Tuesday, February 19, 2008

David Brin's "The Smartest Mob" (novella, hard sf, free): A terrorist attack is foiled, by electronically summoning a helping mob

I've probably read less than a dozen cyberpunk stories, & this one clearly is the most entertaining I've seen yet. According to a short note, currently on the main page of Brin's site & without its own URL, this story is in the process of becoming a novel (no likely publication date mentioned).

It does suffer from common cyberpunk fault - enumerating too many gadgets, irrespective of whether the story needs them or not - something that always puts me off. Actually, it needs many of them, but has its share of frivolous mentions. It also mentions some tangent stuff irrelevant to plot.

But all that is forgiven, because it's a brilliant & very entertaining story - at least the main part. It starts slowly, & for a while I wondered why I picked it up - just too many enumerations of gadgets. And end is longer than necessary. But the main part covers up all faults.

Story summary.

Story is set in the US. It's some kind of a post-apocalypse world - not the medieval feudal typical of such stories, but different from now.

This world has a new kind of long distance transport - a train of airships floating not far above ground, & connected to a big truck by a strong rope & pulled by that truck!! I suppose something to do with oil gone & nuclear energy is unpopular - I don't recall if the reason are mentioned.

Tor Pleiades is a journalist, on board such a train. She has traveled all the way from west coast to Washington DC. They are nearing destination when a casual query about expected time of arrival results in her smelling something wrong. Robot steward taking the query told her the train has reduced speed but "No cause for alarm"!

Since this world is full of wearable computing gadgets, she sniffs out info. Lot of fishy things. She eventually concludes her ship is a terrorist target - they've tinkered with the ship's hydrogen gas system to make it explode.

She will quickly assemble an online mob of amateurs & hangers ons, & they will eventually prevent the disaster. This is the main story - from the moment the realization comes, assembling & coordinating with the mob, fending off uncooperative authorities, etc.

Fact sheet.

"The Smartest Mob", short story, review
First published: Jim Baen's Universe magazine, #11 (February 2008).
Rating: A
Download full text from Webscription.
Added to my best of the year 2008 list.
Related: All stories by David Brin.


Krishnan said...

Hi, Have you read David Brin's Startide Riding ? How is it ?

tinkoo said...

Sorry Krishan. I haven't read "Startide Rising".