Marusek, David

Tagged: Author

(1951-    ) US writer who began to publish work of genre interest with "The Earth Is on the Mend" for Asimov's in May 1993, and who quickly established a reputation for the creation of Near Future visions of Earth of nearly unparalleled complexity. Although he comes close at time to expounding a case for the kind of Technological fixes favoured by Hard SF writers, the exhilaratedness of his work does not depend on a sense that the problems and dilemmas the future offers us are necessarily curable. There is also a powerful sense that – whether or not the human species survives the ordeals it must face over the next half century or so – the experience of exploring the nature of the days to come will in itself be enormously exciting. Although Marusek is prolific with ideas, however, he has not in fact written a large number of stories, most of them fitting comfortably into one compact volume, Getting to Know You (coll 2007), which includes his best-known tale, "The Wedding Album" (June 1999 Asimov's), winner of a Locus Award for best novella and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. The story movingly dramatizes a central crux or problematic in Marusek's depiction of the world to come: an intimately conveyed and at times terrifying sense of the thinness of the partitions separating true citizens of the world – those whose Identities are properly integrated into a surveillance-based governance whose equilibrium depends on constant scrutiny of its components – from those cast into terrible isolation when that scrutiny is punitively abandoned (see Crime and Punishment; Paranoia). To be isolated in Marusek's universe is to inhabit a kind of Pocket Universe, claustrophobic and windowless; such a sensation permeates "Wedding", whose central revelation is that its protagonists are low-order simulacra, partial iterations or Avatars of full humans, and that their task – when turned on – is to re-enact a wedding day again and again without apparent end (see Time Loop), while the real world changes beyond their fixed ken.

Marusek uses terms like "iterant" to describe the pullulating bestiary of Cloned humans, or other sentients with limited autonomy, who effectively function as serfs in the thrumming world-system depicted in his major work to date, the ongoing Heads sequence – two volumes to date, Counting Heads (2005) and Mind Over Ship (2009) – set about a century from now, in a world where Climate Change and Overpopulation and Pollution and various Disasters intensify a sense that the planet is now so saturated with crisis that mere humans cannot follow the plot. Perhaps unsurprisingly in a maze of this complexity, the central storyline, in which a vast cast searches desperately for a severed head whose brain is still alive, is something of a McGuffin; far more interesting is the fact that the entirety of the long search for the head, occupying well over 100,000 words of text, takes place within a single day, and that the events depicted only make sense if faster-than-human AIs are engaged in shaping them: though Marusek never addresses the possibility in as many words, Heads clearly depicts a world at the cusp of Singularity. It is also during this single day (10 May 2134) that the Chicago Canopy (see Keep) is lifted, now that a viral Outrage has dissipated and the sky, after decades, can be seen above the towers. Meanwhile, on the sidelines, an ancient man, who had decades earlier been cast into total isolation through government "error", arranges his death (his irrevocable isolation, down to the molecular level, has barred him from the Nanotechnology-enabled Immortality that full citizens enjoy). An intricate (though perhaps rather melodramatic) conspiracy – revolving around the use of Generation Starships to give the human race a chance to survive elsewhere – begins to intensify. This plot somewhat congests the second volume of the sequence, and the whole awaits satisfactory resolution.

Marusek is one of the relatively few contemporary sf writers who seems deeply responsive to the contemporary world; further work is awaited eagerly. [JC]

see also: Genetic Engineering; Virtual Reality; Women in SF.

David Marusek

born Buffalo, New York: 21 January 1951




Counting Heads

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