Title: Special Economics
Author: Maureen F. McHugh
Published: clarkesworldmagazine.com 2013, first published in The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy
Genre: Science fiction, near future
Length: 10989 words, novelette
Reading time: 1 hour and 12 min
I read this as part of my reading challenge: 25 short stories in 25 days.
First off this did not feel like science fiction at all. It just felt like fiction. The only science fictional bit about it was biocomputers. But can really only make it near future.
This is a story about two girls trapped in something that looks a lot like sharecropping where the workers gets more and more in debt rather than earning wages, because of course need to buy food, clothing and housing from the company.
I don’t know if this is going on in China now, but I know it did in the 1800s US where x-slaves were trapped in sharecropping deals much like this.
To me this felt like a story written for another market and rewritten to fit a science fiction marked by adding some biocomputers and batteries. And a fictional bird flu attack.
Mind you it is a great story. Great characters and a good story with some very sweet interactions. And of course it is a story about female friendship with a female protagonist.
This story is all about worker conditions and human relationships. I think the story wants us to think about the conditions of the workers who produce our stuff. But I found the relationship between the two young woman way more interesting, I mean yeah industrial workers in 3rd world countries gets treated like shit, not exactly big news. What however is unusual is a story about two young women helping each other out, having each others back and not being selfish about it at all. But the relationship is realistic enough that our protagonist, Jieling, don’t like every single trait of her friend. She sometimes does get annoyed at her. But she still help her out and she looks out for her in return. I enjoyed the story, but I still don’t really think it is a science fiction story so much as it is a conspiracy fictional tale of worker conditions.
After talking to my boyfriend about the story, or more talking at him. I figured out what this reminded me off. A few years back I had a class about popular culture in U.S.S.R. under the cold war. Our teacher told us about the kind of fiction the authors were encouraged to produce. It had to be told in third person because first person was too American and too egocentric. It had to have a happy ending to be encouraging to the worker/reader. And preferably it should be about the small man winning over a capitalist corporation. Special Economics is a story told in the third person, about a young woman, a nobody, winning over the big faceless capitalist corporation.
This of course might just be a coincidence but hey it is an interesting coincidence isn’t it?