Apex Magazine: 2009
“…That Has Such People in It” is a first contact story where most of the stuff happens off the page.
When you voluntarily walked underground, you had no idea how long you’d be there.
People said you were crazy for doing it, but you’d been called crazy, and worse, for years.
Besides, the government said they were doing it for a good reason. When the aliens intercepted our Voyager 1 probe and told us they were on their way to Earth to evaluate us for membership in their confederation, the planet collectively decided to put its best foot forward. If the aliens knew just how many humans were poor, or homeless, or uneducated, or just flat-out broken, Earth’s membership application might be denied.
And that meant sweeping people like you under the rug, at least for a little while.
The story is told in second person perspective and it tells of your experience living underground – the calm when the people who voluntarily were the only ones in the old bunkers, the fights when the non-voluntaries arrived, and the uneasy truce that existed for fifteen years…until those hidden away for the sake of the planet were permitted back on Earth’s surface to see all the ways the world has changed.
“…That Has Such People in It” is the story of the downtrodden and the cast away, what happens to them and what it really says about the rest of humanity. It’s a message story, and perhaps one where the message can be seen coming. The thing is, it’s a story that addresses something that doesn’t get examined too often in fiction, and that’s what happens to the poor in the future.
Okay, that’s not entirely true because there are really two types of stories about the future**. One: Where poverty continues and nothing has really changed except there is perhaps a larger gap between rich and poor, and the poor eke out an existence in whatever manner they can. Two: Where poverty no longer exists and everyone is happy. The first option is much more prevalent. “…That Has Such People in It” provides a simplistic answer to #2. Yes, the answer is simple and easy, but it is a sort of come-uppance story where that’s the point.
I think the point is that the simplistic answer is to be a conversation point. What DO you do with the poor? What does it say about people that a) there is such poverty in the wealthy nations and b) what should we do in the future, especially with the initial premise of the story of aliens evaluating Earth for membership in its confederation? Jennifer Pelland does not give either answer, but she does suggest that trying to pretend that poverty and the broken don’t exist is probably a very bad idea.
This is not Jennifer Pelland’s strongest story, or the one I would hold up as a recommendation piece (that one might be “Captive Girl” or…..), but I do like Pelland’s fiction and I am biased towards it. Even granting that this is minor-Pelland, I liked it.
*I swear this story was fully available for free at one point. Now it isn't so much. Huh.
**by no means have I made an exhaustive survey of this, but it is instead the impression I have from what I’ve read. I’m sure I’m missing a whole large chunk of literature dealing with just this very subject in a variety of ways that don’t fit into the gross generalization I have made. So – if you read that sentence and wanted to call bullsh*t on me, consider it called.