Saturday, November 14, 2009

"The Dead" by Michael Swanwick

Coincidentally, I was flipping through the current short story collection I'm reading (The Best of the Best : 20 years of the year's best science fiction) and came across this story by Michael Swanwick. Since "Triceratops Summer" was still pretty fresh in my head, I thought "Why not give this one a try?"

In no way could two stories by father apart than "Triceratops Summer" and "The Dead." Where one is strangely beautiful, the other is very twisted and bleak. Yet both, in my mind, are great stories, which should say something about the quality of Swanwick's work.

What is interesting about "The Dead" specifically, though, is that it successfully does what I feel "Stable Strategies for Middle Management" doesn't manage: it presents a disturbingly plausible corporate future. In Swanwick's future, not only do zombies exist, but one corporation has just figured out how to use the zombies as blue-collar labour. This means that whole swaths of people will soon be out of work in favour of the walking dead; that their only source of income will be to sell their future dead selves to the highest bidder. Moreover, there's the implication that zombies could also replace people as sexual partners as a sort of living dead concubines, which means the whole concept doesn't just threaten people's jobs, but threatens the future of humanity in general.

It's a truly disturbing thought, only made more unsettling because I could easily see it happening. Most often, in films such as Shaun of the Dead and Fido, the idea of zombies being re-purposed as cheap labour is used as a sort of tongue-in-cheek story point. However, Swanwick is pointing out in this story that there's no reason why this couldn't be executed (excuse the pun) by some corporation in complete seriousness, and that the effects would, in fact be devastating.

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