"The Voluntary State" by Christopher Rowe: An Appreciation by Susan Marie Groppi
After the convention was over, my curiosity about the novel and that setting led me to find the other story, "The Voluntary State." I pulled up the story from the SCI FICTION website, figuring that I'd just find it and bookmark it and come back to it later, but the first paragraph was kind of intriguing, and I told myself I'd just read a little bit, and instead I found it too compelling to stop, I had to keep reading. And then when I got to the end, I didn't want it to be over, so I stayed at the computer and read it again, and by the end of the second reading I realized almost in a daze that I was late for a meeting.
I'm starting to realize that I may not be up to the challenge of explaining why "The Voluntary State" is one of the most brilliant stories I've ever read. I'll try, but mostly you just need to read it for yourself, because all I'm doing here is trying to attach some kind of articulate explanation to a huge overwhelming feeling of "Oh, wow. This is . . . this is just perfect."
In the early parts of the story, I was pulled in by the strangeness of the world. The idea that these people live in a place where everything around them is alive to some degree, manifested artificial policement who fly in on bicycles, public works projects conducted by cranes (with "acres-broad leaves" that change color with the seasons) that are grown for special projects and go dormant in the winter, predators in the ocean shallows who grow prey lures that look like drowning children. Those kinds of things keep happening throughout the story--that lovely weirdness never lets up--but that's not all that's going on. If that were the extent of the appeal, then it would be a great one-time read, a single flashy thought experiment. But this isn't that kind of story. It's the kind of story that you can read and keep reading, because it's so deep and rich and tangled. It's the kind of story that makes me remember why I love science fiction in the first place.
Link to story.