“Soylent Green is People!” (novelette) by Carlos Orsi
English Publication History: Solarpunk (World Weaver Press, 2018)
Original: Portuguese (Soylent Green is People!), 2012
Translated by Fábio Fernandes, 2018
Synopsis: A distinguished engineer has been found dead of smoke inhalation in his own garage; his elderly and recently morose mother, whom he lives with, has disappeared. At the heart of solving the mysteries is an investigator who must not only solve the case of disappearance, but also once of suicidal motivation amid the sordid affair of inheritance. Assuming the woman to be dead, it must be found whether she died before or after the son, which has implications on the woman’s assets: If she died before, the assets went to her son before his own passing; If she had died after her son, the assets are likely to go the Church of the Puritans, of which she was a member. Hampering the case is the Church which is keen on obstructing the investigator through sabotage, minced words, and bodily harm. When interviewing people who personally know the deceased engineer, not only is a web of love is soon untangled, but also a promising lead to where his mother may be.
Analysis: Members of the Church of Puritans “refuse to allow technology to interfere with the physical abode that God has thought fit to grant our spirits” (15) and “can be radically against cybernetic implants and recombinant DNA” (13), which sounds like a mix of neo-Luddites and Amish Mennonites. As technology surged forward in the case of mechanization), there were people who viewed such “advances” as not necessarily that; some some current Amish sects in America use various technologies. i.e. propane gas, modern toilets, and motorized washing machines. As the convergence of humanity and science draws closer and more ubiquitously, something like the Church of Puritans is certain to come into existence, first as a social group, then a movement, then eventually incorporating an existing template of technological rebellion.
The “ecological and fantastical” aspect of the story is its use of biofuels. The modern view of biofuel is a fuel that is derived from organic materials such as corn. In the future snapshot provided by Oris, biofuel can be privately produced at home; however, the engineering ingenuity of the deceased engineer takes this biofuel one step further, for better or worse.
Review: The story contains a good balance of futuristic ideas that meet the expectations set by the book’s title and subheading along with a story that progresses quickly in 41 pages with humor, surprise, and intrigue. It’s a good start to the collection, but the title “Soylent Green is People!” already has a firm connotation with Harry Harrison’s novel Make Room! Make Room! (1966), which was made into the movie named Soylent Green. Orsi’s choice for the title gives too much away to the story and feeds the reader the direct connotation. The rehashed title also doesn’t allow the story to stand on its own merit, which is very well can.