My reviews of Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology continue with “The Voluntary State,” a story by Christopher Rowe that was originally published in Sci Fiction in 2004.
In a post-Singularity future, the citizens of the Voluntary State of Tennessee live under the protection of the Governor, a superintelligence known as Athena. However, while all their material needs are being met and morale is high, their society is not free. Soma is one such citizen of Tennessee, who soon gets caught up in a Kentuckian resistance movement known as the Crow Fighters. Meanwhile, his intelligent car undergoes repairs at the hands of a mechanic named Jenny, who has her own fight with the authorities that coincides with the Crows’ plan to bring down the digital autocrats.
Citizens of the Voluntary State have some rather unusual legal names, like Soma-With-The-Paintbox-In-Printer’s-Alley (who works as an artist and lives in Printer’s Alley) and Jenny-With-Grease-Beneath-Her-Fingernails (who’s a mechanic). They also live in a world that seems reminiscent of Brave New World, full of police and surveillance that emphasize politeness, a parent-like ruling class, and daily communal activities like singing the national anthem. It’s a world where everything is malleable and intelligent, from cars and horses to garages and human brains.
In a strange way, I find it fitting that the story’s set in Tennessee and involves a resistance movement in Kentucky. Besides the usual libertarian conservatism in American Southern politics and culture, the idea of bringing all this change to Tennessee reminds me of the New Deal plan that brought about the Tennessee Valley Authority. Its goal of bringing electricity and raising the quality of life for the region is similar to the approach taken by the Voluntary State, which faces similar criticisms from the Crows as the TVA did from libertarian conservatives.
“The Voluntary State” is an interesting story, though one built more around perspective and the oddities of a future civilization ruled by superintelligence. The characters may not be that strong, but the plot moves quickly and the depth of the setting is clear enough to make it enjoyable.
Bibliography: Rowe, Christopher. “The Voluntary State.” Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology. Ed. James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel. San Francisco: Tachyon Publications, 2007.