Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

16 Dec 2021, 12:30 p.m.

Links and Notes: Poverty and Wealth Inequality in Scifi

Earlier today I spoke as a panellist at WorldCon (DisCon III), in the virtual session "Poverty and Wealth Inequality in Science Fiction." (I was a late addition.) I shared several links so I figured I'd reblog them here.

I'm Sumana (she/her) and I'm a scifi fan who works in the technology industry. I live in New York City and I'm from the US. I co-edited a scifi/fantasy anthology several years ago that you can read for free online. I have also been recommending one story a day on for some time now.

In case you're bored with the same old dystopian premises, try my web toy Randomized Dystopia.

I really appreciated what Jason Sanford said about the difficulty of doing international payments as part of the forces against equality in SF/F.

I read far more short stories/novellas than I do novels. Upon considering the panel topic I was reminded of a few recent stories. In all of them we take the point of view of workers or the underclass affected by the oppressive decisions of wealthy elites -- named and unnamed, seen and unseen, capitalist and not. (Warning for spoilers in some of my descriptions below.)

  1. "The Last of the Redmond Billionaires" by Peter Watts (2020) is a very dark vignette in a climate refugee future, wherein we barely see the oligarch and we focus on the rage -- eventually violent -- of those the oligarchs abandoned.
  2. "The Stillness of the Stars" by Jessica Snell (formerly McAdams) (2020) is a space thriller on a generation ship, in the far future. Elites (one of whom we meet) have betrayed a bargain with workers by secretly indefinitely deferring the date on which they'll lower the steerage-class wall and let workers into the paradise they've found.
  3. "One Hundred Seconds to Midnight" by Lauren Ring (2021) is set in an alternate present and uses the POV of an insurance company worker who gets trapped by a kaiju attack, and who reflects on how little their company values them and other workers, as shown in tiny insurance payouts.
  4. "Thank You For Your Patience" by Rebecca Campbell (2020) is set about ten minutes into the future; a worker is stuck doing tech support while the world slow-motion falls apart outside thanks to natural disasters; he is physically and virtually isolated from all sources of information and connection because of decrees from above.

A few places and ways short sf/f sometimes has a more ambivalent reaction to wealth inequality or suggests a more complicated attitude:

Closing recommendations from me: Walkaway by Cory Doctorow, and China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh.

I'm @brainwane on and on Twitter, and my blog is here at

Oh, and I meant to mention the fanvid "Dance Apocalyptic" which collages together a lot of film, TV, and more to illustrate stories of inequality and revolt.

Thanks to Worldcon for having me, thanks to the volunteers who supported the session, and thanks to Olav Rokne for moderating!