Guy Hasson’s The Emoticon Generation features seven stories about life-changes brought about by our new electronic generation: stories that blur the borders between our world and science fiction, stories that make you ask, ‘Has this already happened? Is that actually true?’
In this collection you’ll find a man who, after losing his fiancée to a terrible accident, seeks to learn if true love really exists; a girl, hardly a teen, who searches for her father only to learn a terrible truth about herself; a man who wants to immortalize his genius but ends up tricking himself out of it; an old hero whose entire life unravels when the truth about his heroic act is revealed; a harmless birthday gift that triggers a profound search into the depths of a young couple’s relationship; and more.
Going into The Emoticon Generation I didn’t know too much about the book or the writer. I knew the book was classified as SF, would probably have something to do with computers and the web, and that Andrea from The Little Red Reviewer loved it. I’d expected to enjoy it, based on Andrea’s recommendation, but what I hadn’t expected was that I’d be drawn in by the stories to the extent that I was. They were fascinating and even the ones that I didn’t like as much, were thought-provoking and made me think about what they meant and whether their technology might be actually possible. The stories were clever and as much about humanity and identity as about technology. There are some repeating themes to the stories, which I’ll return to after touching on the seven stories contained in this collection.
Generation E: The Emoticon Generation
The titular story of the collection gives us what seems to be an article that could appear in places like Wired or The Guardian’s opinion pages. It’s journalistic in tone and was very believable. The idea that as a society we seem to be moving towards a greater and greater need for attention and validation instead of meaningful connection is a sobering one, because it shears so close to the truth. Also, the meditations on the nature of poetry and language were quite interesting.
The story of a teenage girl searching for her father’s identity and discovering so much more about herself was my favourite. Hatchling was wonderful, dealing not just with identity, but with connection and human desire. Knowing your roots is one of the most basic human desires out there; it’s knowing you’re connected to other beings out there on a level that goes further than just mutual interests or attraction; it’s a base to build your identity on. So what happens when that base is swept away completely? When nothing you knew to be true, is? That’s what Hatchling shows us, while trying to answer what makes us human.
Showing us how an old man is shown that the orders for the act that made him a national hero weren’t motivated by heroic intentions, this story was a hard-sell for me. The slow erosion of his convictions and righteousness is painful and sad to read. The technology that makes this story SF was quite cool, however.
Freedom Is Only a Step Away
This story takes a fascinating look at how scientific research is interpreted by the press and the public. Sometimes consequences result from studies that were never the intent of the researchers involved. Couple this with the fact every generation wants to do better parenting-wise than the last, but often slips back into the same patterns under a different name, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Freaky technology and human curiosity don’t mix in relationships. I found the fact that she connected to the digital version of her partner so strongly, stronger than to the corporeal version fascinating. To what extent is the version of our partners we love the same as the truth of them? Do we create alternate versions of them in our head?
Here Hasson approaches time travel in a completely unexpected way. The story also asks how human digital versions of ourselves are and what should their rights be? Is it really easier to torture them with the punch of a button? Working in an academic environment, I can see that this might be the ultimate outcome of the current publish-or-perish culture in academia, but I’d like to think it would never come to this.
A story both heart-breaking and gripping, Her Destiny is a wonderful closing story to this collection. Is there something such as destiny and do we subconsciously know this from birth? If there is, does this mean there is a god or other supernatural entity? I found the ghost-in-the-picture twist to the story awesome and I really loved where Hasson took it. Also, the ending is so, so sad.
There are several returning themes in the novel. One is identity, both the identity of the human protagonists of the stories, but perhaps more importantly the identity of the virtual protagonists. What makes someone human, is it a body or is the personality in the box, who thinks, dreams, and speaks as much as we do, who has desires and feelings human too? Are their experiences/lives as valid as ours? This is something that is part of Hatchling, All-of-ME™ and Eternity Wasted. In the first and last, there is also a discussing of AI-rights, a second theme. Is what we do to them – in the case of Eternity Wasted: solitary confinement for eons – torture or not. Does the fact that we can reset someone to their last save as if they were a game where we took a wrong turn in solving the quest absolve us from any responsibility for their feelings and experiences? Hatchling and Eternity Wasted answer these questions differently, but it is left to the reader to decide which option is more valid. A third theme deals with the desirability to be able to chase the answers technology can hand us. I’d say that knowing the ultimate truth did the old man in The Assassination no good and perhaps ruined a life. Similarly, in Her Destiny one man’s memories of the love between him and his fiancée are tainted and in his eyes even invalidated because of what he learns to be the seeming truth about his fiancée’s destiny after her death.
The Emoticon Generation is an amazingly fascinating and thought-provoking collection, which took me quite by surprise with its excellence. While not all the stories resonated as strongly with me, the majority of the stories were wonderful. If you like interesting, thought-provoking, clever, near-future SF this is one collection you won’t want to miss as Guy Hasson challenges your concept of the possibilities of computer technology in ways you probably won’t have thought of before. Highly recommended.
This book was provided for review by the author.
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