“The Lunatics” — Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson is the bestselling author of fifteen novels, including three series: the Mars trilogy, the Three Californias trilogy, and the Science in the Capitol trilogy. He is also the author of about seventy short stories, much of which has been collected in the retrospective volume The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson. He is the winner of two Hugos, two Nebulas, six Locus Awards, the World Fantasy Award, the British Science Fiction Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. His latest novel, Galileo’s Dream, came out in 2009.

At the end of the nineteenth century, coal mining had become one of the biggest, meanest industries in the United States.  Unhealthy working conditions and a reliance on child labor caused accidents and blackened men’s lungs.  Crooked business practices like debt bondage and wage-cheating were just part of the misery.  But it was dangerous to stand up against the mining companies.  Miners didn’t just face losing their jobs—their lives were often at stake, as mining companies fought against unionizing with violence. 

The coal miners’ struggles for better conditions were captured in photos and songs that have become a warning for the workers of the world.  But in the future, miners might not be so lucky. 

What could be worse than working deep beneath the ground, never seeing the light of day? What could be worse than knowing the money in your paycheck was a token worthless outside the company’s store? 

Our next story gives us a vision of a mine worse than anything in Pennsylvania.  Powered by slavery and jump-started by torment, this mine might as well be hell.