Travel Documents 45: Last Tango In Cyberspace

Last Tango In Cyberspace

Catherynne M. Valente
Genre: Noble-bright, LGBT, rockstar, far-future sf

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The Dust Cover Copy

It was a new skill…

One that might change the world.

What could a person do who could track empathy?

His friends call him Lion, he is the first of his kind. Some describe it as emotional foresight, but
really, he can see cultural trends before they emerge. What he didn’t expect was for Big
Pharma to come calling.

In 2025, technology has made massive leaps forward.

Not every group wants to use it for good.

Artic Pharmaceuticals has a new drug and a bad idea. They call on Lion, because he is the key to
getting the formula they need. But when he starts to sense their hidden agenda, will they take
drastic action?

Then Lion discovers a decapitated human head…

Is he being hunted?

Can he stop a global disaster?

The Deets

The Scene

Worldbuilding

In this world that’s right around the corner, Elon Musk has gotten space travel off the ground. Self driving cars are a thing. And people who can predict the memetic evolution of culture have a new kind of job: em-tracking.
In this world, we can grow all animal products from vats, from meat to leather. There is no need to kill animals. But some people still crave the experience of hunting.
And some of those people are now turning up dead.
With the expanded empathy of an em-tracker, Lion Zorn literally throws up at the sight of hunting trophies and sees animals as just as empathetic as humans. He’s watching the world change towards a brighter, more inclusive future. But not fast enough. And he’s wondering if he’s tracking a murderer, or something else.
This is an uncomfortably believable world: just strange enough to be jarring, just familiar enough to be disturbing.

The Crowd

Characterization

The characters in this story have the reserve of those who’ve seen it all, and the strength of personality that keeps you reading. The main characters are eloquent, and the side characters are engagingly quirky and very, very chuckle-inducing.
Though the story revolves around Lion, he has supports and connections in all sorts of places: old rockers with pockets full of drugs. Extinction Rebellion types. Idealistic business men. Counter culture creatives. And the strange cross section of society in this story keeps everything interesting. The author walks the line between adding color and creating solid characterization just right. In the end, you see the world through the eyes of these people. And your mind is opened.

Lion himself explores the labyrinthine question of what it means to be human, and what it means to be valuable. He tells an unflinching story of the difficulties experienced by those who are neuroatypical in our world. As an Em-Tracker, Lion suffers from the cruelties of the world. He gets overstimulated easily. He and other children like him do struggle. But he also shows us the beautiful truth: humanity has to evolve if it is to survive. The first steps toward expanded empathy are ones we need to take.

The Lingo

Writing Style

Quietly lyrical in style, this story has the feel of walking alone at night with the moon shining overhead: still and solitary, but never lonely.

The Moves

Plot

This plot begins as a basic mystery. As you read, it expands, unfolds, and wraps you up in something that is so much greater than you were expecting. The twists and turns will take you to new places. And you’ll be very glad of the trip.

Overall Rating

This starkly compassionate, strangely lyrical story is a modern treasure. Humanity evolves for the better, and this book may help you feel a bit more evolved yourself. Give it a read.