“Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home,” by Genevieve Valentine.
Published in Clarkesworld, October 2016.
Lots of reviews for this one — most of them full of spoilers! So go, read — or take this pull quote as incentive:
This is the single best warning and commentary on modern humanity I have ever read. Not only is it beautifully written, but insightful and deep. (…) It is a commentary made all the more potent by recent events. Do not miss this story. Read it until it sinks in.
Here’s all the reviews, in all their spoilerific glory:
Seraph, at Tangent Online, is enthusiastic:
This is the single best warning and commentary on modern humanity I have ever read. Not only is it beautifully written, but insightful and deep. It not only categorizes the dangers of fully-immersive VR, and by extension those of excessive gaming, but of the abuses that can occur where there is little prison oversight, and unchecked corporate greed. Between getting lost in the digitally constructed world, which is so immersive as to even create false memories, and the medications given to involuntary test subjects to manipulate their minds into believing the game’s input, it’s not hard to see how Marie could no longer distinguish between reality, how she became so hopelessly addicted to the world of the game that she was willing to do anything to get back. It’s equally not difficult to see how Benjamina would become so disillusioned with the victimization for profit that she had been a part of. Even less surprising is the half-hearted media coverage, or should we say, cover-up. Most striking is the apathy of so many people who make the game break sales records, in spite of the controversy. It is a commentary made all the more potent by recent events. Do not miss this story. Read it until it sinks in.
Charles Paysuer calls the story “heartbreaking” and “wrenching,” and I particularly liked this observation he makes:
But for Marie I feel like it was a second chance. It was a chance to recreate herself, to be someone at peace with what she was doing. Not always at risk, afraid, and exploited.
Rocket Stack Rank has mixed feelings:
Pro: Nice twist that it’s all a simulation. The story told in letters is a nice device. The conclusion, that Marie got to go back into Themis after all, is amusing and yet also a little sad.
Con: There’s no protagonist and really no plot to speak of, other than Benjamina’s struggle to somehow do something to make herself feel better about what she did.
And A.C. Wise writes:
Bits of the story that feel like sly winks to our own reality (…) However, the bigger themes of the story are about truth and the nature of reality. Is it a lie if it feels real, if people don’t know they’re being lied to, if they can’t remember the lies they’re told? (…) ”Everybody from Themis Sends Letters Home” also touches on the idea of who has rights, who gets silenced, and who gets used as a tool by the system for “the greater good.”
What did you think of “Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home”? What’s your take on it? Join the discussion in the comments!