We have already examined the dystopian story, “Jon,” in our class. For this short essay, I will examine, “The Semplica-Girl Diaries,” set in a dystopia that closely resembles own world. In this setting, the wealthy rent humans who are paid to serve as lawn decorations through the painless “Semplica” procedure, in which a wire is surgically inserted through a woman’s brain so that she may be hung like a paper lantern. The women find purpose in this, we are told, as they are being freed from impoverished locales or oppressive labor markets and able to send money to their families.
The absurd dystopia, told with heavy measures of humor and quirky language, characterize this story as one of Saunders. The story is told through the diary of a struggling lower middle class father of three. He is eager to give his children good lives but struggles to make ends meet. After winning a lottery ticket, the protagonist decides to use the much needed to funds to purchase a Semplica Girl display for his oldest daughter’s birthday party, filling her with glee and with the chance to feel like a member of the upper class.
“Why would anyone purchase a woman as a lawn decoration?” The reader asks. “What do readers consume to keep up with their peers, and what effects do they have on the world or the world’s people?” The story answers, along with questions of our current treatment of refugees and other underprivileged groups.
This is the strength of science fiction. By creating a drastic exaggeration of a consumer product, the story places our own consumption and behaviors on a spectrum. Where do we fall on the spectrum, and how do our behaviors change as new products are marketed to us and to our peers?
The “Semplica-Girl Diaries” answers these questions in a non-judgemental way, Saunders’ specialty; the protagonist in his story feels compassion for his daughter and longs to give her the prestige she craves, and feels ostracized by her peers for lacking.
Saunders’ stories often deploy de-familiarization to force readers to reexamine the characters in their lives. Oftentimes, Saunders achieves this effect with the use of science fiction or dystopian settings and worlds. Characters numb their sense with various pills, medications, simulations, or technologies. They live in worlds that provide the best of capitalism’s spoils and, as Saunders emphasizes, its cost: the story closes with the protagonist’s youngest daughter, Eva, cutting the Semplica Girls loose. The SGs run away, and the protagonist owes the company from which he rented the girls a staggering amount. As he awaits his financial ruin, he is left with the thought “What could she want so much, that would make her pull such desperate stunt?”
Saunders has achieved great recognition in literary circles. In addition to a warm sense of humor and a unique, boundary-free approach to language, each of his stories manipulates difference in perspective and hones in on a character’s hardships and background to offer a wider, more empathetic explanations for someone’s behaviors. He forces the reader to extend kindness to his motley cast of characters – poorly educated, unattractive by societal standards, poor , pathetic or vulnerable to temptation—and as a result, examine the real lives of characters in a reader’s own life. This is a noble mission of literature, and of science fiction.