Saturday, October 22, 2022

53. Ora:Cle by Kevin O'Donnell, Jr.

Ora:Cle was recommended by a colleague who is an old school nerd with some interesting and intelligent perspectives, so I thought I would take him up on it.  It was an interesting read, hampered for me somewhat for being the kind of theoretical sci-fi that prefers ideas over narrative, but ultimately sticking the landing.  It takes place roughly 200 years in the future when everybody is forced to stay inside in order to protect what little organic life remains in order to maintain the C02 levels.  Further keeping people inside, a fleet of pteradactyl like aliens, the Dac, hover near the moon, sending down ships of who appear to simply be trophy-hunting humans.  Any attempt at fighting back has led in the past to massive retaliation by the Dac such as destroying an entire city.

Our hero Ale Elatey makes his money as a Seeley, basically part of an online group of researchers who will answer any question in their field of knowledge.  Their "internet" is Ora:Cle.  There is lots of fun tech in this future world, remotely-controlled repair bots, medics and police.  Everything is brought in to the homes via matter transmitter.  It's funny to have such advanced technology next to artifacts from the period it was written (1984) such as a box of floppy disks.  Also, the general size of the data is still so small (measured in megabytes) compared to the scale of digital junk we are hoarding in the cloud today.  Sadly, the gender politics are also as archaic.  Ale's wife is smart and tough and hard-working but also represents the shrill, overly-emotional foil who wants Ale to not take any risks that would upset their domestic peace.

The big idea or ideas here are who controls the information and whether it should be controlled or not.  Because all the action takes place in Ale's apartment, we have a lot of world-wide power struggles going on  via a telescreen, which felt unrealistic and took me out of the narrative.  There is a global security group called the Coalition that first came in place in response to the environmental crisis but now stays in place to deal with the Dacs.  The main conflict in the book is about them trying to kill Ale and gain control over Ora:Cle to control the dissemination of news to the world.  There are some prescient and interesting ideas that are relevant to today's challenges but it's only at the very end when a big secret is revealed that they coalesce into something interesting.  Is it acceptable to censor information from the public if that information would put the world at risk if it were available to the public?

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