Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Tell, by David Brin

Published in Future Visions:Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft, edited by Elizabeth Bear, Melchior Media, November 2015

Our narrator is a Las Vegas stage magician with a sideline in identifying fakes, frauds, and the self-deceived making seemingly major scientific "breakthroughs." He's good at it, and enjoys it, and when Sophie Van Took,a regular contact, asks him for help with a related but different job, he says yes.

The immediate goal is finding out if a particular casino has made a major breakthrough in prediction of events or if they've only made an incremental improvement. Predicting the future (whether politics, weather, economic developments, or human behavior) has been a major interest as long as we've been human, and has been getting increasingly scientific and technological in the last century or so.

Whoever makes a major breakthrough, if they can keep it secret, will be well set up to become Big Brother. But if it becomes readily available to everyone, it makes Big Brother impossible.

Our magician narrator successfully pulls of the immediate job that Van Took gave him, with reassuring results, but his mind starts working on the problem of why crowd-sourced prediction tools aren't more effective than they are.

And in the process, he becomes a target and needs to run for his life.

This is a fun story, with some interesting ideas, but it's a slight one.The narrator is truly the only character in it with any real substance. He's a good guy, he's working with the good guys, but those other good guys are barely sketched in. The bad guys are entirely abstract, only one has a name, and at least for me, I recognized the danger more intellectually than emotionally. I liked the narrator, and don't regret having read the story, but it's not worth going to any real effort to seek out.

This book was available free when I downloaded it from Amazon.