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Wild Minds by Michael Swanwick

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“Wild Minds” is a 1998 science fiction short story by Michael Swanwick. It is about a man who refuses to be like everyone else and get his brain optimized.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

Brain“Wild Minds” follows Thom, a Catholic man who lives in a future Glasgow, Scotland. After meeting Hellene, an HR representative from Prague who does have an optimized brain, he brings her back to his place for a visit. She tries to convince him of the benefits of optimization, and he tries to explain the reasons he hasn’t done it. What follows is a very interesting conversation about how our society may turn out if scientists really do figure out a way to make our brains more focused. There are some thought provoking ideas, such as employment prejudice, new types of elitism, the role of conservative religions and law cases concerning mental imbalance.

My grandfather used to talk about the value of a good education. His generation was obsessed with the idea. But when the workings of the human brain were finally and completely understood – largely as a result of the NAFTA “virtual genome” project – mere learning became so easy that most corporations simply educated their workforce themselves to whatever standards were currently needed. Anybody could become a doctor, a lawyer, a physicist, provided they could spare the month it took to absorb the technical skills.

With knowledge so cheap, the only thing workers had to sell was their character: their integrity, prudence, willingness to work, and hard-headed lack of sentiment. Which is when it was discovered that a dozen spiderweb-thin wires and a neural mediator the size of a pinhead would make anybody as disciplined and thrifty as they desired. Fifty cents worth of materials and an hour on the operating table would render anybody eminently employable.

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • Michael Swanwick is a great writer, so if you like his other works you will most likely enjoy this story too.
  • An optimized brain is a really cool idea! It really makes you think about what would be possible with technology like that.

• The bad:

  • There are some adult situations and strong language, so stay away if that’s not your cup of tea.

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 10
“Wild Minds” garnered the following awards:

  • It was nominated for the 1999 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.
  • “Wild Minds” was shortlisted for the 1999 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award.
  • It placed 6th in the 1999 Locus Poll for Best Short Story.

Where you can find “Wild Minds”:

  • This short story first appeared in the May 1998 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction.
  • “Wild Minds” is included in Michael Swanwick’s award winning short story collection Tales of Old Earth .

Some Interesting Links:

  • Here is a great quote from Michael Swanwick about why he writes: “Because I’m the only one who can write certain stories which I very much want to read.” Ha! Check out the rest of this awesome interview on the website A Dribble of Ink.

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like Stable Strategies for Middle Management, about a woman who has undertaken a drastic form of bioengineering as a way to move up the corporate ladder, by Eileen Gunn.