This is a story about age and technology and how we as a culture throw people away.
Alan Szcyltz is 84, long retired, recently divorced, and fed up. He inhabits a world of robotic autonomous vehicles that are pushing human-driven vehicles off the road and a large house with several empty rooms that pretty much sums up the state of the American Dream (or at least where it’s heading). His story is a tragedy. He is both a grumpy old miser and a noble spirit hoping to find some joie de vivre. His choices are few and constrict him to living quietly bothering nobody or going out hell-on-wheels.
I know several retired men and many of them have hobbies that occupy their minds and talents. I know photographers and painters and construction workers and gearheads. Alan’s biography doesn’t lend itself to a retirement of interesting projects. He worked. He supported his wife (who left him when she got better) and helped raise children somewhat successfully. He is not a great father or grand father and he knows it. He lives in the wreckage of broken promises. He worked and was, as a far as I can tell, expected to die right after retirement.
There is no year given for this story but Alan has distinct memories of the early 21st century so I figure he is my age or actually born several decades after me and frankly the notion that this character had a chance to retire is shockingly optimistic. I expect to die at work because retirement is another part of the American Dream stripped away from me. (Granted, my choices led me here: education is not a wealth-maker.)
The chapters count down from eleven, which is a nice touch in a story about decline.
The social commentary about the future of cars is bleak. Licence plates that report every vehicles location to the government (maybe just the cops, memory is fuzzy at the mo) is another surprising retro-futuristic dystopia. I expect corporations will keep (and sell) this data in the future and perhaps licence it to the police. The other part of the time bomb is the warning that human-driven cars will be outlawed. Yes, well programmed self-driving cars can be a great convenience, but also a great loss of freedom. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to that future.
Personally, after reading this story, I think I need to pay more attention to the older men in my life. Not only do they carry experience and stories, I am the type of person who discards personal relationships and this is something to work on. I need to make sure I’m not throwing away the older persons in my life.
ISFDB Link: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?2363509