. They
take Smithe to a "safe house" for some interrogation. That includes
beatings and other mild torture. That night, he manages to escape.

So, no point in going back to the library, and with his patron missing
the best he can think of is to go back to her mansion and try to figure
out the various mysteries of Colette's disappearance, her brother's
murder, and her father's secrets in the upper floor. And the
inconsistencies of Colette's story. Plus the initial puzzle of the book
and its message or function, and the men looking for it. He is a
mystery writer (or was), so it's kind of in the recloned blood.

I liked this. It was quirky, and I'm often drawn to SF mystery tales.
It's interesting to see how they play fair with the reader with an
unfamiliar background. One way is that, as is so often the case, things
150+ years in the future aren't as different as you might expect. Sure
there are flying cars available, but Smithe catches a bus with human
driver at one point. Their "eephones" and "screens" aren't that much
different than what we use, although the AIs and 'bots are more
sophisticated than Alexa and her lot. But only a degree or two. Smithe
is essentially a 21st Century man with some bits he's picked while at
the libary, but he gets by pretty well with some help from friends he
picks up along the way.

There's a melancholy undertone regarding the lives of the recloned. As
property, they have no rights. When the library doesn't need them, they
are either sold or destroyed, usually by burning (although reportedly
they're drugged first).


Brian
Default User
2021-05-27 02:33:51 UTC
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I have a question about reviews like this. It seems like I always end
up with a lot of words, but I'm not sure how much initial recap is
right. What do you all think? Should his have been chopped down? What
amount would be right to give a feel for the story without giving away
too much?


Brian
Titus G
2021-05-27 05:38:44 UTC
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Post by Default User
I have a question about reviews like this. It seems like I always end
up with a lot of words, but I'm not sure how much initial recap is
right. What do you all think? Should his have been chopped down? What
amount would be right to give a feel for the story without giving away
too much?
Although it was interesting to read, perhaps you could have summarised
more but there are no rules. Sometimes "reviews" are for personal use as
memory joggers, James Nicoll writes a standard review but other than on
matters of fact does not express an opinion, Ted Nolan has long
summaries as well but often doesn't rate a book, Lynn Dimwire retypes
the cover blurbs into a boring template.
My preference here in rasfw, (Goodreads can always provide a brief
summary), is for recommendation or not, observations, impressions or
comments such as you made in your last two paragraphs which were most
interesting and informative.
Jack Bohn
2021-05-27 14:18:28 UTC
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Post by Default User
I have a question about reviews like this. It seems like I always end
up with a lot of words, but I'm not sure how much initial recap is
right. What do you all think? Should his have been chopped down? What
amount would be right to give a feel for the story without giving away
too much?
There were a lot of words, but it was easy to follow. Not too many characters introduced, nor complications of plot, which may be the Wolfe book, but which I think should be aimed for when recasting a novel into a short-short. :)

I think this may be a side effect of concentrating on the parts of the book you wanted to talk about. (I was going to try writing about a book I'd just read when things kept me too busy for the internet the week before last. I would have probably only mentioned one character by name, and not spent more than a few sentences on the plot.)

To _A Borrowed Man_, Charles Sheffield said his "Out of Copyright" was inspired by the feeling that parts of himself would go beyond his control, though perhaps not expressed as explicitly here as in the Wolfe. (Corporations recreating historic personalities for their expertise. I don't remember the technological rational; as these persons were historical even to us we know it wasn't personality recordings. Come to think of it, "Work of Art" by Blish was an experiment to recreate a historical personality. Robinnette Broadhead's computers in Pohl's _Gateway_ were, I think, what we would call "expert systems" with only the names and cliched reactions of historical persons.)
--
-Jack
Lynn McGuire
2021-05-27 21:11:47 UTC
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Post by Default User
I have a question about reviews like this. It seems like I always end
up with a lot of words, but I'm not sure how much initial recap is
right. What do you all think? Should his have been chopped down? What
amount would be right to give a feel for the story without giving away
too much?
Brian
Some sort of URL to find the book would be nice, even if it is Amazon.

Lynn
Default User
2021-05-28 05:39:13 UTC
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Post by Lynn McGuire
Some sort of URL to find the book would be nice, even if it is Amazon.
I could put where I got it, but that would be the county library so of
limited use.


Brian
pete...@gmail.com
2021-05-29 02:08:54 UTC
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Post by Lynn McGuire
Post by Default User
I have a question about reviews like this. It seems like I always end
up with a lot of words, but I'm not sure how much initial recap is
right. What do you all think? Should his have been chopped down? What
amount would be right to give a feel for the story without giving away
too much?
Brian
Some sort of URL to find the book would be nice, even if it is Amazon.
It's trivial to find on Amazon, but is OOP in dead tree format. It's available
in Kindle or Audible.

Pt
Robert Carnegie
2021-05-29 20:05:44 UTC
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Post by Default User
I have a question about reviews like this. It seems like I always end
up with a lot of words, but I'm not sure how much initial recap is
right. What do you all think? Should his have been chopped down? What
amount would be right to give a feel for the story without giving away
too much?
I think in general, that depends on how much
you're not giving away. How I read this review:
I'm a friend that you're encouraging to read the
book, and I'm not committed - if I was then I
would put the review aside while I seek out
the book. (You can receive a very modest
benefit by chilling for Amazon.) Of course
you should stop before giving away all of the
story to be, but by all means, give me enough
to pretend I've read it too. ;-).

But another dimension is how it feels.
It may be awkward to include this in the
story description if people like me are going
to compliment your review by leaving early.

Being a reclone seems fairly horrific and
possibly with a touch of _Fahrenheit 451_
(which I also haven't read, this is the
pretending part). Perhaps that isn't the
point of the story. Sci fi comedy _Red Dwarf_
has a recent-ish episode where a human
spaceship is found which only creates crew
by printing them when an emergency arises.
The copies are not meant to last long, and
this case is complicated by the printer jamming.
The story soon moves on from this encounter
to its consequences. It is just set up. (The Red
Dwarf premise is that three million years have
passed, aliens don't exist, and neither do humans,
except for the regular cast.)

Like books weeded from a public collection,
I wonder if idle reclones wait for possible
destruction playing cards, or holding de facto
writer's group meetings on the premises,
or do they do that in shop window displays
like Amsterdam sex workers.

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