The Barbie Murders

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"The Barbie Murders"
Author John Varley
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction
Published in IASFM
Publication type Magazine
Publisher Penny Publications
Media type Print
Publication date 1978

The Barbie Murders is a science fiction short story by John Varley. It was first published in IASFM in January/February 1978, and subsequently reprinted as the title story of the 1980 Varley collection The Barbie Murders And Other Stories, later reissued as Picnic on Nearside. It was the second story to feature Anna Louise Bach as a police officer on the Moon, after "Bagatelle", which takes place much later in her career when she becomes the Chief of Police. Subsequent Bach stories appear to occur even earlier in her life.

Plot summary[edit]

Newly promoted Lt. Anna-Louise Bach and her partner Jorge Weil are police officers in New Dresden, a domed city on the Moon. They are assigned what initially seems an open-and-shut case of murder, but are dismayed to realize that the crime was committed in a separate area attached to the city and occupied by people belonging to a cult, nicknamed 'Barbies'.

The cult members have been physically altered and modified so as to be as identical as possible, as mandated by the founder of their church. They all appear to be identical fair-skinned, fair-haired women of average height, dressed in identical white pajamas, although they are anatomically genderless. They have abandoned names, and possess only the tattooed ID numbers forced on them by law. They are psychologically conditioned to accept themselves as being part of a group of equals and have surrendered their individuality. Rituals such as the daily "Equalization", in which each Barbie relates what has happened during the day over and over to other Barbies, serve to prevent even daily experience from making Barbies feel different from one another.

All Barbies being identical, no identification of the murderer is possible, even though the crime was recorded by security cameras at a transport station. Once the investigation begins, the police discover that there have been several murders, all covered up by the Barbies until the last one, which was caught by the cameras. The murderer even repeats the crime in full view of the police, stabbing the victim before becoming lost in the crowd. This victim lives long enough to gasp out a number. The Barbie with that ID is arrested, but a search of the room with that number also turns up some odd items, including a mask, a merkin, and some makeup.

The arrested Barbie confesses to the crime and offers itself as a token guilty party. Bach reluctantly arrests it, but cannot accept the inevitable outcome, even though her superior officer approves the situation.

Bach decides to go undercover and has herself modified by a body sculptor so as to superficially pass as a Barbie. She infiltrates the colony and manages to locate the real murderer. The motive turns out to be one that could only arise in a religion based on being identical to one another. Bach is left with a recently murdered body that she passes off as the real culprit, intending to return to the colony surreptitiously to mete out justice herself.

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