‘In The House Of Aryaman A Lonely Signal Burns’ by Elizabeth Bear

There were a lot of things in this 132-minute audiobook novella set in a near-future Bangalore that I enjoyed but there were a couple of things that jarred with me and prevented this from becoming an I-must-read-the-rest-of-this-series-at-once experience.

So what was good?

It’s jam-packed with ideas on near-future life, not just the technology that people use but how they choose to live. The ideas are woven into the story rather than being info-dumped. There’s no future-tech porn lusting after bright new toys, just a taken for granted use of things we don’t have yet, much the way people under twenty pay no attention to how extraordinary smartphones would have seemed to those of us who were under twenty in the 1970s.

The so-that’s-how-they-dealt-with-climate-change stuff is tantalising because it’s vague but plausible. The geopolitical changes that bring Americans to India, virtually or physically, looking for high-tech work were amusing (and plausible). The various ways in which people stretched the boundaries between virtual reality and real-life to create an experience that was an alloy of both were fascinating as was the mainstream use of drugs to control moods and sustain attention for days at a time-

I also liked that, behind the main narrative, like a bass guitar behind a lead singer, was a wider contemplation of where we all sit in the universe. This was done partly by the way the police inspector’s classical education remained part of her day-to-day experience of this very modern world and partly by considered a strange pattern of light coming from a star millions of light-years away. What I heard of this, I liked but I would have preferred to have heard more of it, perhaps by cutting back on the time given to the lead singer.

The mystery part of the book was clever and kept me guessing but had that Issac Asimov ‘I, Robot’ feel of a cunning puzzle that had little or no emotional content. In the apartment of an American working for an advanced biotech firm in Bangalore, a body has been found, turned completely inside out and with nothing missing. The only witness, a bio-engineered talking parrot-cat appears to have had its memory wiped. It’s up to Police Sub-Inspector Ferron to discover what has happened and who is responsible. It was a good vehicle for learning more about Ferron and the world she lived in. It was relatively complex but never either tense or threatening. I was sure that Ferron would solve the problem as if it was an equation or as should determine the meaning of a piece of epic poetry.

So, what didn’t work?

There was something off about the narration. The narrator had the right accent and the right speed but my ears weren’t comfortable. Then I realised that the problem was that I wasn’t hearing any Indian speech patterns that I recognised. I was listening to American English being delivered in an Indian accent. It wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t right either.

I also felt that the novella was a little over-stuffed with content. At times it was like standing in front of an open fire hydrant. I’d have liked not to have to run so fast to keep up. But that may just be a sign that I’m getting old.

Although this wasn’t all that I’d hoped for, it was still good Science Fiction and it has whetted my appetite for Elizabeth Bear’s novels.

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