A venerable type of SF story is one that takes contemporary life, adds a single new invention or technology for sale, and sits back and sees how it affects society. The innovation in today’s story changes the world more drastically than most. It begins:
Lindy sat in her compact pickup truck, took a deep whiff of In–Bliss, and tossed aside the spent plastic inhaler. She rested her forehead against the cold steering wheel.
A blue–tinted circular portal the size of a manhole cover opened up over the passenger seat, and a thin bare arm descended from it. She recognized the limb’s freckled, pale skin, the small scar on the inner wrist. It was her own arm. It groped blindly until it grabbed the inhaler, then retracted. The portal disc closed with a “pop.”
“Ah, take it,” Lindy muttered. “It’s empty anyway.”
Parallel worlds exist, all fairly similar to each other. The new invention is a Snatcher that allows you to open a hole to a parallel world and pluck out whatever you like. Although highly illegal, many people in our Lindy’s world own one, and it is now reckoned that her world has over a thousand originals of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Hers was the first world to develop the Snatcher, so they had a head-start stealing things, but lately other parallel worlds have invented the Snatcher too. It’s become a part of life that anything you own might, at any time, be snatched away from you by your parallel universe double.
The technology, and the way the wider world has been changed, is not the main focus of the story. It’s fixed on Lindy, her partner Kristina and their son Tommy. Lindy and Kristina are having relationship problems right now, in part because Lindy feels Kristina’s using the Snatcher too often to indulge and spoil Tommy; we first meet him at his birthday party, waving his favorite action figure in each hand.
But whereas Kristina sees the Snatcher as a device to fulfill her consumerist desires, Lindy is uncomfortable; partly with the morality of the Snatcher, depriving their parallel universe duplicates of everything they steal, and partly because the widespread use of the Snatcher is profoundly altering the way she looks at the world.
Highly impressive. The character dynamics of the protagonist are well chosen to exploit some of the most uncomfortable aspects of the Snatcher concept. The story ends on a depressing note, but it’s one that epitomizes the new society emerging.
Snatch Me Another by Mercurio D. Rivera
Availability: print, free online if you have a subscription to Abyss & Apex magazine
Word count: 4,000
First published: Abyss & Apex, First Quarter 2008
Where to find it: Unplugged: The Web’s Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy: 2008 Download, edited by Rich Horton, 2010, Wyrm Publishing
Across the Event Horizon, collection, 2013, NewCon Press