Rusch is known to write about a future with advanced spacefare and aliens, but where some of the injustices in todays world still lives on. I recently wrote about “The Impossibles” with that theme. In this story the narrator isn’t exactly a likeable person that wants to fight injustice – though she might end up doing just that.
The narrator is a woman who works as a private detective, sort of, on some planetary settlement. She ended up there after she left her life and family on Earth behind when she signed up for a voyage across the galaxy. She signed all the waivers on the consequences of time dilation, but it took her a while to actually understand it – and then there was no going back. Now she offers investigative services to other people in a similar situation, by going through various data sources for information on their families back on Earth where at least a 100 years have passed. She gets a big case where she is tasked with investigating hundreds of travelers, which unveils a much greater crime that she is used to dealing with.
Rusch has made an interesting choice by having a narrator that is rather unlikable. She has a lot of self-hate but no real regrets on leaving behind her son and husband. The effect of this is that we don’t really have sympathy for her in the beginning, because she just have to live with the consequences of her actions, but through her investigations we hear of people who have ended up in the same situation as her having lost their families to the effects of time dilation – except they claim to not have done so knowingly.
The emotional impact isn’t quite on the same level as that famous scene in the movie Interstellar, but the story pushes the same buttons in that regard.
A reality tv show where it is literally about life and death is not a new idea in science fiction, and this story might not be very original, it still handles the subject in a very believable and engaging way.
The concept introduced here is pretty simple. 1000 people sign up for the event, everybody has to swallow a pill and a random person dies. Proceed to the next round to win more money or quit and keep your winnings. Rinse and repeat. The story is told by one half of a couple who entered together, so we know at least one of them survived, but how it all develops throughout the several months long tv program kept me hooked from start to finish.
It is sort of predictable how things escalates, how they have doubts as the odds gets worse and how they get hooked on the thrill so they can’t stop even though their winnings are already way beyond their initial goal. Even though the story didn’t throw any huge surprises at me – the ending being a slight exception but not huge – the execution from Gerrold is just very well done. I was hooked like it was an actual game show I was watching and everything surrounding it felt very realistic and plausible. I wouldn’t completely rule out such a reality show in some future at least.
This short story is set in a cyberpunkish future with an internet controlled by spambots and even the smallest misstep on social media, will get a person “cancelled” into oblivion.
We follow Joel who works odd jobs with various technical repairs. Over the years he has managed to get quite a few augmented upgrades on himself to be able to do advanced tasks, but his clients are mostly on the edges of society. He is tasked to do a repair on a humanlike robot by a very nervous and skeptical woman. She will not give him any information about herself or the reason for the repair job. Joel has his own sources though and manages to get enough data on her to know her name and that she posted something possibly racist on Twitter, which has ruined her life because automated bots make sure that every misstep online is never forgotten and everything she tries to do online is hampered by AI bots. Joel has his own similar baggage and even though she doesn’t ask for it, he tries to help her more than just repairing her robot.
In a relatively few pages, the author manages to create a bleak and dystopian future with no digital privacy and “cancel culture” is taken to extremes and out of control by automated bots. It is not a story that gives all the answers, give complete background stories or even resolve all plot threads, but it doesn’t need to. There is plenty of depth in this well written short story.