Zero Hours: Precariat Design Fiction

Tim Maughan uses design fiction to sketch a vision of our precarious future:

Nicki is awake even before her mum calls her from the other side of the door. She’s sat up in bed, crackly FM radio ebbing from tiny supermarket grade speakers, her fingers flicking across her charity shop grade tablet’s touchscreen. She’s close to shutting down two auctions when a third pushes itself across her screen with it’s familiar white and green branded arrogance. Starbucks. Oxford Circus. 4 hour shift from 1415.

She sighs, dismisses it. She’s not even sure why she still keeps that notification running. Starbucks, the holy fucking grail. But she can’t go there, can’t even try, without that elusive Barista badge.

Which is why she’s been betting like mad on this Pret a Manger auction, dropping her hourly down to near pointless levels. It says it’s in back of house food prep, but she’s seen the forum stories, the other z-contractors who always say take any job where they serve coffee, just in case. That’s how I did it, they say, forced my way in, all bright faces and make up and flirting and ‘this coffee machine looks AMAZING how does it work?’ and then pow, Barista badge.

Full Story: Medium: Zero Hours

Bram E. Gieben’s “Search Engine” is sort of a journalist/blogger’s version of this scenario.

See also:

Homeless, Unemployed, and Surviving on Bitcoins

Willing to Work But Too Tired to Hussle

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman Talks About the Precariat


Short sci-fi by Tim Maughan:

“‘Burgerpunk?’” Tamsin squinted at me over the rim of her ironically ugly spex. “And that’s…what?”

Her eyes aimed down again, I could tell she was reading from some non-existent document floating in her own private space, my portfolio I presumed. It was also painfully obvious this was the first time she’d seen it. I stifled a sigh.

“Well…it’s a phrase I coined when I was in Shanghai. It’s…let me think. You know what steampunk is, right? Do you remember that?” She was probably too young.

“Sort of.” She half nodded. “Vaguely. Cogs and robots dressed as Colonial Saunders. Airships.”

“Yeah, that’s it. Pretty much. It was this romanticised idea of Victorian Britain but with this…this steam powered technology stuff. Anyway it got really popular in the States mainly, the reasoning being it allowed Americans to fetishise this sanitised, romanticised British Empire, because they’d never had one. I mean they had an economic, military and cultural empire – but not a physical, old school empire with an exciting history, right? Their empire never showed up on any maps.”


“So, the Chinese have the same problem, right, but slightly different – they’ve got this economic and maybe military empire, but they don’t even have a cultural one. Because of the language thing. Nobody outside China apart from a few nerds is watching Chinese movies, reading Chinese comics. So they’ve started fetishising America’s cultural empire. Burgerpunk.”

“Right.” It didn’t seem like Tamsin was completely following me, but I carried on regardless. It was too late to stop, I guess.

“So over in Shanghai and Beijing they’ve got all these AR parks and shopping malls and restaurants, where these salary men and factory workers take their families, and they can sit and eat burgers and milkshakes in fake ‘50s diners served by robots that look like Ronald Reagan and Lady Gaga while clips of the Vietnam war play on flat screens. Just outside Beijing there’s actually a theme park where you can dress up like gang members, and drive around this hyper-real recreation of an anonymous LA retail park – all burger franchises and outlet stores – in replicas of exactly the sort of gas-guzzling US muscle cars that the Chinese government has just had to ban.”

Full Story: The Orphan: #Burgerpunk

Behind The Scenes At TEDxSummerisle

TEDxSummerisle slide

Weird Shit Con co-organizer Adam Rothstein writes about his role in the TEDxSummerilse hoax:

I was never personally concerned about the potential consequences of staging of an act of violence on Twitter, because the moment anyone attempted to ascertain where precisely this violence was occurring, they would see the Wikipedia page revealing that Summerisle is a fictional locale. On the other hand, with the TEDx conference, we all exploited the trust of our social networks. Our fake Twitter accounts prattled away, posting silly observations and chatting with each other, as we enjoyed mocking some of our less favorite (real life) personalities. But with our real Twitter accounts, through which we typically voice our real opinions and observations in a way that we hope people will generally take seriously, we retweeted the postings of our fake Twitter accounts. By association, we shared our followers’ trust of us with these non-persons, these digital patsies. Among all of our past tweets—the articles we’ve shared with our real Twitter accounts, the experiences we broadcast, the history-making events we’ve witnessed, the photos of breakfasts we’ve taken—are these lying tweets like black marks in our streams. They are not ironic “retweets do not imply endorsement” posts, but as precisely the opposite. We knew that retweeting these tweets implied reality, and we used that to give our fairy tale the weight of truth.

