Friday, December 7, 2018

Bringing Down the Sky, by Alan Bao

★★☆☆☆ Not Recommended

(Climate Dystopia) Two American men come to a town on the Tibetan plateau to see how they extract clean air from the high slopes that they can sell to the public. (11,692 words; Time: 38m)

"," by (edited by Neil Clarke), appeared in issue 147, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2018.685 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: It’s an interesting account of how a couple of foreigners learned how to make a fundamental change in the imported air business and what impacts that had on the local people in Tibet. No one comes off well in this story. No one except the innocent “Boy,” whose account opens and closes it.

Of course it’s a familiar story of how a small local business is destroyed when someone figures out how to industrialize it, layered onto a warning about the whole world smothering under air pollution.
I thought it was rather sad that Stephan quit corresponding with “Boy.” Perhaps he felt guilty—or just got tired of him (consistent with the weak person he is).

Con: I couldn't suspend disbelief for this story. The whole idea of “imported air” was too ridiculous for me.

The level of pollution described is so bad that the whole world would have been depopulated. And the message that smog will just get worse and worse is contradicted by the fact that every developing country (including the US) has moved to clean up its air once it got rich enough to do it and once the air was too bad to stand (but nowhere near as bad as what’s described in the story.)

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3 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Although I agree that the "imported air" concept was difficult to believe in, I had a much more positive reaction to the story. It seemed that Alan Bao sidestepped the focus on scientific speculation to concentrate on developing a complex set of characters from interconnected, yet diverse backgrounds. With that in mind, I sort of forgave the shallow "imported air" idea.

    That being said, the idea that we might have to "import air" into overpopulated areas in the near future doesn't seem so far-fetched. Agreeing that the bottling of air doesn't seem like a well thought-out solution, it does at least provoke speculation about what those solution could be.

    Would you have recommended the story of the solution transporting air was more convincing?

    1. Usually if a story has some really strong elements, like a clever setting, but also has some really weak elements, like bad science, I'll give it a rating of "three stars: Mixed" meaning it's too bad to recommend but too good to recommend against.

      In this case, though, I didn't think the plot sophistication and character development made up for the unbelievability of the premise. That plus the fact that I didn't like any of the characters.

      As for importing air, I'm sure it would always be far cheaper just to filter the local air.

    2. Yeah that definitely makes sense. I personally enjoyed Dhampa as a character, but definitely agree that the others were kind of half-baked.