Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Carolyn Ives Gilman

What appealed to you most when writing “The Invisible Hand Rolls the Dice”? What compelled you to finish the story?

This is a story about the commodification of absolutely everything. It portrays a future world where culture, religion, and people themselves are consumer goods bought and sold on the open market. No one in the story thinks they are living in a dystopia; they cheerfully collaborate and celebrate their own commodification — until they can’t any more.

I have exaggerated to make a point, but everything about Lee’s world is consistent with our own. Fifty years ago, hospitals were run by religious, charitable, and non-profit organizations, and a science fiction story about a world where health care was monopolized by corporations — and priced as a luxury so that only the wealthy can afford it — would have been read as a dark dystopia. Yet that is the world we live in today. We don’t appear to find it immoral. Some people defend it. From that, it is a short leap indeed to a world where religion is franchised like hamburgers and people sell stock in themselves. In fact, I’m a little surprised no one has thought of the latter idea — although you could argue that that is exactly what student loans are: banks buying a share of a person’s future income. The main difference from indentured servitude is that the bank doesn’t dictate what the student must do to pay them back.

The art of business is a very strong element in this story. What elements from “The Invisible Hand Rolls the Dice” do you feel are reflected in the modern world?

This is one of several stories I have written about economics (see also “The Economancer”), because it is a “science” that shapes our daily lives far more than rocketry or nanotech. Moreover, economics lends itself to the surreal and weird. It is even dominated by what I would call magical thinking. Yet surprisingly few science fiction writers tackle it. I wonder why not.

Controlling destiny in a world where others wish to control it for you brings up an interesting concept. What would you do in the situation that Lee has presented?

The “Invisible Hand” of the title is not, of course, destiny, but a quote from Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, who observed how, in a market economy, self-interested participants are “led by an invisible hand” to actions that promote the common good. And yet, all you have to do is turn on MSNBC to find people conflating Smith’s theory with destiny, or even divine will. It gets transformed into the “wisdom of the marketplace” and “greed is good.” But the all-knowing, benevolent market has a dark side. And when the illusion shatters, we’re left with nothing but our humanity to fall back on.

Businessmen want to believe, even more than most of us, that the future is predictable and human behavior is controllable. Billions of dollars are spent to model the future. My advice to Lee would be, don’t fall for it — but of course, he doesn’t listen to me. If he did, there wouldn’t be a story.

What might we be seeing from you in the near future?

My next novel, Dark Orbit, will be published by Tor in July. It is a story set on a newly discovered planet that challenges everything its explorers think they know.

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Patrick J Stephens

Patrick J Stephens recently graduated from the University of Edinburgh and, after spending the entire year writing speculative fiction, came back with a Master’s in Social Science. His first collection (Aurichrome and Other Stories) can be found on Kindle and Nook.