The World Outside Spiderhead

The short story Escape from Spiderhead by George Saunders is an intense, dystopian tale that describes a system where criminals are forced to be test subjects in futuristic drug experiments. The scientists behind the experiments, particularly Abnesti, portray themselves as righteous knowledge seekers whose only goal is to advance science, no matter the cost. Abnesti viewed Heather’s death from Darkenfloxx as a regrettable event but one that could hopefully yield data, showing his indifference by saying, “‘Look, Jeff, these things happen…This is science. In Science we explore the unknown” (72). The world inside the Spiderhead is jarringly distant from our own, where laws protect the abuse of people, and prisoners specifically, in scientific experiments. But it prompts a question that isn’t directly explored in the story: what is the outside world that enables this system? It may not be as distant. One aspect of the story I found really interesting was the way the drugs are labeled, with a consumer-friendly, catchy name (“Verbaluce,” “SpeedErUp,” etc.) followed by a ™, just like a drug ad you might see on TV today. The drugs being tested in the story seem to be made to be sold in a capitalist society for a profit. While I don’t see something like these experiments happening in our society today, our world probably has some of the same incentives as the world outside Spiderhead that allows the horrific treatment of the people in Spiderhead to occur.

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