Home > Recommendations > “Second Person, Present Tense”, by Daryl Gregory

“Second Person, Present Tense”, by Daryl Gregory

You know, in the golden age of science fiction, a good new idea was pretty much all a story needed to get published.  And in the modern age, all a story seems to need is an emotional impact.  This story has both.

Imagine a drug that suppresses the relationship between the conscious mind and the decision-making process.  And not in the way you expect–it’s my impression that people would guess that the conscious mind would be trapped in an inactive body.  That’s not what happens here, on this drug, Zen.  Instead, Gregory gives details about a theory where the conscious mind isn’t really making the decisions at all: The Queen-Page-Parliament model.  The Queen is consciousness, supposedly making decisions based on information brought to it by the Page (the limbic system) from the brain, or Parliament.  The trick here is that we think that the Queen gathers data and then makes decisions, and then the body acts. . . but that’s not right.  Consciousness seems to ride along beside the decision making process, approving it and perhaps editing it for content, but the actual decisions are made at a different level.  When you see someone you know, your hand is already rising for the handshake before your Queen recognizes them.  120 milliseconds before.  A measurable time.

Back to the drug, Zen.  It suppresses the Queen.  Consciousness no longer happens when you’re high on it.  You don’t look that different from the outside, because decisions are still being made, but there’s a different quality to it for the user.

And if you overdose, when consciousness comes back, it may no longer related to the person you were when you left.  Same Parliament and Page.  Different Queen.

“Second Person, Present Tense” is the story of a young woman who overdoses on Zen and the new person who wakes up in her body.  And that new person’s relationship with the old person’s parents.

Frightening.  Enlightening.  A short story that left me with things to think about weeks after I read it.

Free in print
Available in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Third Annual Collection
Not available in audio

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