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the sleep of reason

by Michael Swanwick

with illustrations by
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes


7. [Plate 4]
The Children of Utopia

In Utopia, there are no laws. Everyone works for the common good, and the government is so well-integrated into society that most people aren't even aware that one exists. When the people collectively want anything, it simply and by natural processes comes into existence.

One thing the people collectively wanted was eternal youth.

As if by themselves, the gears were set into motion. Medical technicians produced elixirs, friendly truckers distributed them to doctors, and doctors in the course of their regular house calls prescribed them for their patients.

There is of course no education in Utopia. Education is tedious. It takes years. Who would give up years of their blissful lives to acquire skills that no one really needs? The med techs operated machines that knew what to do. The truckers drove machines that were intuitively simple. The doctors received instructions that even an idiot could easily follow.

So of course something went wrong.

A card was placed in a machine backwards. Or was read upside-down. Or somebody fell asleep halfway through explaining to the machines exactly what was needed. It hardly matters how. What matters is that instead of making people eternally youthful adults, the elixirs made them eternally youthful children.

Imagine a world run by a children! A world of sudden temper-tantrums and oceanic needs. A world without maturity. A world with no sense of perspective.

Such became Utopia.

Had there been some kind of bureaucratic apparatus, of course, this mistake would have eventually have been sorted out. Hearings would have been held, papers issued, regulations enforced. Only a fraction of the elixirs would have been parceled out on schedule. The rest would have been held up by mismanagement and lawsuits.

But in Utopia, of course, there is no bureaucracy.


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This is the seventh of 80 stories by Michael Swanwick written to accompany Francisco Goya's Los Caprichos. For a listing of the most recently available stories, go to The Sleep of Reason.

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