Thursday, March 10, 2011
Short Story by Corey Mariani
Published Free Online, Lightspeed January 2011
In the future, kids have their brains enlarged at the age of four to better interact with people using social networking. Essentially, they have their Dunbar's Number increased, and further augment this with AI avatars used to interact with friends, and download the memories at the end of the day. Most people are friends with the majority of the world, and our ten-year-old protagonist wants to someday love everyone in the world at the same time.
What starts off as a vaguely creepy free-love utopia rapidly becomes dystopian when the terrified, empathy-conditioned adults decide a boy named Nick is a sociopath and thus potential dictator, based on his lack of friends and inability to love himself. Mariani takes an easy prediction about social networking, writes a happy, childhood story, and then shifts suddenly to a dark tale of child soldiers. It's a neat realization, how easy it would be for a person without empathy to take over a society built very literally on loving your neighbors. No one can bear the thought of stopping him.
But I'm not sure how they justify what they do to the underconditioned children, when they can't justify doing anything to the threats themselves. This doesn't hurt the story much, because the kids themselves can't stand this hypocrisy either. I like that the actual violence is a minor part of the story, mostly focused on cheerful, child-narrated world-building at the start, and grim, justified anger by the end. A simple story, but moving and thoughtful enough to stand apart from the crowd.
3.5 dictators out of 5 could use more friends on Facebook.