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The Ones Who Look

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  217 ratings  ·  43 reviews
Ethical Empire built the gate to heaven, and their employees hold the keys. By offering custom-built afterlives through full-brain uploads, they answered the needs of a society pushed to the brink by climate change and cascading antibiotic failure. But for Zoe, who works daily to assess the sins of users and decide who's worthy of salvation, heaven is not so simple. Despit ...more
ebook, 32 pages
Published July 1st 2020 by Tor Books
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Average rating 3.77  · 
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“We found out what people wanted from the angels in the beta testing stage. They didn’t want an omnipotent being who can tell them exactly how to get into Heaven. Humans won’t just do what they’re told to, but they want guidance all the same. It’s why we developed two angels, offering variable input. Every action needs to seem like a conversation. A choice.”

a variant on the opt-in afterlife theme focusing on the bean-counters and office workers making that afterlife spin. or not. this is one of
Prabhjot Kaur (Away)
It was an interesting premise that shows how we humans always want to conquer death any which way. The lengths we go to console ourselves that there is an afterlife but in reality, no body knows what there is and what there isn't. A very engaging beginning but just before the end, I found myself getting bored.

That ending was really good though.

3.5 stars
Peter Tillman
This is a fresh look at a future digital afterlife, and two employees of Ethical Empire, the gatekeepers, who become lovers. Each enrolled client is given two Guardian Angels at his 0r her side. But there's trouble in paradise....

I was very impressed by this story by a new-to-me author. I recommend it highly: 4.5/5 stars, rounded up. As with many shorts, I think you are best going into it cold. I loved the art!

Free copy online at
More of Esther Goh's art:
Wow. This is such an interesting premise. Marketizing the afterlife is a scary concept, a shit-fest waiting to happen. I wish there was more of this, I would certainly read a full-length novel!

Well written and engaging short. I will explore more of Katharine Duckett's work.

4 stars
Kam Yung Soh
Jul 05, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: sf-and-fantasy
In the future, Heaven is a digital uploaded copy of a person. And the company that decides who gets into Heaven is Ethical Empire, who employs people to look at people's lives and to give or subtract points.

The story concerns one such person who looks into the lives of others and gets involved in a romantic relationship with one of the engineers behind Heaven. But as the relationship develops and company secrets (under NDAs) get quietly shared between them, a disquieting revelation is made about
Sep 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I love a story that makes you think, that shows you things in a different light, from a new perspective, that opens your mind and expands your horizons. This brilliant little short story does all of that. I’m off now in search of more writings from Katharine Duckett.
Dec 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very similar to the TV show "Upload." It focused on a low-level employee who monitors people's lives on her screen at work, and then goes home to an unimpressive apartment. She works for a corporation that has created a digital afterlife, and there is some suspicion that this organization might be evil.

I like it, but the short story is unresolved. I have unresolved feelings about it.
Oct 31, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: a-pretty-cover
Plot: Questions coming up in a post-apocalyptic world where people upload their consciousness into the cloud before they die and are monitored constantly so they can be judged.

Ideas: Privacy. Consciousness. Death.

Thoughts: As with most speculative short stories, it feels a lot like the setup and the beginning of the story. It's an interesting idea, but one what can't be fully explored within this length. Especially towards the end when shit hits the fan- that's the kind of thing that requires m
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣
Frankly? Underdeveloped a bit.
“That logic would never hold up in arbitration, and you know it,” said Rocky, the more severe of her two Recording Angels... (c)
I’d like to know my family was going to be together in Heaven before I go to my grave. Is that really so much to ask?” (c)
There was a reason almost everyone working below the exec level in arbitration was a woman or nonbinary person. You couldn’t pay men in tech to put up with other people’s shit the way Zoe did. (c)
... it was easi
More. I want more. I want a full-length novel building this world, and what happens to the characters in it.
Miriam Cihodariu
Nov 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: usa
A delicious, funny, and speculative look into the mind-boggling and absurd bureaucracy of Heaven industries. The paperwork of salvation and judgment. Yup, you read that right. Looking forward to more from the author.

Nov 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-s-books
"She thought of Heaven, and Hell, and the space between." ...more
This short story is a bit odd: it deals with Heaven & Hell and judgment, but it also is 100% human. The sci-fi aspect of it (which I am not going into because of spoilers — you can read the story for yourself here and see for yourself: is something I could see humanity actually doing, right or wrong, once we have the capability for it.

