Doug Engstrom imagines a future all too terrifying—and all too possible—in this eerie, dystopic speculative fiction debut about corporate greed, debt slavery, and gun violence that is as intense and dark as Stephen King’s The Long Walk.
Like many Americans in the middle of the 21st century, aspiring actress Kira Clark is in debt. She financed her drama education with loans secured by a “lifetime services contract.” If she defaults, her creditors will control every aspect of her life. Behind on her payments and facing foreclosure, Kira reluctantly accepts a large signing bonus to become a corporate gunfighter for TKC Insurance. After a year of training, she will take her place on the dueling fields that have become the final, lethal stop in the American legal system.
Putting her MFA in acting to work, Kira takes on the persona of a cold, intimidating gunslinger known as “Death’s Angel.” But just as she becomes the most feared gunfighter in TKC’s stable, she’s severely wounded during a duel on live video, shattering her aura of invincibility. A series of devastating setbacks follow, forcing Kira to face the truth about her life and what she’s become.
When the opportunity to fight another professional for a huge purse arises, Kira sees it as a chance to buy a new life . . . or die trying.
Structured around a chilling duel, Corporate Gunslinger is a modern satire that forces us to confront the growing inequalities in our society and our penchant for guns and bloodshed, as well as offering a visceral look at where we may be heading—far sooner than we know.
Engstrom's promising debut offers a stark, dystopian vision of a near-future American Midwest in which debt slavery is commonplace and livestreamed gunfights are a popular form of entertainment. Former actor Kira Clark accepts a sponsorship from TKC Insurance Company to duel civilians on live TV to avoid defaulting on her student loans and resigning herself to a life of debt slavery. Kira adopts a cold, composed persona in her gunfights, but outside the arena she's kind-hearted and loyal, if gradually becoming more unstable. At her side are her best friend, Chloe Rossi, and her mentor, Diana Reynolds, who support Kira through all of her highs and lows. The violence is never glorified as Kira's surprising empathy makes her easy to root for. Scattered flash-forwards reveal that Kira makes it through the competition to the final duel, leaving only the question of whether she'll overcome her nerves and guilt to outwit her fiercest competitor. The gunfights become repetitive over time, weighing down Engstrom's grim, intelligent examination of the American debt crisis. Still, fans of insightful dystopias will find plenty to enjoy.