Pulp Consumption: Strange Economics

41XhWcD-mDLAbout a year ago, before we published David F. Shultz’s story “Jerold’s Stand” in Issue 5, Shultz ran a Kickstarter for a collection of science fiction and fantasy called Strange Economics. The concept of the collection was to marry the sf/f genres to explicit examinations of economic principles, and then to couple those stories with examinations by real world economists and discussion questions that readers could use as jumping off points to talk about economics with others. The collection was successfully funded and the fruits of that Kickstarter finally hit the presses after a small delay.[1]

The collection contains 23 stories of varying genres that have economic principles as major plot points, an afterword that examines economics in science fiction, and a selection of probing, open-ended questions about the included stories.

Each story is its own self-contained world, exploring one quirk or another about the current economic systems operating in the world today. Some are clearly advocating for one political interpretation of economics or another, left, right, center, centralized control, libertarian ideals, or some mixture of the space between extremes. Others are a little more oblique and critiquing subsystems like healthcare or copyright/fine print in contracts. But each story is an attempt in some way to take a modern day concern and spin it out in the ways that science fiction and fantasy always have.

Some stories are better than others. To wit, “The Rule of Three” by Broadswords and Blasters alum Steve DuBois[2] is fantastic, and perhaps my favorite story in the anthology. It’s about small businesses attempting to survive corporate conglomerations and takeover bids, but set in an alternate world in which witchcraft functions and in which a Walgreens/CVS analog is attempting to purchase a small alchemy shop. You could also compare with something a little more comprehensible to book readers – bookstores vs Barnes and Noble in the days before Amazon trumped them all. The title comes into play as it’s a principle of witchcraft about good or evil being repaid threefold, and in which most aspects are quantified by threes.[3]

I was also a fan of “Guns or Butter” by Wayne Cusack, about a world in which an alien takeover has waged economic havoc on society, reducing people into significant haves and have nots, all because of the strange economic principle of doing away with money. There’s more to the story than that, but the future postulated here is a fever dream of the collapse of a capitalist system. As the discussion questions note, you can make a comparison to a place like Venezuela and its economic collapse, but it’s kind of a stretch since the downfall there has more to do with the piss-poor leadership of its dictator-presidents than because of some sort of post-scarcity model of society.

Two other stories I enjoyed are “Shocktrooper Salesman” by Simonas Juodis, but to give away much more than the idea of an alien trying to sell a weapon of mass destruction to a new buyer would be to do the reveal a disservice. Suffice to say, there’s a particular ecological and existential viewpoint that I sometimes share when I’m at my most curmudgeonly. The discussion questions for this story seem to be a bit softball, easy lobs to be smacked out of the park with minimum of effort. The other story I fell in love with was “The Soul Standard” by John DeLaughter, which is told in epistolary format as memos between Lucifer and the lords of hell as they come to grips with hyperinflation in the afterlife. Venezuela was mentioned above, but maybe Dictator Maduro could take some of the advice Lucifer follows. The discussion questions about this story deal with some unanswered logical holes, but I think they’re overly critical.

There aren’t any stories I totally disliked, but I did feel as though Brandon Ketchum’s “Premium Care” was more like a bare bones treatment of a story rather than a full story in its own right. It’s also the shortest story in the anthology (unless I miscounted, in which case it certainly feels like the shortest one), and only really hits the surface level of the economic principle it’s trying to deconstruct: healthcare costs. It’s also the only story in which a typo raised its head enough to grate on my nerves. HIPAA has two As, not two Ps as presented in the story.

That one minor gripe aside, I fully enjoyed this anthology and heartily recommend it to fans of speculative fiction, whether you’re also fans of economics or not. Most of the stories are entertaining enough alone that there’s no need to be a policy wonk to enjoy them.

In the interest of full disclosure, we were provided an advanced copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.

[1] Kickstarters often run behind schedule, and this was no exception. However the delay was minor in the grand scheme of things, and far shorter than some insanely high profile projects, some of which may never see the light of day.
[2] Issue 4’s “Monsters in Heaven”
[3] Maiden, Mother, Crone, the three Furies, the three Fates, etc.

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2 Responses to Pulp Consumption: Strange Economics

  1. Reblogged this on Mangled Latin and commented:

    Today I talk about a new anthology of speculative fiction, Strange Economics.


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