I thought this was a well-crafted story, but too open-ended for my personal tastes. I didn't get any hint of what happene

I really liked the premise of this short story, but by the end the logic had disintegrated, or at least I couldn't keep up with it and didn't understand what was going on anymore. The premise is this: In the semi-immediate future, a global antibiotics failure has resulted in countless deaths that would otherwise have been avoidable and a tech company specialised in "uploading" the deceased to a virtual heaven has become the ruling superpower in society - however, something's amiss, and only
Uma    | Books.Bags.Burgers
OMG I want a full length novel ahhh!
Jan 05, 2021 added it
Shelves: seduced-by-cover
i don't know what to say about this. it's well-written and i want the @ of the artist who designed the gorgeous cover, but the whole point of this story is that even the afterlife isn't safe from capitalism. which is kinda funny and absolutely terrifying if you think about it.

this has seriously good potential, but it turns out to be like your typical utopian-dystopian. our protag zoe has a job where she essentially sees everyone's sins and accounts for whether they get into heaven or h-e-double
Dani Lee
Jun 03, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This isn't a far cry from the religions and cults that assumed the authority to call in the shots on who goes to heaven and who goes not. It just is modern and digitalized. Heaven is a piece of software you could access when someone dies and so does hell. All you need is to download the app and let the arbiters judge you for your sins. However, there's always a bug and shit things happen. Even heaven isn't exempt from the lies it tries to enforce upon its subscribers. But hey, as long as it keep ...more
An unsettling short story about the idea of gamifying the afterlife and the admin work that comes with it. The San Junipero-style concept is intriguing - it's easy to imagine how we could reach this 'utopia-but-really-a-dystopia'.

The world in this story is very bleak, with the big revelation pushing the characters to consider that maaaybe this big corporation with 'empire' in its name shouldn't be in charge of humanity's life after death! And as we know with all big games nowadays...there's alw
May 12, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi, short-story
This is one of those weird short stories designed to make you think while actually telling a compelling personal story. A depressing, dystopian, cyberpunkish thriller-styled one, but based on emotions and fears that it's likely every one of us have had, not least the fear of the death of a loved one.

It plays with the concept of humans gamifying who goes to Heaven and Hell by creating a virtual afterlife. We've heard that one before in sci-fi, but this short uses it as a backdrop for a lonely wom
S.E. Martens
Aug 23, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
A very interesting and genuinely unsettling look into a near-future in which everyone's consciousnesses are uploaded to a virtual "Heaven" or "Hell" when they die. Their life's actions are monitored and points tallied by the a corporation called the Ethical Empire. Everyone even gets virtual AI "angels" to sit on their shoulder and advise them on their day-to-day actions. After thinking about it, I was left with a few questions - i.e. if this is a subscription-based service, can't you just opt-o ...more
Nov 22, 2022 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi, short-stories
A free short story on about a future where people can upload their consciousness to a digital afterlife (yes, a lot like Amazon's TV showUpload, but definitely not an exact replica). Zoe is one of the Ethical Empire's employees. At the climax, Zoe learns the Ethical Empire's secret and will make a decision that will change the future of all its users.

Like most short stories, this ends a little early - Zoe's made her decision, but all the consequences are not yet clear. It ends on a momen
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alex Livingston
Oct 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great cyberpunk nouveau story which takes the “mind as software” thing to a very believable conclusion. Information on the tech (and on the characters) comes slowly, dropped at just the right moments. I found myself tearing through this to answer my questions “so, what exactly happens when they die?” — “what’s going on with her family?” Etc. I, for one, now want two AI angels buzzing in my ear all the time.
Jul 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi, short-story
This doesn't quite belong in the horror category, but it has some elements of that. Another great Tor short!
You can read this one for free online, and it's worth a read, great thought-piece, it's similar to the Amazon Prime show Upload, asking the questions of what would a digital "Heaven" be like? What would we do to get there, and what other aspects would you need to know?
Cally Jean
Sep 17, 2020 rated it liked it
This had a lot of good ideas, but not enough time to develop them. It's your typical sci-fi story about finding cracks in a seemingly perfect world and then mumbling about philosophy for a bit. Fine, but nothing special. The story is open-ended, which is fine for some people but I prefer stories with concrete conclusions. ...more
Dec 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
What if second life was an afterlife program? A subscription service that comes with shoulder angels to advise you in life, so you don’t lose too many points and miss out on your place in heaven.
People now get the implants for their newborns.
The program has changed society, and world relations; less divorces, less wars. But Zoe’s parents are divorced and her mother doesn’t want her father in ‘her’ heaven.
Very interesting.
4 stars
Feb 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sci-fi, death

The idea of a digital and/or bureaucratic afterlife has been done before, but Duckett does a good spin on it. It reminded me a lot of The Good Place, but having it be a purely human effort here made it all seem a lot more realistic as we see a world presented that does not seem that far off.
Jourden DeWitt
Jul 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Such a freaky sci fi concept every time—the manufactured afterlife. A world where everything you do is watched and recorded to see if your consciousness will be uploaded to “Heaven” or not and the angel on your shoulder teaches you how to game the system, not how to do what is right.
Jul 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
I liked this. I normally don't like an open ending, but this was good. The only thing was that we were just dropped into the universe, and it made comprehension a little difficult because this world is so different than our current world, and the world building was a little vague. ...more
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Katharine Duckett is the author of Miranda in Milan, a Shakespearean fantasy novella debut that NPR calls "intriguing, adept, inventive, and sexy." Her short fiction has appeared in Uncanny, Apex, PseudoPod, and Interzone, as well as various anthologies including Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction and Wilde Stories 2015: The Year's Best Gay Speculative Fiction. She is the guest fiction editor ...more

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  Kerine Wint (she/her) is a freelance writer, editor, and reviewer of speculative fiction for publications including FIYAH literary magazine,...
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