Don't Bite the Sun

by Tanith Lee
Series: Four BEE 1
Reviewed date: 2018 Oct 16
Rating: 2
158 pages
cover art
cover art
cover art

The last remnants of humanity live in opulent domed cities. Quasi-robots (Q-Rs) do all the work while people spend their lives pursuing any conceivable pleasure: food, sex, dreams, drugs, and inventing elaborate ways to die. But even death is not permanent: the Q-Rs simply put a person into a new designer body. Most people change bodies (and genders) every month or so. There is no scarcity of resources: everybody can get as much of anything as they want. The Q-Rs demand "payment" for things in the form of emotional outbursts, but of course anybody can "steal" things by simply taking them without payment. There's no punishment for crime of any kind.

Our unnamed protagonist (ugh, unnamed? Really?) is a young person, a Jang. Being Jang is sort of like being a teenager, if being a teenager lasted 50 or 100 years. As a Jang she's expected to use the jang slang (which is irritating and feels like a poor copy of A Clockwork Orange), and to participate in fads and to occasionally rebel against the system by engaging in sabotage. But the sabotage is never really actually destructive, because the quasi-robots would never let things get out of control; there are safeguards and backups and redundancies.

Because not revealing the main character's name is annoying, I'm going to call her The Angsty Whiner. She's bored with pursuing pleasure, because none of it is lasting. First she decides to cut everyone out of her circle, thinking maybe disconnecting will help. I got excited at this, because Tanith Lee seems to be describing a social network--in 1976!--sort of like Facebook or Google Plus. But the details are never made clear. I'm not even sure there's technology involved. There must be, right? But it's not clear. So that's a dead end.

Cutting people out of her circle doesn't give The Angsty Whiner meaning in her life, so she decides she's done being jang. She applies to the quasi-robots for a status change: she wants to be an Older Person. The Q-Rs hem and haw and tell her she has only been jang for 25 years when the typical period is 50 to 100. But she insists, so they test her, and tell her she failed. The Angsty Whiner whines about it, but they're right. For as much as she complains about being jang, her petulant attitudes and sense of entitlement peg her as firmly jang. (That's my observation, but maybe not Tanith Lee's. I'm not sure how she intends to portray The Angsty Whiner.)

The Angsty Whiner doesn't give up. If she can't become an Older Person yet, she decides maybe she'll get a job. The quasi-robots hem and haw and explain that jobs are usually for Older People, but they show her what's available. All the jobs are fake. Make-work. Bored people sitting in front of computer panels pushing buttons--but if they fall asleep on the job, the buttons push themselves. It's a charade. Even the "artists" use machines to carve sculptures out of marble. There's no creative process involved, and indeed, the carving machines can create the sculptures without human involvement--which they often do, because the human "artists" are usually taking a break to drink fancy drinks and eat fancy food.

The Angsty Whiner gets an inspiration: she can make a child. Raising a daughter will give her meaning in life. She convinces the quasi-robots to allow it, on the condition that she find a willing male partner. But she tricks them: she commits suicide, changes her gender, and presents herself as the male half. Alas, biology can't be fooled. When the Q-Rs bring the two parts together to create the child, it blows up. When The Angsty Whiner finds out her child has died, she feels a real sense of loss for the first time in her life.

She doesn't learn anything, though. She volunteers for an archaeology expedition to the desert outside the domed cities. She quickly finds out that even archaeology isn't real work. Her job is to listen to the professor talk about his theories while the archaeology robots excavate the site. They don't find anything except a single pottery shard with an inscription.


During the expedition, The Angsty Whiner runs away from the camp and spends some time in the desert. She experiences nature without the protection of the domed city and the quasi-robots. She survives a sandstorm. And her pet dies.

The Angsty Whiner makes it back to the city, where she ponders that perhaps she doesn't belong there. Maybe she belongs outside in the real world.

The end.

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