Shadow Prisons • 2020 • Dystopian novelette by Caroline M. Yoachim

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Synopsis: In a dystopian future, a harsher form of the Chinese social credit system is implemented. The reader witnesses the system becoming deployed with the help of glasses and implants for augmented reality. They make the whole world look pretty and are used as interface to everything. They becomes sort of mandatory because there is no meaningful life in society without it. 

As soon as someone scores below an unknown threshold, they become a “shadow”. They live freely among others and aren’t imprisoned, but they are completely anonymized. One cannot see their appearance, hear their real voice, identifying words are faded out.

The three stories follow main protagonist Vivan who tries to protect her rebellious teenager daughter Cass from becoming a shadow, as she engages in a resistance against the system. But Vivian becomes a shadow herself. Only her wife protects them now as shadow keeper, people who take care of the outcasts and can see them.

If Vivian is able to get scores by behaving and engaging in requested activities, she might drive her social score above the threshold and becoma a “citizen” again. Will she manage this?

Review: This novelette is serialized as three consecutive short stories. They overlap a little bit when the next story recaps the previous part which is really unneeded when reading them back to back. 

Yoachim checks all needed dystopian tropes: a reckless corporation getting control over citizens; social pressure to conform to the rules; protagonists gets on the bad side; hope to break the system; failure to do so; a bland future. 

Does that sound familiar to many other dystopian works? It does, and it is done well. The author pulls those tropes within a highly concentrated form. Several logical loopholes come up, many elements aren’t explained at all, and in summary the dystopia feels more like a sketch than a full story, although it covers a long timespan in the life of Vivian. 

It’s worthwhile reading because it is short, but it isn’t award worthy material in my humble opinion.

Meta: isfdb. Available online at Lightspeed (it’s three short stories). Nominated for the Nebula Award.

This entry was posted in Nebula nomination, Science Fiction, Story and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Shadow Prisons • 2020 • Dystopian novelette by Caroline M. Yoachim

  1. pdtillman says:

    Thanks for your nice review.
    I read the first third, and wasn’t too impressed, though it’s well-written. I generally don’t care for dystopian stories. I agree that it’s not award-worthy. I may go on and read the rest (or not).

    Liked by 1 person

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