The world of the Architects

Occasionally, we authors of science fiction get it right. We predict tablet computers, spaceflight, and social movements. Genetic engineering, surveillance, satellites, voicemail—all of it appeared in science fiction first.

Sometimes we predict utopian futures—you know, like Star Trek, where everyone’s pursuing their dreams in a society that has eliminated money and inequality. And sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we write futures that are not what we want at all, and we do it so we can write stories about what it’s like to live in those spaces and explore what might happen and how those futures might play out. We write less-than-utopian futures to explore how humanity might live in conditions like those, and to discover what we can learn about our own

The world of Architects of Memory operates from a central prediction: that companies and corporations, not governments, will be the ones to push spaceflight—and, when they do, they’ll act a lot like corporations currently do, and always have. With the fall of the governments, corporations became governments—and by the time our heroines ship off to salvage the starships over Tribulation, corporations are the only way to get off Earth. And with climate change being what it is, most people… well, they want to get off Earth.

But here’s the thing—you want something from a big megacorp in the future? You’ll have to buy it, just as you’ve always had to buy it. But, on Mars, you’re not just purchasing phone service and medical care and toilet paper. You’re purchasing the very air you breathe, and the only place you can get that air when you’re on a Company planet or a Company ship is the company store, and they can set any price they want. And once you’re away from the law of Earth, the only law that remains in your corporate tin can is the law set down by the Board of Directors. Who can stop them?

History repeats itself. We know this. The same conditions that gave rise to indentured servitude in seventeenth-century Virginia give rise to the indenture system in Aurora and Wellspring and the other companies. The same conditions that created the scrip-based company store in remote Appalachia will happen in the deepest, least-connected colonies in human space. The same conditions that support the collections industry today—unavoidable, crushing, killer medical debt, for one—will turn up on the ships that start ferrying us to the stars.

Unless we change.

If this world feels familiar, it should. This may be a world full of spaceships and aliens, yes, but it’s also our world. It’s end-stage capitalism.

When it comes to predicting the future, I don’t know if I want to be right.

Author: Karen Osborne

KAREN OSBORNE is a writer, visual storyteller and violinist. Her short fiction appears in Escape Pod, Robot Dinosaurs, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny and Fireside. She is a member of the DC/MD-based Homespun Ceilidh Band, emcees the Charm City Spec reading series, and once won a major event filmmaking award for taping a Klingon wedding. Her debut novel, Architects of Memory, is forthcoming in 2020 from Tor Books.