It’s back! The blog advent calendar. I enjoyed last year’s blog theme last year—re-reading twenty-four books of my youth—so much, so this year I’m applying the same approach to short stories, trawling through a myriad bunch of collections and anthologies I’ve read in the last few years.
December 14th: Death Switch by David Eagleman
Tell me about your first time: There aren’t many books like David Eagleman’s Sum. It’s a collection of forty pieces of flash fiction, each imagining a different (secular) afterlife. Some are satirical, some are poignant, some are absurd. They are all brilliant.
I read this many years ago, and ever since I have frequently told people about this one afterlife that appears in the book. At the time I was preoccupied with the notion of what happens to social media platforms when one dies; do they freeze, and stand forever as a memorial to the person who once maintained them? One story in Sum carries shades of this, exploring technology and it’s response – and influence upon – death and grief.
Sum it up: The Death Switch starts as a simple mechanism to schedule messages to send to loved ones after a person’s death. But slowly its sophistication increases, until it can simply be programmed to emulate the deceased’s personality and respond in real time to events, until after a while, there may be no-one left on earth but computers talking to each other, pretending to be people.
Give me a quote: “This began as a good-spirited revolution against the grave’s silence. The problem for those of us still living, however, is the increasing difficult in determining who’s dead and who’s alive. Computers operate around the clock, sending out the social intercourse of the dead: greetings, condolences, invitations, flirtations, excuses, small talk, insides jokes, codes between people who know each other well. And it is clear now where this society is going. Most people have died off, and we are some of the few remaining. By the time we die and our death switches are triggered, there will be nothing left but a sophisticated network of transactions with no one to read them: a society of emails zipping back and forth under silent satellites orbiting a soundless planet.”
Second reading: This story, read now, feels like a Black Mirror episode in waiting. Now more than ever the concept of this afterlife resonates; it is both chilling and believable to imagine an eternity in which we are nothing more than the digital imprints that we ourselves have created.
Where can I read it: You can find it in Sum, and you should, because it is an exceptional book.