I must admit, halfway through this story, I had decided to give it three stars. Honestly, I had difficulty seeing any point in it. But I stuck with it, and I'm glad that I did.
"Chicken Little" addresses a key problem with human nature - the bias and irrationality imposed by innumeracy, our inability to clearly understand and weigh the odds of daily and infrequent events. The result is that we frequently do stupid things, buy a lot of unnecessary products, and often allocate resources inefficiently. Modern commercial marketing and advertising relies heavily on this pervasive flaw. So, what if innumeracy could be fixed, so to speak, with a pharmaceutical? Such a breakthrough would solve a world of hurt, so it would seem.
Before I go further, I offer another admission - a large amount of my professional work deals tangentially with these ideas, those associated with behavioral economics [...]. Chicken Little goes to the heart of the science that describes this all too human flaw of innumeracy. But then it asks an important question: what if that flaw could be repaired? I understand this and thrill with it because my own professional efforts ask the same question of others and provide the guidance on how to get there.
But "Chicken Little" goes a few steps farther. Likely, few would disagree that we'd all benefit if the biases of human innumeracy could be repaired. But would repairing that flaw lead to unanticipated consequences worse than the original flaw? Does anyone have the right to impose this on anyone or everyone without consent? Who has the right to repair us, to fix that innate flaw that might just be, in fact, an essential flaw? What other enormous possibilities await at the hands of one who has that power? The drama aroused by these questions await in the second half of the story.
"Chicken Little", then, is to me what the best and most compelling science fiction is really all about - the ability to pose a question about human nature and explore the consequences of altering some aspect of that nature through technological means. The point really isn't the advanced technology. The technology is merely a vehicle that allows the reader to suspend disbelief for the season required to entertain the narrative and consider the implications posed by the author and other oblique issues, oblique issues that may be more important than those posed by the initial questions. Blasters, tri-corders, warp drives, jet packs, grass that pleasantly stimulates the nerves in skin, etc. - these serve merely as artifacts that provide the rails to carry the story along and furnish a possible future in which the important story-pivoting technology plausibly exists around which important questions revolve. They are the can opener and the table on which the can of worms is opened, but it's the worms that matter. Doctorow's "Chicken Little" is this kind of science fiction.Thinking, Fast and Slow