RogerBW's Blog

Abducticon, Alma Alexander 29 January 2016

2015 science fiction. At a regional American SF convention, things are going with the usual level of chaos… until the entire con hotel gets kidnapped by time-travelling androids.

Which you'd think would be a recipe for excitement, adventure, and really wild things. Not so much, it turns out.

There have been a couple of books set at F/SF conventions before: Deep Secret, which I loved, and Bimbos of the Death Sun which I enjoyed on initial reading but which now feels to me mostly contemptuous of its fannish idiosyncrasies. This one is… more of an oddity.

It's a very slight book, at less than 80,000 words, and its main problem is that it tries to do distinctly too much. (This is often a first-novel problem, but Alexander has apparently written fantasy before.) There's a huge cast, but most of them only get one or two mentions, and nobody ever really develops a personality. There are lots of things that might make interesting plots, but they're either left unresolved or neatly parcelled up and no longer a problem.

For example, the con chair Andie Mae Wilkinson has led an organisational coup against Sam Dutton, who'd been doing the job for a quarter of a century; she burned some of her allies in the process, in order to have sole power… but why? What did she want to do differently? Apart from a couple of minor programming tweaks, we never find out. And Sam has turned up as a regular member, but… it turns out that he's completely uninterested in having a big fight, he's just curious to see what she's changed. So, er, that was that then.

(This is a con chair who also runs Ops whenever she's awake. Which, well, I'm sure there are conrunners who are that stupid. And this Ops has live video feeds from all the meeting rooms.)

I don't know whether this is meant to be a roman à clef; I don't know California fandom these days (this is a mixed con but it seems to be more film/TV than books). There are certainly lots and lots of references made to visual SF, and if you like the sort of person who would rather play spot-the-reference with a quote than say something original you'll probably find several of the characters amusing.

On the other hand there's also quite a bit of philosophising about the nature of humanity and its relationship with the robots it creates as they become more intelligent, which sits oddly against the comedic background of the usual things that go wrong at conventions. There's discussion of the Asimovian laws, in which it's apparently news to people that nobody in the real world has ever attempted to emulate them. As Rudy Rucker put it in Software:

The mass of humans were born slave drivers. Just look at the Asimov priorities: Protect humans, Obey humans, Protect yourself. Humans first and robots last? Forget it! No way!

But nobody here has read Software, so they have to work it all out from first principles.

The writing is pedestrian, the characters are nonexistent, and the plot is predictable from the moment time travel is mentioned. The book doesn't offend except in the sense that an American Budweiser offends: not by being unpleasant, but by being nothing at all. At least it's short.

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