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Slavery in SF redux - Input Junkie
December 8th, 2009
09:05 am


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Slavery in SF redux
I was going to put an addendum on my recent post, but it ran so long I thought I might as well post it separately.

The exact quote was “What if one person could actually own another’s mind, in a new and more complete form of slavery?”

It's fun to have a list of mind control in sf, but none of the nominees (with the possible exception of Necropolis, which I haven't read) seem to quite meet the specs.

I'm assuming chattel slavery-- public, socially acceptable, and including a market. For it to be a more complete slavery, there's presumably surveillance, and probably the ability to make modifications.

It's entirely possible that I'm over-extrapolating and/or that such slavery was brought up as a story possibility in a class discussion rather than being based on an actual story.

Silverberg's To Live Again comes close, though the angle was more about fear of an individual slave revolt and there was no ability to modify.

A Fire Upon the Deep comes close, but the people with Focus mostly seem to be government property, with only one sub rosa case of personal use.

The Blight and the Puppet Masters aren't people.

There's another Vinge story ("The Cookie Monster"?) niggling at my memory about AIs wiggling their way out of repetitious VR, but even that doesn't quite meet the specs. IIRC, it was one scientist rather than the whole social structure-- it was rather in the spirit of Sturgeon's "Microcosmic God".

More generally, slavery is really common in sf and I've never seen a general discussion of it.

And symbolically, trying to control, modify, and sometimes own other people's minds is something people try to do a lot.

(8 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:December 8th, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
There's public and socially acceptable mind-slavery (but no public market per se) in "Saturn's Children" by Charlie Stross. The "acceptable" part of the slavery is that it isn't illegal or forbidden to do this to another person, it's just something that does happen especially to those who fall into debt. Rich and powerful people can enslave others pretty much on a whim as their power and wealth shields them from any possible consequences.
[User Picture]
Date:December 8th, 2009 05:38 pm (UTC)
More particularly, in Saturn's Children slavery is legal because there is no such thing a "person" that is not a corporation. Individuals are property of the corporation. If you are free, it is because you are the sole stakeholder in the corporation that owns you, and thus you can "do as the corporation directs" by being the person who defines corporate direction.
[User Picture]
Date:December 8th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)
The course syllabus includes Neuromancer, which I'd thought about mentioning. It's got both AIs and human personality "recordings" that are treated as property. The story is all about an AI trying to break its electronic shackles, but the human characters who help it do this aren't motivated by a moral objection to slavery, they're doing it because they're getting paid. The notion that it might be wrong to keep an artificial intelligence or a human personality construct as an unpaid servant never comes up.
[User Picture]
Date:December 8th, 2009 03:04 pm (UTC)
I can't think of any stories in which mind control is transferable. That would be a prerequisite for slave markets of this kind.
[User Picture]
Date:December 8th, 2009 03:21 pm (UTC)
I think Nekropolis is indeed what you want. I haven’t read the novel, but I remember either reading the first chapter or reading a short story set in the same universe. There’s a scene from the POV of the slave where she is transferred to a new master and her feelings about the old master shift from admiration to “meh”.

If we’re going to talk about slavery and Heinlein, of course, there’s Citizen of the Galaxy, but that universe’s slavery involved old-fashioned coercion, not mind control.
[User Picture]
Date:December 8th, 2009 03:37 pm (UTC)
And Farnham's Freehold, "Logic of Empire", and Time Enough for Love, at least.
[User Picture]
Date:December 8th, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks for these posts. I hadn't considered this idea, and I find it intriguing.
[User Picture]
Date:December 9th, 2009 12:05 am (UTC)
There's a fairly lighthearted treatment of mind-slavery in the webcomic Freefall (with AIs -- including created biological beings) being at the mercy of any "human" who gives them orders.
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