A Short Story from Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirty-Fifth Annual Collection # 2018
Edited by Gardner Dozois
Short stories’ collections always offer a mixed bag, at least according to individual tastes, and this eclectic anthology proved to be no exception: there were stories that did not speak to me, others that were nice but did not compel me toward a review, and then there were those that gave me that something extra that made all the difference. Here is one of them…
THE HUNGER AFTER YOU’RE FED
Seeing the name of James S.A. Corey listed among the authors of this anthology gave me a jolt of surprise and wonder, since it pointed to the writing team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank, creators of one of the best space opera series presently on the market, The Expanse. My hope that this would be a short story based in that universe was dashed immediately, although this Earth-based tale starts from one of the premises at the core of The Expanse, that the unemployed on our home planet need not worry about survival, since they are all allotted a monthly basic allowance, which insures they don’t starve.
As the protagonist of the story has learned the hard way, surviving might not be enough because human nature always requires something more, be it a deeper meaning or a more prosaic need to emerge from the crowd, to feel the worth of one’s individuality. As the man reflects at some point: “When I was young, we were afraid to starve […] now we fear being less important than our neighbors. All the vapid things that the wealthy did […] we are doing all the same things, but not as well, because we have less and we’re still new at it.”
So this man is risking everything on a search that seems both difficult and futile: discover the identity of radical writer Hector Prima, an author with a huge online following and an even bigger mystery surrounding his identity. Like many others before him, the character in this story has gambled his entire savings on his quest, as if his life depended on such a discovery, as if this were the meaning he needs to give substance to his life.
Apart from the interesting – if slightly depressing – peek into this sliver of Earth society, the story offers the chance of pondering the consequences of a society where basic needs might be fulfilled, but something more vital is sorely missed, something whose absence creates an “overpowering emptiness that most people didn’t recognize”.
It’s a bleak, somewhat disheartening consideration that comes from a facet of the overall story we tend to forget while focusing on the conflicts developing in outer space, but still I don’t regret reading it.