I was born twice, but I don’t remember the first time. The second time, now that is a different story. It began with a game.
Re-union by Eric Liu and is amongst the most enjoyable short stories I have ever read. The first thing to note is that the writing quality and the atmosphere are both really strong. It opens with the middle aged main character playing a video game to try and relive the glory days of his youth. Everything about the description- from the poorly replicated team mates who could no longer be there, to the contrast of his physical form in the game world and the real world- builds up a grim, uncomfortable sense of loss and decay.
The rest of the short story focuses on the conflict between the value of the real world and the merit of the online one. The main action of the story consists of debates between the main character and other people in his life, as he chooses between the real and computer world.
One thing I like about this story is how much it humanises its themes. The problem with a lot of science fiction works out there is that they seem to be cold intellectual exercises where the ideas are fascinating but the story is bogged down by excessive techno babble and the characters feel flat and distant. Eric Liu avoids this problem. The science and the ideas are strong in this one (Eric Liu has technical degrees from Stanford and MIT and his passion for technology is evident in this story), but the story is very personal to the main character. All the other characters felt like nothing but vessels to explore different point of views in this world, but as this was a short story, it was not a problem because the internal world of the lead felt fleshed out.
Another things I liked was that this short story could have really easily gone down the typical cautionary tale route about the dangers of the lack of human connection in the twitter generation. This story didn’t, and acknowledged that technology has brought a lot of good into the world, which was refreshing.
A major criticism I’ve seen of this story is that the world leaves the reader with so many questions about the events of the wider world. It is true that a lot of aspects of this world are never explored because of its length, which can be disappointing because it is so fascinating and has enough potential to provide material for a whole series. It is important to note that it is only a short story, and only focuses on the life and personal choice of the main character. If you go in knowing and accepting this, you will get an enjoyable story set in an interesting world.
It’s a very quick story that I’ve read twice so far and would definitely read again.
RATING: 4 blue screens of death just before you hit the save button / 5