The People of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi – Selection #25 of Deal Me In 2017

 

The Card: ♥2♥ Two of Hearts – *wild card*

The Suit:  For this year’s Deal Me IN, the suit of Hearts is the domain of Atropos, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato, sings of things that are to be (i.e. the “future” for Deal Me In purposes). This story is set in a distant future where human physiology has been enhanced by the incorporation of machines.

The Selection: “The People of Sand and Slag” was originally published in 2004 and was a nominee for the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novelette. I own it as part of the anthology The Very Best of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volume 2. This was a wild card selection and I picked it because it was in a source I was already using for Deal Me In 2017 and because I had read the author’s novel “The Windup Girl” last year. This story may be read online at the author’s website.

The Author: Paolo Bacigalupi  – A Colorado writer most famous for his novel, The Windup Girl, which was named by Time as one of the top ten books of 2009. Learn more about him at his website.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

The People of Sand and Slag

“Still, I remember when the dog licked my face and hauled its shaggy bulk onto my bed, and I remember its warm breathing beside me, and sometimes, I miss it.”

I don’t know how much more dystopian you can get than a world where there are no longer dogs, or at least one where they’re so rare that hardly anyone has ever seen one. Such a world, however, is inhabited by Jaak, Lisa, and Chen – three security-guard types who, at the onset of this story, are sent off to intercept and eliminate the source of “hostile movement” within the corporate boundaries of “SesCo’s” mining operations.

What they find is not some perpetrator of corporate sabotage or espionage, but an old, wild, and mangy dog.  They can’t believe their eyes, believing at first it’s some kind of quadrupedal “bio-job.”  Jaak confirms the ID, however, saying “Oh yeah, it’s the real thing all right. I saw a dog in a zoo once. I’m telling you, this is a dog.”

But what would three bio-engineered, machine-enhanced humans of the future do with a dog? Lisa laughs that “It’s hard to believe we ever lived to evolve out that. If you chop off its legs, they won’t regrow.”  (Lisa’s broken femur from the team’s “helo-casting” into the slag pits already having healed.). The company flies in a biologist (“You mean a bio-engineer.” “Nope. Biologist …they study animals”) to take a look at it.  He confirms authoritatively that it is indeed a dog, and the team are surprised that he doesn’t want to take it with him.

One member of the team wants to eat it. One wants to keep it. All are worried about the hassle of taking care of it and providing for it. Food, for instance, is an issue. These humans can eat rock and sand, which provide all the “nutrients” their types of bodies require (“Who needs animals if you can eat stone?”).

What will become of this poor creature while under the “care” of its new masters? You’ll have to read the story yourself to find out the rest.

windup girl

As I mentioned in the intro, I also read Bacigulapi’s novel “The Windup Girl” last year and, while I didn’t quite connect as much as I hoped to, I found it – and it’s own dystopian future – quite interesting.

 

 

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