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)

Assassin in the Clouds by Robert R. Chase, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2018

When a secret agent is hired to protect a man aboard a futuristic zephyr made of transparent aluminum, what’s the worse that could happen? Well, somebody could tape an explosive to the bottom of the transparent swimming pool, for starters.

The blast begins a series of events in which the narrator/protagonist tries to uncover what Dr. Kamiji might have done or might be planning that would warrant an attack that could kill everyone on board.

At its core this piece is an action/mystery–most of the science fiction involved could be replaced with current technology in order to tell the same story. While this piece has some interesting visual descriptions and cool action sequences, it’s not anything particularly new, and even the reveals in at the end of the piece feel overdone from where I’m sitting–overly aware that Jeff Bezos is, someday soon, make all uneducated jobs obsolete with automation. Yes, this piece touches on this–it’s an exciting prospect, as we will have to find other ways in which to apportion wealth other than “work.”

More People, Less Jobs

So I don’t have an issue making coffee for a living. I also write content for a broker, which is awesome–I mean, I’m a freelance writer who works at a coffee shop also. How Seattle is that? But what I do mind is people thinking those who don’t have jobs are lazy. See there’s a real problem in our society that equates work to productivity and your contribution to society. But making coffee for people doesn’t make the world a better place. It just feeds people’s caffeine addiction. Writing copy for corporations–and I’ve written for companies you’ve definitely heard of, doesn’t make the world better, it just tells people they should buy more things they don’t need.

Now I’m really lucky because with the advent of the internet I was given a job. Freelance writing from home is a great privilege and it’s a job I would not have had even 3 years ago. Or even 2 years ago. However, for every job the internet creates many are destroyed. I mean Amazon has made bookstores basically obsolete. Right now we have Uber and Lyft that provide jobs and autonomy to people, but what happens when Google’s driverless cars are everywhere. We won’t need human drivers to take us places. So technology is getting better and better and jobs are fewer and fewer. When do we, as a culture, a society realize, oh, there are way more people in the world than there are jobs. So the people who don’t have jobs aren’t lazy, there just isn’t paying job in existence for them. Do we let these people starve? Why would I need a janitor if we have a robot who can mop?

Look, I know it feels like homeless or jobless people are lazy sometimes. And some of them are. But many have skills that are simply not used anymore in the work place. A man who used to manufacture cars is no longer needed. Robots do his job and there’s another robot that fixes those robots. Just one guy is employed to fix that one robot, and that’s only part time. So what happens when work ends? I don’t know. But we need to come to an understanding that the end of work, isn’t as far away as we think.