Drinking Sapphire Wine

by Tanith Lee
Series: Four BEE 2
Reviewed date: 2018 Oct 19
Rating: 3
175 pages
cover art
cover art

The adventures of our unnamed hero continue. No longer an Angsty Whiner, she's a revolutionary and a hothead. It's hard to be a revolutionary in Four BEE, however, because the quasi-robot Committee that runs the city has abolished all punishment for crime. When everything is free, every concievable pleasure is available at the drop of a hat, and death is not permanent, what possible crime is there?

Our hero is a revolutionary by being a real jerk to her friends. She plays a nasty trick on her friend Zirk, making him so angry he challenges her to a duel--which she wins. Turns out, that's a bridge too far. The quasi-robots decide it's murder, even though death is about as permanent as a bad makeup job. (Zirk just gets a new body in the morning.) But no, for her crime of deliberately killing another person, our hero is offered a choice of punishments. She can opt for Personality Dissolution: submit to having her memories and personalities erased, and herself placed in Limbo until she's revived and rebodied in a few hundred years. She'll be alive, but with no memories or knowledge of her previous self. Or she can choose banishment: leave the utopia that is Four BEE. The robots will give her some supplies and exile her into the desert. She will live the rest of her natural life alone in the desert.

Everyone expects her to choose PD. But she's a revolutionary!

"My decision is this: I'm heading into the desert. ... You think I've gone mad, and that's probably a logical assumption on your part. I'm scared, I'll admit, at what I'm going to do. But I tell you, we live here like a lot of embryos in a breeding tank. Every need is catered for. The Committee wipes our noses for us and picks us up when we fall down. Outside the domes we have a planet which actually belongs to us, and which half of use have never seen and would rather not see. I have seen it, and I like what I saw better than the sort of style and judgment you can see in Four BEE." I looked at the QRs. "So I've got the list of my requirements drawn up, and, brace yourselves, it's a long one. And I'm ready, when you Q-R gentlemen are ready, to get down to it."

She starts out having a great time. She uses a water-mixer (supplied by the quasi-robots) to create artificial rain in a small valley, and the desert blooms. She calls it her My Garden. She's doing so well for herself that the quasi-robots send out a robot film crew to check up on her and produce a short documentary to show the inhabitants of Four BEE. Why? I thought maybe it was to encourage others to join her. Maybe the quasi-robots were trying to give humanity a kick in the pants, so to speak? To encourage them to get out in the real world and take back their planet?


The documentary does have the effect of encouraging other people to go join our nameless hero. But most of them are useless and don't wish to work. They'll die in the desert, unless our hero can put them to work and turn them into productive members of a fledgling society--something they've never even thought of before, much less done.

The quasi-robots are most displeased. They try to force the exiles to return to Four BEE and submit to Personality Dissolution. Just hit reset, so to speak, and leave all the anarchist nonsense behind. Anarchists, that's the word the quasi-robots call them.

"Here it is, then. In a nutshell, so to speak. The Committe in Four BEE has no personal grudge against any of you, contrary to what you rather egotistically surmise. The cause for their alarm is only that you may damage yourselves in some irreparable emotional fashion, and others also in more widespread and terrible ways. You are, though you may not properly comprehend the term, anarchists. As such, particularly considering the comparative strength of your members--of the strength which your members may eventually attain, since so many in the cities appear to sympathize and lean toward your mode of existence and your ideals--as such, I repeat, you are very, very dangerous. For your own sake and for the sake of those who may misguidedly follow you, you are asked to surrender to us, here and now, and return voluntarily to PD. No harm is offered you. Ultimately, we are acting in your own interests."

I don't think anarchists is the right word here. Tanith Lee must be confusing anarchy with, oh, the human desire for meaning. The human longing for authenticity, for real relationships that mean something. The human desire for freedom and liberty and independence. That's not the same as anarchy.

At any rate, the quasi-robots fail to convince our hero to return. The quasi-robots then try to kill the anarchists, but fail. The small band of friends stay in the desert, determined to live a real and authentic life in the real world.

Real and authentic life--supported by magic machines that produce water out of nothing, other machines that produce food out of anything, still more machines that produce other machines that do whatever they need. I'm not impressed by their "roughing it" life in the desert. They're all gonna die as soon as the their machines break down and the Committee refuses to give them spare parts.

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