And a fairy tale is what it was. The talk titles and subject matter were ridiculous, each a parody in and of themselves.

Full Story: Rhizome: The Strange Rituals of TEDxSummerisle

Previously: Performative Group Horror Fiction: TEDxSummerisle

Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes

“Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes” by Tom Crosshill was nominated for a Nebula this year. The story takes place in Portland, OR and there’s a character, called “Emily,” who is only mentioned, never seen, who I suspect is based on Amber Case:

“Breakthroughs?” I pull back without meaning to. “Every month, heck, every week we get some breakthrough. We all rush to try it and blog it and show it off. Aren’t you scared we’re losing our humanity?”

“Oh, but we’re not human anymore! We’ve fragmented into a thousand different species. With every new technology we choose to adopt — or not — there are more of us.”

“You’re spouting Emily again.”

Lisa turns away, goes back to her suitcase. “She’s a brilliant woman.”

“She’s our competitor.”

“Should we miss out on a chance to change the world again, just because Emily works for the wrong corporation?”

On the screen, Dad gets up on his elbows and watches someone approach. A lithe figure and beautiful, strikingly dark against the white sand. A simulacrum of Mom as she once was. The thing can’t even hold a conversation, but Dad doesn’t seem to mind. He reaches out a lazy hand and grasps her, and draws her down atop him.

Full Story: Clarkesworld Magazine: Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes

A Voyage To Modern Day Catan and Carcassonne


Fictional travel journalism by Adam Rothstein:

The island of Catan and the landlocked nation of Carcassonne export entertainment and community. Their economies and politics make possible the board games that families and friends play around their dining-room tables. They are game-nations, which exist only while the power of our minds gives their societies support.

We spend so much time hovering above these places, and yet we know them only through small bits of wood and paper. We read flat descriptions of historic port systems, of the building of new roads, of mountain villages in virginal ecosystems, of sprawling Kowloon-like architecture, and of religious and political intrigue.

But most people who play these games know little about what it is like to live in Catan and Carcassonne. I decided to visit and see for myself.

Full Story: The Magazine: Name so f the Games

Photo: Ernstl / CC

The Corporation Who Would Be King

Some design fiction from Tim Maly, who wrote that thing about corporations being bad AI:

“…if a firm, partnership, company, or corporation owns real property within the municipality, the president, vice president, secretary, or other designee of the entity is eligible to vote in a municipal election…”
-Montana Bill Would Give Corporations The Right To Vote by Ian Millhiser for Thinkprogress

A broader version of this law passes, leading to an explosion of algorithmic corporations owning nominal fractions of land to meet the real property requirement.

Eventually, the corporate hordes overrun their human voter counterparts. A ballot measure is introduced allowing corporations to stand for election. It passes. Now, their dark work begins.

Full Story: Quiet Babylon: The Corporation Who Would be King

Performative Group Horror Fiction: TEDxSummerisle

It started like any other TEDx…


Then things started getting scary:


Full archive on Storify

Statement from TEDxSummerisle:

Thank you everyone who volunteered their time and labour to create this strange event, the worst TEDx in history. To be clear: this was a piece of experimental horror fiction. No TED attendees were harmed in the making of this event and we aren’t associated with either TED or either of the Wicker Man films.

The Post-Colonial Space Opera Of Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard

I might be misunderstand the term, well, actually both terms, but I think Aliette de Bodard‘s work is “post-colonial space opera.” de Bodard has written three stories published in Clarkesworld set in, apparently, the same universe, each using science fiction to explore the effects of colonialism.

