Unlike Robert J. Sawyer’s story “The Shoulders of Giants” in John Joseph Adams Federations anthology, Jeremiah Tolbert’s “The Culture Archivist” has considerably more bite.
Tolbert’s story takes capitalist consumerism to the ultimate conclusion: enforced participation in consumerist society. Not only is everyone a consumer, but alien planets are conquered in order to open new markets. It’s an interesting concept to explore, and Tolbert’s story shows how resistance to such a society might happen.
When reading this story, I was reminded of the movie Idiocracy. Not that Tolbert’s world has sunk to the level of mindless media consumption (although there are indications that in other parts of his universe this is the case) but that the point of existence is consumption.
While Tolbert’s view of an authoritarian future may be bleak, the core of the story is about the resistance to this authority. It seems particularly relevant today, as we see different forms of protests across the world, such as in Egypt.
While Tolbert’s story fits in the post-humanist subgenre of science fiction, it also plays well within the bounds of post-colonial fiction in general. The story is sharp and witty, while also being quite humorous. I especially enjoyed the way he dealt with an emergent AI swarm.
It’s a smart story, and fits well with the theme of the anthology, despite its overt pessimism.