RACHEL SWIRSKY “Scene from a Dystopia.” Short story. First published in Subterranean, Issue #4, 2006. Collected in How the World Became Quiet: Myths of the Past, Present, and Future (Subterranean Press, hardcover, 2013).

   Guest-edited by science fiction author John Scalzi, the theme of this particular issue of Subterranean is that of SF Cliches. Quoting from his introduction, “You know, those ideas like sentient computers and Amazon women on he moon that are so been there done that in the field that even the souvenir t-shirt doesn’t fit anymore.”

   Rachel Swirsky’s story, which is given the first slot in the magazine, is her first story as well, but there’s no one in the world who would otherwise believe it, without being told, it’s so well written. She takes the idea of a future world in which an all-knowing computer takes students about to graduate and places them in their future jobs for the rest of their lives.

   But of course there is always a rebellious one, an individual who is going to fight back against the machine and give everyone the opportunity to make their own choices in life. That’s the cliche.

   But what would really happen? Swirsky takes the question and answers it in another extreme, or at least she suggests the possibility. Natalie aches to become an opera singer. In the Technocracy, should she settle for being a piano teacher? And at the expense of what?

   The story is quietly but powerfully told, with a lyrical sensibility that seems an impossibility for a first time writer. Nor is the story a fluke of any kind. Look at her resume, taken from her page on Wikipedia: “Her novella “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window” won the 2010 Nebula Award, and was also a nominee for a 2011 Hugo Award and for the 2011 World Fantasy Award. Swirsky’s short story “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” won the 2013 Nebula Award for Best Short Story, and was nominated for the Hugo award for best short story of 2013.”

   This is the only story I’ve read in the magazine so far. Hopefully the rest are as good as this one.