'The Fortunate Fall' - Book Review

The Fortunate Fall
by Raphael Carter
Tor, 288p.

Raphael Carter's first (and, as of 2019, only) novel The Fortunate Fall was published in 1996. It's commonly listed as "post-cyberpunk," and is on several must-read lists. Our antagonist is Maya Tatyanichna, who is a "Camera." This means that when she's broadcasting, as much of the world as has bothered to tune in is looking out through her eyes, knows what she knows, and feels her emotions. Although that's moderated by her "screener," a person who effectively edits her output on the fly.

Carter is a fan of throwing readers in at the deep end - putting you in a scene, letting the novel play out, and feeding you information about the world as it progresses. Normally I'm a fan of this style, strongly preferring it to the "no reader left behind" style where you're front-loaded with the world's details and behaviour. But for this figure-it-out-yourself style to work ... well, you have to be able to figure it out. And Carter just leaves too many things dangling, presenting dozens of situations or characters with huge questions attached that aren't clarified for 150 pages (or, I suspect in several cases, at all). I don't mean the "will they try to kill our protagonist later?" variety of question, I mean "I suspected her of being a PostCop" implicit questions - what the hell is a PostCop? And the problem with that is that you eventually forget some of these open questions - so when you're given the answer, you don't even know it had a question attached anymore. This leaves the world ill-defined in your head, and I felt that way about this book from one end to the other.

For example, very early on it's made clear that "drinking tea with the PostCops" is a truly horrible thing. Like 1984 bad, or Soviet Russia dissident vanishment bad. It's mentioned more than once, but not explained until page 182. I spent the book believing that "post" meant "after" (it doesn't) and that "drinking tea" was a euphemism (it isn't). They're "PostCops" because they've loaded Emily Post wetware and are super polite as they serve you tea and ask you endless questions. And at the end, you vanish. Another example is "The Guardians." This was a group that took over the country and built massive extermination camps at some indeterminate time in the past (50 years ago?). They're mentioned multiple times - but it isn't until around page 150 that you find out they were Americans (maybe this was meant as a big surprise). The Guardians were driven out by the Unanimous Army - again, mentioned and not explained for a hundred pages.

I think the author meant the book to address the atrocities of war, the curtailment of personal rights, and to a lesser extent dealing with grief. All seen through the eyes of a distinctly unpleasant narrator. It was mildly interesting, but also a struggle to get through.