The world is safer than it has ever been and yet people seem more risk averse than ever. That seems odd until you think about it. When cars were deathtraps with wheels and people regularly had open flames in their house, it didn’t make all that much sense to worry about whether the corners of their table were sharp. “Turning It Off” by Susan Forest explores one step further, asking what it would be like to live in a world of absolute safety.
At the core of this story are the safeties are on everything from cars to their dishes and, of course, the people. These are a sort shield that is so good at keeping things from getting hurt that kids who grew up with them barely have a concept of injury, comparing it to having their feelings hurt.
Susan Forest does a good job of making the teenagers in this story both feel like teenagers and like someone who grew up in an environment of near perfect safety where turning off the protective force field to sleep at night seems freakish. They have their own slang, text constantly and push the limits of what is acceptable past the breaking point just as teenagers are supposed to, though in their society that means turning off the safeties that protect them from everything.
The stakes of this story aren’t earth changing. No one here is fighting off aliens or trying to change the world. It’s just a story of teenagers learning about what life is like without absolute safety while we get a glimpse into what the world might be like with it.
This isn’t a perfect story. The kids dialog is, intentionally, repetitive as they, like all teenagers, have their favorite words that the overuse and you don’t see them doing anything all that dangerous before they turn off the safeties, but those are minor and don’t affect the enjoyment of the story at all.
Turning it Off by Susan Forest is, like all good science fiction, an examination of what life might be like in a world not all that different from our own. One that might be if trends continue. Unlike far too much science fiction, this doesn’t portray a doomsday scenario where the world is brought to its knees by some piece of technology being brought to the extreme. This is a world that most of us wouldn’t mind living in and yet because the stakes matter to the characters in the story we still care what happens to them.