“Immersion,” which was nominated for a Nebula this year, is my favorite. It uses augmented reality as a lens to examine cultural imperialism:

“It’s their weapon, too.” Tam pushed at the entertainment unit. “Just like their books and their holos and their live games. It’s fine for them—they put the immersers on tourist settings, they get just what they need to navigate a foreign environment from whatever idiot’s written the Rong script for that thing. But we—we worship them. We wear the immersers on Galactic all the time. We make ourselves like them, because they push, and because we’re naive enough to give in.”

“And you think you can make this better?” Quy couldn’t help it. It wasn’t that she needed to be convinced: on Prime, she’d never seen immersers. They were tourist stuff, and even while travelling from one city to another, the citizens just assumed they’d know enough to get by. But the stations, their ex-colonies, were flooded with immersers.

Tam’s eyes glinted, as savage as those of the rebels in the history holos. “If I can take them apart, I can rebuild them and disconnect the logical circuits. I can give us the language and the tools to deal with them without being swallowed by them.”

Full Story: Clarkesworld: Immersion (You can also download an audio version)

The most recent was “The Weight of a Blessing,” and the original was “Scattered Along the River of Heaven.”

She’s written many more stories, and novels, that I haven’t read yet.

Read This Nebula Nominated Sci-Fi Noir Story

Art by Rick Berry

I love this story by Strange Horizons editor Brit Mandelo. Apparently I’m not alone — it’s nominated for a Nebula for best novelette (stories longer than a short story, but shorter than a novella).

“You’re the doctor?”

The newcomer’s voice was a melodious, rough-edged alto, like the women who smoked tobacco in old movies. It took Molly a moment to reconcile that voice with the thick, broad body. She saw the faintest hint of breasts under the tan shirt where she hadn’t noticed them before.

“Yes,” she said, stepping around her desk. She passed the examining table and storage shelves in three strides. Her tank top slid wetly against her skin as she stuck her hand out in offering. “You are?”

The woman paused, then took Molly’s hand. Her fingers were hot to the touch, red with sunburn. She must not have worn gloves. “Jada.”

Molly frowned. “What do you need?”

“Right to the point,” she said. She tugged her hand away and in one smooth yank pulled her shirt over her head. Then she stood straight, shoulders back. Molly flinched but forced herself to look. Jada was heavily muscled, dense as a tree trunk and probably just as hard, but that wasn’t what was breathtaking. It was the scars.

“You recognize these?” the woman asked.

Designs snaked over her torso, down into the temp-reg pants, up to her neck. The left side of her rib cage was a silvery mass of letters and symbols, all jumbled; there was a stylized sun around her navel with waving lines of light. A crane, its legs hidden by the waistband of her pants, spread its wings over her right side and torso. There were smaller signs hidden around the larger; three simple slashes crossed the space between her collarbones. Her skin was as readable as a novel, her flesh a malleable masterpiece made with knives. Some of the scars were still pink, and a spiral design on her left breast was an angry, fresh red.

Murder scars, Molly thought. Syndicate badge. The sheer number of them made her throat constrict. She took a step backward, as if one step would make any difference to a skilled killer.

Full Story: Tor.com: The Finite Canvas by Brit Mandelo

Augmented Reality Flash Fiction: “Beholder” by Sarah Grey

“Beholder” by Sarah Grey take a brief look at day to day life in a world where augmented reality is the norm:

She can’t read my traits, though. I am a private person; I do not relish the nagging chime of new comments added to my cloud. I pay a generous sum to a restriction service each month. In return, my data is viciously guarded, bolted and buried like sacred gold. Beyond my physical appearance, all this girl can know is that my name is Maria, that I am fifty-six, that I am an equity partner in a local law firm. She will also see a blink to my charity, founded and named in my daughter’s memory.

My own lenses are Italian—brushed platinum frames with comfort-molded earbuds and a soft rose tint that cools the cafe’s bright fluorescent lights. I blink visuals on, hoping to learn the girl’s name, and an avalanche of words and images engulfs her.

Full Story: Flash Fiction Online: “Beholder” by Sarah Grey

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