Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Semper Augustus, by Nancy Kress

★★★★★ Rich setting, Cool Characters, Great Writing

(Dystopia) Alien technology has been a big boon for some Americans, but everyone else has slid into poverty. Little Jennie knows things should be better, and over time, she tries different ways to change her world. (40,182 words; Time: 2h:13m)

Recommended By: 👍STomaino+2 (Q&A)

"Semper Augustus," by (edited by Sheila Williams), appeared in issue 03-04|20, published on by .

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

Review: 2020.114 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: The setting, a near-future America where alien technology has destroyed the jobs of most of the population, really comes to life in this story. The involvement of the alien Lictorians make this setting much better than the “cardboard dystopia” I sometimes complain about. America’s situation is much like that of third-world countries where the rich enjoy first-world products but the technology impoverishes the average people.

This is something of an epic, spanning many years of Jennie’s life. Along the way, she tries different paths to success, not just for herself but for the people she cares about: Just growing up in Lemberg and taking classes with the gifted kids gets her a certain distance, but it’s clear that’s a dead end. Living with Aunt Grace and being a supermodel makes money for a while, but eventually it peters out. That money takes her to college where she meets the people who’re doing really well from the alien tech, but she can’t stand them. Joining T-Boc and becoming a terrorist makes logical sense, but the more she learns about T-Boc, the worse they seem to be. Her final realization about herself and about what the Lictorians really want enables her to take steps to fix not just her own problems, but the whole world’s problems. It’s very satisfying.

The other characters are pretty solid too: Grandma, Aunt Grace, Imani, Ricardo, even Cora. They all have their own agendas, and they’re all memorable. For that matter, the rich people, the Lictorians, and T-Boc all have their own agendas too, and it’s quite nice that by the end of the story, essentially all the loose ends have been tied up, and it all makes sense. There are no cardboard villains here.

Even small scientific details have been thought out: For example, it would make no sense for the same virus to affect humans and aliens unless we all had a common ancestor, but the author mentions that through panspermia, we actually do all have common ancestors. Well done!

Con: It was a little hard to believe the President of the United States would declare martial law just because of a terrorist attack on a fashion show.

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