Review of Ian Creasey, “The Equalizers”, Asimov’s Science Fiction January/February (2018): 66-74 — Purchase Here. Reviewed by Kiera Lesley.
“If everyone wore the Equalizers, it wouldn’t matter what I looked like, Pamela thought. I could waltz back into the office in yesterday’s outfit, without any makeup, and no one would know.”
Pamela’s workplace is trialing Equalizers – glasses which augment what the wearer sees, hears and smells to remove personal characteristics from whomever they are interacting with. People instead look like humanoid shapes in colours reflective of their work unit, and labelled with their job title. No names. The rationale is that a fair environment improves employee morale… and saves on compensation claims. Pamela finds herself starving for real human contact after spending all day interacting with faceless, inhuman shapes and has been dating hard to get over a bad breakup. Her friend, Vonda, dares her to try the Equalizers as a kind of blind date. Could she be attracted to someone based on their intellect and conversation alone?
This piece hits on some hot-button themes. How far can or should we reasonably take anti-discrimination practices? What would we need to do to overcome our bodies’ natural snap-judgements based on social conditioning and personal, inherent bias? What happens to our interactions and instincts when you take away all of the cues we normally rely on to guide us?
As such, there’s a lot of speculative fodder in this one idea of technologically removing all bias indicators from interactions with others. I liked that the contrast between judgement calls and discriminatory behaviour in the workplace and in online dating, too, showing two different realms of interaction where first impressions matter. There’s an underlying theme here about what you can see of people – in Pamela’s workplace she can’t ‘see’ people at all, and in her dating she doesn’t really see the people beyond their features. It’s polar opposite ends of a spectrum.
However, I didn’t find Pamela’s character development particularly strong – she never really had to confront her own biases and perceptions, or make any particularly big choices. There didn’t seem to be anything at stake for her personally or professionally and I found this weakened the piece, the ending in particular.
Ultimately, a great premise and idea for technology, but I felt it could have had a stronger narrative to meet the concepts and themes it was playing with.