In the theme that seems to be emerging, I see Buckell questioning preconceptions and trying to stretch the stories covered in speculative fiction. The Shackles of Freedom is one such story. A modern doctor, (and by modern we’re talking space age technology, easily cures cancer, etc.) decides to go to a newly colonized planet to practice medicine without all the bureaucratic restrictions that have begun to stifle him. Dr. Hostetler will be administering to a colony settled by a group of Amish colonists.
There are no administrative restrictions on his practice, but the Amish people have their own religious restrictions on what the doctor can do to help them. The torment he feels over this contradiction eats at him as people he could have easily saved at his high tech hospital die on his plain wooden table, but it becomes so much worse when the Amish girl he has come to love falls gravely ill.
Dr. Hostetler must decide whether her convictions and those of her people, are more important than her life. He must also decide whether he can continue to be the doctor of a people who refuse to be healed. The answers he finds are hard and heart wrenching.
I really liked the questions this story raised. What happens when you must continually fight against your own patients to help them? What would happen if in the future humans really did colonize other planets? Would those religious enclaves still exist, but in space? The alienness of the planet that Hostetler and his patients inhabit is usually subtle, but at one point it is brought sharply into focus.
The story is surreal, but it could also easily happen in our own country right now. The look at Amish life is also fascinating, especially as I grew up with the Amish living in my own town, present but so very separate, so very alien to me. I’m excited to share where Buckell goes next in his collection!