Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, John Scalzi, and Karl Schroeder (writers),
Michael Hogan, Scott Brick, Kandyse McClure, Alessandro Juliani, and Stefan
Rudnicki (narrators), and John Scalzi (editor),
METAtropolis (Audible, 2008)

I'm reasonably sure that the first shared universe anthology I ever encountered was either Thieves' World, a shared world fantasy series created by Robert Lynn Asprin in 1978, or C. J. Cherryh's Merovingen Nights from about a decade later. Note that both of these shared universes are set within the fantasy genre. I must admit that outside of film- or television-derived shared universes such as Star Wars or BattleTech, there doesn't appear to be a lot of SF-based collaborations going, and certainly very few, if any, set on what the Max Headroom series called 'twenty minutes in the future'. So I was looking rather eagerly forward to downloading the review copy of METAtropolis from the Audible website to see what these writers had created.

Downloading was fast and painless -- always a good sign! (Their registration and log-in system is quite good. And their prices are quite reasonable as well.) It took but a few more minutes to install it on my Ipod, as I intended to listen to METAtropolis on my morning walks downtown. I should stress that I've just started listening to audio-based fiction but a few short months ago when I got a new iPod, as listening while walking is the only way I can listen to this type of fiction. I′ve since listened to both of the Jack Flanders series set in Inverness as well an assortment of short fiction pieces by Neil Gaiman this way. I can multi-task when listening to music, but not when experiencing fiction!

Up until I started listening to audio-based fiction, my fiction diet was either books that were simply text, or graphic novels where text and illustration form (hopefully) a harmonious whole. Listening to fiction takes, I discovered, a bit of adjustment for me. When reading a novel or short story, I create in my mind what I think is the voice of the person or persons in the story. (I do it less so with graphic novels. No why idea why this is so,) I discovered that I simply must let the voice of the narrator wash over me as, and -- you can groan -- resistance to the narrative voice is futile. Fortunately all of the narrators here are quite excellent!

Most shared universe anthologies I've read are, at best, loosely coupled in terms of connecting one story to the rest of the stories in the anthology, as they commonly share the setting without being aspects of an overall narrative. Not so here, as both the stories and the sequencing of the stories build to a conclusion (of sorts) that really makes sense. METAtropolis is less about the -tropolis part of its title and more about the meta aspects of what a city is. Or perhaps more precisely, what is a community.

All of the stories take place some fifty years from now when the national governments as we now know them have either collapsed or had their roles as polities sharply reduced to the point, as one character notes, 'there is little need for interstates′. (A comment oddly enough that is made by the narrator in Emma Bull's Bone Dance, a novel that also exists in a post-nationalistic polity future.) Cities either have reverted to sort of walled medieval-style affairs or are, by our standards, not cities at all.

I am rather hesitant to actually describe any of the stories here, as doing so would most likely spoil your appreciation of just how complex the overall story told here is. The settings themselves are varied, with two tales taking place in Detroit and its abandoned looking suburbs, one taking place in the Cascade region of the Northwest, one set in a walled city called New St. Louis, and one taking place. . . . Oh, that one should be a surprise! Scalzi as editor introduces each story and provides some context, so so take note of what he says. And he's correct that his story connects up the other stories by providing needed context.

Each writer (Jay Lake, Tobias Buckell, Elizabeth Bear, John Scalzi, and Karl Schroeder) has told their tale well and the chosen narrators (Michael Hogan, Scott Brick, Kandyse McClure, Alessandro Juliani, and Stefan Rudnicki) ware spot-on in terms of being the correct voice. The two narrators I want to hear more of are Kandyse McClure and Stefan Rudnick, as their maritime voices are quite intriguing!

I think that METAtropolis is not most fully appreciated until you've reached the end of the last story, though Scalzi's tale actually provides the most tantalizing clues as to what happened to get us to where these ever so fascinating interconnected stories are set.

METAtropolis has great writing, superb narration, excellent sound quality, and a very reasonable price for hours upon hours of entertainment. If it were a printed anthology, I'd be handing out copies to folks so they could read it for themselves, Instead I'm urging you to go buy it now by going here. Oh, I should note there's a great conversation between John Scalzi and Tobias Buckell talk about METAtropolis that is linked to on that page.

One final note -- METAtropolis will win a HUGO if there's any justice in the universe. Yes, it's that good!

[Cat Eldridge]

Tobias Buckell has just announced on his blog that Metatropolis: the print edition will be published by Sunterranean Press this summer. Details on both of the Sunterranean Press print editions can be found here.