Bewildering Stories

Challenge 111

“Free” and “Scarce” Goods, Again

We haven’t had a “retrospective” Challenge before, but now is as good time as any for one. Omar Vega asks about his story, “The Coke Maker”:

I would like to know if there were any reaction to the tale. Just to know how to continue the series. If the public likes it, I would be more than willing to continue it. I'm thinking of the sequel already, but I think it's best to wait for my other tales to be posted.

Omar’s “Coke Maker” in issues 109 and 110 is itself a response in fiction to an unofficial Challenge raised by Mark Koerner in issue 83. Mark asks what examples one might find in science fiction of societal changes caused by “scarce goods” becoming “free goods” or vice-versa.

This Challenge, then, is a double one:
  1. Can you think of any story in science fiction or in any other genre where society is changed by a “scarce good” becoming plentiful or inexpensive? Two examples:
    1. In reality, travel was very expensive in terms of time, effort and money until the advent of the steamboat, railroad, automobile and airplane — not to mention the bicycle. The society of 2004 would be unrecognizable to a time-traveler from as late as 1904.

    2. In fiction, Robert A. Heinlein’s Beyond This Horizon touches on features of a society where firearms are ubiquitous (an elaborate code of etiquette evolves) and where genetic engineering is routine (“control naturals,” who are not “engineered,” enjoy a special social status).

  2. Omar Vega’s “The Coke Maker” ends with the prospect of a device that can produce medications — as well as explosives — inexpensively. What would that do to research and development in pharmaceuticals? Wouldn’t it have to be financed by governments? Would that be good or bad? What good is any pharmaceutical that no one can afford? The current AIDS crisis in Africa is a case in point.

    What societal changes you foresee in a sequel to “The Coke Maker”?

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