TECT Knows Best
Once you’ve failed at everything, what next?
You are to be sent as a colonist to the agricultural world of Epsilon Eridani, Planet D. You will be part of an integrated farming community. Your future successes and failures will thus be of no consequence to the community at large here on Earth, yet you will be placed in an environment which will remand much of you and reward you with peace and satisfaction.**
Since TECT, the machine to which humans had conceded the government of their lives, ordered Sandor Courane into exile on Planet D (which the colonists inevitably called Home), he had no choice but to go. And on Home, Sandor found respite from his failures on Earth (TECT had mercifully given him 3 chances: as a basketball player, a science fiction writer, and a factory worker) and a community whose work filled him with pride. But Sandor also discovered that on Home, there were two types of colonists: patients infected with a terrible fatal neurological disorder, and prisoners to take care of them as they forget everyone and everything they once loved. What caused D syndrome? Why would TECT let this happen?
George Alec Effinger’s short novel The Wolves of Memory (1981) is a neglected small masterpiece by an under-read SF writer. Effinger is best known for his vivid, violent novels about a detective in an sfnal desert town based on New Orleans, starting with When Gravity Fails (1987). He died young, in 2002. The Wolves of Memory is a striking meditation on technology and empathy.
The key relationship in the book is between Courane and TECT. TECT (who is the slightest bit dated, since characters communicate with it only through typing or speaking to terminals) is characterized with biting wit, an all-controlling computer that is constantly exasperated and angered by human frailty. TECT is nosy and capricious in the guise of protecting humanity from its failings. And Sandor is a shlubby everyman that Effinger used in other stories; you can find Wolves in a recent collection of Courane stories called A Thousand Deaths. In Wolves Sandor becomes a stable, kind part of D’s farming community, but finds himself wholly incapable of finding a cure for D syndrome, saving any of his friends from death, and remembering the things he needs to remember: a failure just like he was on Earth. TECT is generally very sarcastic with Sandor, but maybe TECT doesn’t have everything under control like the humans think it does. And as Courane loses his memory, what really happened, and what TECT is really planning, becomes more and more unclear.
Read The Wolves of Memory for a book that, with humor, critiques human relationships with technology, and makes us care about TECT’s pawns and even, maybe, TECT itself.
Suzanne Fischer is a historian and writer who lives in Detroit. She cares about people, places, and things. Find her on Twitter as @publichistorian