Common framework stories exist. "Thieves' World" has served as a framework for multiple anthologies since 1978. One thing that such anthologies have in common is that the different styles of the authors can make the anthology seem uneven.
METAtropolis contains five stories by five different authors, each introduced by editor and author John Scalzi. Though I expected METAtropolis to be in a single city, the authors set their stories in several locations. There are connections between the stories, but each story stands on its own.
The first story is "In the Forests of the Night" by Jay Lake, narrated by actor Michael Hogan. Lake introduces Tyger Tyger as he attempts to enter Cascadiopolis. Tyger is charismatic and intelligent and quickly becomes influential and popular.
Puzzling were the parallel stories. A second, female person boldly enters Cascadiopolis, following Tyger. Then there is Bashar, a military leader of Cascadiopolis. Other significant characters are introduced, all centered on Tyger. In addition to the attempted character development, we learn much about Cascadiopolis, including tidbits that hint at bigger things never exploited.
John Scalzi tells us in the introduction to the story that the reason this story is first is that it provides the most description of the Cascadiopolis metatropolis. Unfortunately, that detail bogs the story down. Tyger's story contains interesting elements, but we deal with so much detail that the Tyger story often fades into the background and I became bored. Worse, by the time we get to the end of the story I was so bored that I actually no longer cared about Tyger. I was thankful that the story was over.
Bottom line: "In the Forests of the Night" is an eminently forgettable story that requires too much energy to wade through for the little value that it adds to METAtropolis. Though the story is coherent, because of the pacing and complexity, I give it two stars out of five.
Things look up with the second story, "Stochasti-City" by Tobias Buckell, narrated by Scott Brick. The hero of our story is an ex-military bouncer who finds himself in the center of plots and schemes. Our hero is initially a victim, but he finally takes charge of his life and works toward something better, all the while revealing some of the complexity of societal evolution in metatropolis. I found myself concerned about the hero of our story and was able to put myself quickly in his position.
The one downside to this story is the underlying messages. Yes, greed is bad, carbon footprint is important, and cars are evil. Unfortunately, Buckell repeated these not-so-subtle messages multiple times and eventually I tired of them. I really did not need to have the evils of internal combustion powered cars rubbed in my face five or ten times to get the message.
Other than the not-so-hidden propaganda, this story was quite interesting and intriguing. I give this story four stars out of five.
The third story, Elizabeth Bear's "The Red in the Sky is Our Blood," read by Kandyse McClure, contained an interesting barter system, in combination with communes and a raft of other philosophical concerns. Sometimes the detail got in the way of the very interesting and complex story. This story points out one of the consistent flaws in this concept: the authors often seemed so caught up in describing their dystopic vision of the future that they forgot that their primary purpose was to tell a story. This story rates three out of five stars.
This collection finishes strong.
The fourth story is John Scalzi's "Utere Nihil non Extra Quiritationem Suis," read by Alessandro Juliani, which I think means something like "Everything but the Squeal."
Scalzi tells the story of Benjy the slacker, who seems to think the world should revolve around him. The reality of life strikes Benjy when he comes of age and is required to get a job or literally get out - of the city. Sadly, Benjy has spent most of his life sucking off the creativity and labor of others and he finds that his only skill (besides being a leech on society) involves pigs. Benjy soon learns that he and pigs have much in common.
Though there are serious undertones to this story, it is quite humorous and reminds me strongly of Robert A. Heinlein. Benjy realizes that he does want to be a good citizen and realizes that his skills are far greater than what he knew he had. Be prepared to laugh and enjoy the best story of this group, the only five star story in the bunch.
The last story has moments where it was cumbersome, but contains a concept so intriguing that it may have been the story that made me think the most. Karl Schroeder's "To Hie from Far Celenia," read by Stefan Rudnicki, describes, as I thought to myself as I listened to it for the third time, circles within circles within circles. You have to listen to the story to understand why I described the story in this way. The closest parallel I have is the plot of "Three Days of Condor," where there was a network within the U.S. intelligence community with its own agenda and rules. Apply to a virtual world where there worlds within worlds. The concept is dizzying and difficult to follow in parts. Reading might have been easier than listening. Four stars out of five for this one.
If you add the totals and divide, you end up with 3.6 stars, which means that this collection is closer (by a small amount) to Amazon's four stars than three stars, but only barely. The struggle is not so much with the rating, but the price. My thought: if you can find this collection for half the normal list price, it is probably worth having. Otherwise, you have to be a fan of audio books and the authors to choose this collection.