Today sees the release of Cautions, Dreams, and Curiosities, another anthology from the Tomorrow Project at Intel Labs. I was asked to write a story pertaining to the White House Grand Challenges, and I focused on food security. I watched a lot of TED talks (Netflix helpfully organizes the subject headings, and there have been a lot on the subject of farming, food security, food science, genetic modification, and so on) and a lot of documentaries like Food, Inc. and others that the organic/green/foodie community has been familiar with for a while, now. This was all months before I decided to go mostly vegetarian for health reasons, but the knowledge sure helped reinforce that decision. (I’ve since become one of those annoying people who tries not to eat meat that doesn’t come from a butcher I know by name. My butcher’s name is George. He sells us meat from, among other places, Beretta Family Farms. I no longer eat chicken unless it’s given to me, but I highly recommend their beef.)
With that said, the story turned out to be mostly about the future of imprisonment. That’s not a Grand Challenge, but it should be. The United States has mostly privatized the problem of how to spend the wealth of humanity generated by zero-tolerance laws and the War on Drugs, and the solution seems mostly to save it somewhere where it can never be seen or touched. To bury the talent. I wanted to write a story about people using their talents and achieving things. I was raised with the Catholic social teaching that values the dignity of work, and although I haven’t attended Mass in years and have no intention of doing so again, I still think that giving people jobs also gives them agency and purpose in life, and that alienating people from their labour also alienates them from that sense of purpose and meaning. The same goes for protagonists: compelling protagonists take control of their circumstances in order to achieve results, even when those circumstances are limited and opportunities for action are few. So in this story, prisoners prototype new ways of farming that lead to both personal and agricultural redemption. It’s the healing of the land as the healing of the self.
At least, that’s the theme I had in mind at the time. I’m not sure if I executed it clearly enough. That’s not really for me to decide. I can promise that it also includes tower farms, the future of Detroit, wild boars, spider bots, sparkly prison makeup, and a guy who gets sent to jail for open-sourcing GMO seeds. If that sounds like your kind of thing, you might enjoy it. I hope that you’ll read it, and that if you read it, you’ll like it.