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News & Features » April 2018 » “Fifth: You Shall Not Waste” by Piero Schiavo Campo, translated from Italian by Sarah Jane Webb

“Fifth: You Shall Not Waste” by Piero Schiavo Campo, translated from Italian by Sarah Jane Webb

In October 2017 we published An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, a rare literary science fiction set in a future universe so gorgeously described and perfectly self-contained—and yet so harrowing and cruel—that its only parallel universe is our own. Solomon’s novel has inspired this speculative fiction series. We’ve been through the past, and we haven’t really learned from it. The present? We’re too busy attempting to survive it. So we’re asking you to provide us a glimpse of what comes next. Illustrate the essential choices we must make in the present that will lead us to your brilliant utopian future. Or, if you cannot anticipate utopia, provide us instead with your cautionary tale. Show us where we will fall if we—when we—fail to alter our course. Fri-SciFi stories are published on Fridays because we expect we’ll need the weekend to contemplate your vision. 

This week, we visit a future in which rationality has become our one guiding principle . . .

Fifth: You Shall Not Waste
by Piero Schiavo Campo, translated from Italian by Sarah Jane Webb
An indefinite future marked by resource drain and dramatic cultural change

Matty knocked at the wooden door—once, lightly, so as not to disturb—and waited until he heard Mr. Grant, on the other side, saying in his usual quiet tone: “Come in.”

He levered the handle down, pushed the door open, and walked to the large desk, stopping with his head bowed. He would have done anything to hide his feelings, but sadness radiated from his whole being: there was nothing he could do about it. His teacher held him in his gaze, smiling. A kind, melancholy smile.

“I heard that your grandpa passed away.”

Matty simply nodded.

“I’m sorry. I really am. Sit down, boy. Let’s talk.”

Matty sat in the chair in front of the desk and remained in silence.

“I’d like to try and console you, but I know it’s not easy. As you grow older, you’ll see that rationality can help us overcome these moments. I’d like you to realize that what we say in class isn’t merely abstract theory, but something that we must understand and apply to everyday life. Something that we can use to get over hard times. You see, for thousands of years we have been enslaved to our own irrationality. Hatred, a thirst for revenge, greed and avarice guided our every move. We murdered one another, stealing what wasn’t ours. We only looked after our individual concerns. Public property was nobody’s property: it could be plundered and even destroyed for the sake of personal interest. Then, fortunately, humanity evolved. We realized that the only ethics that have any value are those deduced through reasoning. Our moral certainties cannot be determined by impositions of religious dogma, but only by our own thinking. Consider the commandments. Fifth: you shall not waste. Why?”

Matty kept quiet, staring at the floor. Grant paused a moment, waiting for an answer that didn’t come.

“Because there are too many of us on this planet, and waste is not allowed. Because we have a duty towards ourselves and the world we live in.”

Matty did nothing but stare at the tip of his shoes.

“I understand your state of mind, boy, but you must realize that it’s not rational. Nobody is immortal: death is part of our existence. Your grandfather was born, lived his life, and died. You yourself were born, are living, and will die one day. Why should you let this upset you? It would be like fretting over the fact that you exist.”

Matty always got good marks, but right now he wasn’t sure he had fully understood the doctrine of Rational Creed. As he left his teacher’s room, he felt more depressed than ever. He picked up his belongings and slowly made his way home. He recalled the times his grandpa would jiggle him on his knees; or explain how to build an origami; or help him revise his history or rationalist ethics. Matty, you must understand this: what is moral is rational.

He walked past Rose’s vegetable garden. The woman, who was gathering cabbages to take to market, stood up and waved. Old Fred also stopped toiling for a moment—he recycled tallow for candles—and from the threshold of his home threw him a long sympathetic glance. The scent of wood burning in people’s kitchens wafted in the air. Matty wrapped himself closer in the coat that had belonged to his brother Frank, and to his cousin Alec before that.

When he got home, his whole family had already gathered in the large dining room. Uncle Albert was there: Matty hadn’t seen him for months. And so was Aunt Susan, with her children. The adults all wore serious, dignified expressions, but the little ones found it hard to keep their childish emotions in check. The room was quiet, and those who talked did so in whispers. Matty greeted everyone, then took his place at the table. He had arrived just in time. His mother and father were making their appearance for the start of the funeral rite. They, too, wore the solemn expression that was on the faces of all the grown-ups. Together, they wheeled in a long trolley, at the four corners of which trembled the flames of four candles. On the trolley was a large bundle, exuding a fragrance of roasted meat.


PIERO SHIAVO CAMPO has a degree in physics. After five years in scientific research he moved on to software. Currently he teaches Theory and Techniques of New Media at Università degli Studi, Milano Bicocca. As a sci-fi writer he has authored various novels and short stories. Schiavo Campo has won the prestigious Urania Award twice, with the novels The Man at One Kelvin Degrees (2013) and The Seal of the Feathered Snake (2017), and the Robot Award for short stories with “Route to the Edge of Time” (2017).

Born in London to British parents and raised bilingual in Italy, SARAH JANE WEBB grew up in a house full of books. From her family she inherited a passion for reading and writing. She worked for years as a PA Secretary in multinational companies in London and Milan. After the birth of her two children, she obtained a TEFL certificate and started teaching and translating for English language schools. Over time, she decided to devote herself exclusively to the translation of literary works, particularly in the sphere of Speculative Fiction.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Fri-SciFi series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines.

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a conceivable, not a fantastical, future. No dragons, please.
—With your byline, include the date or era OR galaxy or ship or planetary system in which your story takes place. Or both. But not neither.
—To be perfectly frank, we prefer dystopias. But feel free to surprise us.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words, and must be previously unpublished.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Fri-SciFi are typically posted 1–3 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Apr 13, 2018

Category: Original Fiction, Fri-SciFi | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,