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A web log by Ben Makuh

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The Original [a review]

Needless to say, I was intrigued when I first heard that Brandon Sanderson and Mary Robinette Kowal were doing a collaboration on a short audiobook novella. I wouldn’t describe myself as standing for either of them, but I appreciate the kind of science fiction they’re both trying to do and the concept of them doing it together was fascinating. As a bonus, the audio production on this book is really well done!

Simply put, The Original lived up to my expectations. It’s an immediately gripping tale that bends the mind in delicious little ways. In many ways it read as a kind of lament for an over-technologized world. Holly, the protagonist, walks through sparse cityscapes, and she only snatches glimpses of the "themed" world when she accidentally bumps into another human being who is allowed to have theming turned on. Though one could see the appeal of a world that could be themed to one’s tastes through the ease of digital means, it ends up being like the worst of Fortnite imposed upon the real world for the end result of Wendell Berry’s hellscape.

Sanderson and Kowal pose interesting questions about the intersections of bodily autonomy, individual expression, governmental authority, and the made vs. the given world. In many ways, this is exactly what I look for in science fiction: stories that dare to poke and prod at our contemporary lives and where that trajectory leads. If you have a spare Saturday afternoon sometime, pick it up and journey with them into a world that feels like the logical extension of ours in all the wrong ways. It’s worth the 3.5 hours!

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.