Monday, June 1, 2020


By Doug Engstrom

Back in 2013, when I first started messing around with the ideas that became Corporate Gunslinger, I thought the motifs of lifetime servitude based on debt and trial by combat as a substitute for the legal system might be such obviously wild, over-the-top, satirical ideas people would have trouble engaging with the story. Seven years later, a little more than two weeks from publication, I told a friend I was glad the folks at Harper Voyager tagged A Novel off the end of the title, because otherwise it might get shelved with narrative non-fiction and no one would notice. 

I was only partially kidding. 

I always saw the book as part of that long tradition of science fiction that goes to where society seems to be headed, takes a few pictures, and returns to ask, "Are you sure this is where you want to go?" What I couldn't have dreamed seven years ago is how rapidly we'd move in that direction. 

Americans are taught to love "opportunity" and "choice." An ever-increasing number of options in all areas of life is relentlessly promoted as the final good of consumer society and the opportunity to select them is portrayed as the ultimate expression of freedom. Of course, most of those "options" exist only for those with the means to access them, and many more are just camouflage for outcomes ranging from irritatingly bad to horrific. 

The real beauty of "choice," though, is that the chooser can always be made "responsible." Any story of exploitation posted on the internet will eventually produce a slew of responses insisting that the situation could have been avoided if the person being exploited had "chosen better." If only they had read the fine print, consulted a lawyer, done more research, or modeled the financial outcomes, then their situation could have been avoided. 

Never mind that they were lied to, denied access to information, or placed in a situation where all the choices were varying degrees of bad. "They have chosen, and must accept the consequences of that choice."

We've proceeded to the point where cutting off unemployment benefits for workers who "choose not to return to their job"--no matter how unsafe--in the midst of a global pandemic and depression is apparently reasonable public policy, and the opportunity to pursue a middle class career is bought with crushing debt.

Somewhere a bit further down this road we find the world of Corporate Gunslinger, where you have the "opportunity" to mortgage your freedom, and you can "choose" to face a professional gunfighter if you don't like the way you've been treated by a corporation. 

Take a look around and see if this is where you really want to go. 

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