The Discrete Charm of the Turning Machine by Greg Egan, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Nov/Dec 2017

I’m not quite sure how I missed this gem during my initial read of this issue. It’s the first piece I’ve ever read of Greg Egan’s, and I must say, he’s grabbed my attention in a big way, as this is a depressingly relevant piece of fiction.

The main character, Dan, is a financial analyst (sort of) guy who is laid off even though his numbers have exceeded expectations for years. His wife is a nurse, but they have a daughter and a single income is not enough to support them for long. Dan begins looking for work. last time he was unemployed he spiffed up his resume and was hired right off the bat, but that was six years ago. technology has changed since and it seems like everything is a scam or outside his skill set.

In the weeks and months that follow Dan’s family is plagued by different misfortunes. Eventually, even his wife is laid off due to a new kind of robotic nurse. At the same time, his brother in law has purged his own house of electronic, cloud synching devices. He claims he’s found proof of the singularity.

On a separate subplot, Dan meets a man named Graham who has been unemployed for some years, has fallen into writing erotic novels for a mystery patron. He doesn’t know who it is because a courier picks up the printed manuscript. But when Dan follows the courier only to find that the courier goes to a dumpster and tossed the manuscript in the garbage.

This piece is about automation, sure, but it’s also about the culture in the United States that assumes if you don’t have a job you’re just lazy, though this is more and more commonly a fallacy.  Just a couple weeks ago, Amazon opened their cashier-free grocery store and eventually most, if not all, grocery stores will follow. This story applies this idea to doctors, teachers, financial advisers, and more. It’s a harrowing look into the future–one that likely isn’t that far away. (A)

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